Grand National: The most perilous race on Earth?

As Auroras Encore romps home in an injury-free National, the Czech Velka races up on the inside to take Aintree's crown

Unfancied outsider Auroras Encore romped to victory in the Grand National yesterday. Defying bookies odds of 66-1, the horse cruised home in the marathon steeplechase cheered on by a 70,000 sell-out crowd at Liverpool's Aintree course. Welsh-trained Cappa Bleu finished second, ahead of Teaforthree in third. High pre-race hopes that the race might produce its first winning female jockey were dashed when Kate Walsh's mount Seabass finished 13th.

Winning trainer Sue Smith, the third woman to triumph in the race, said afterwards: "He's a great horse. We can ride him anywhere, anyhow." The Yorkshire trainer is married to the former champion show jumper Harvey Smith. Winning jockey Ryan Mania, making his debut in the race, said: "He loved every second of it, just class. He gave me a dream ride, he's brilliant." The jockey admitted: "I had the choice of two horses to ride, I wasn't sure which one to go for."

No horses or riders were injured in the race, for the first time since 2010. Animal rights campaigners People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said: "No horses died today, but two this week is two too many."

Controversy has surrounded the safety of the Aintree meeting following growing numbers of horses being killed racing there. The organisers say they have made changes to fences and the start to reduce risks. Critics claim this has rendered the Grand National, dubbed the world's greatest steeplechase, a pale imitation of the original race, and that it can no longer be considered the world's toughest horse race. That distinction now belongs to the Velka Pardubicka, run in the Czech Republic.

One man who knows is Josef Vana, the most successful jockey in the race, who has won it eight times. He insists both races are equally tough. "Becher's Brook and the Chair are very tough fences but the other fences are pretty much similar to each other. Still, considering the pace, it is a tough race. The Velka Pardubicka is not just a steeplechase but also cross-country. There are different surfaces, ploughed fields, grass, the fences are cross-country... so the challenge is very different."

The Velka, established in 1856, has seen protests from animal welfare campaigners. "Brigitte Bardot organised protests in Pardubice many years ago," said Vana, who insists neither race is dangerous. "The Velka and the National are not cemeteries for horses... [It's a fact that] from time to time something happens in every sport."

Former National winner Liam Treadwell has competed in both races. After winning at Aintree in 2009 he rode in last year's Velka, finishing eighth. "The Velka is a real contrast to the National as there are so many more turns and the water jumps are like nothing I've seen – they're just gaping holes in the ground. It's also difficult to find your way round as it's such a complicated course."

At 60, Vana still hopes to race in the Grand National. "Ever since I started to race, a time when English jockeys started to come to Czechoslovakia and competing in the Velka, I've wanted to ride in the National. I have been to Aintree a couple of times. I just haven't had the chance to be there with a horse, yet."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory