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."

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album