'Let's not beat ourselves up. It was a great, great race'
Monday 16 April 2012
The heartache of racing's professionals after Aintree on Saturday was compounded by the knowledge that so many redemptive themes were being forfeited. The most dramatic Grand National finish in years had been won by a stout-hearted old grey, Neptune Collonges, ridden by a rising star in Daryl Jacob. Even over the last fence, moreover, it had still seemed possible that Katie Walsh would land a huge public gamble for her father, Ted.
In the event she failed to emulate her brother, Ruby, when he won the race on Papillon 12 years previously. But Seabass did give her the closest finish yet for a female jockey, with third.
The depressing aftermath would have sadly distracted from the success of any trainer in need of a career break, but the man who saddled this winner needed no boosting. As it was, Neptune Collonges sealed a seventh successive championship for Paul Nicholls – less than an hour after he had congratulated Nicky Henderson, who ended up with four winners on the card, on relieving him of the title. Neither man, notoriously, had won the big one before. Both knew that this single prize could make all the difference, and their mutual pretence of indifference over the championship was stripped bare as the result of the photo was called, and Nicholls instantly remarked what a reverse it was for Henderson.
But a trainer so adept with staying chasers was bound to win a National some day, and Neptune Collonges' rejuvenation is redolent of Nicholls' mastery. The horse has served his time now, and is off to a luxurious retirement.
Walsh Sr meanwhile expressed due pride yesterday in his daughter's performance. "Katie gave him a smashing ride every step of the way," he said. "There was plenty of pressure there on a young girl, plenty of eyes on her, but she came home with a big smile.
"It's something she'll have for the rest of her life. He jumped really well and I thought at the second-last he was going as good as anything. For a few strides I thought: 'Could this really be happening?' But the other two were just better on the day and pulled away."
Evan Williams, who saddled Cappa Bleu to finish an excellent fourth, was among the many protagonists striving to reiterate the positives despite the tragic postscript. "Nobody was sadder than I was, and I feel for all of the connections," he said. "But it's part and parcel of what happens with horses and livestock in general. I'm a farmer, and it happens.
"Let's not beat ourselves up too much. It was a great, great race with some wonderful stories. We had a grey horse win, trained by a champion trainer winning his first National. We had Katie Walsh crossing the Melling Road looking like she was going to win for her father. Let's not be negative."
Nor are those on the podium alone in having been inadequately heeded. Poor Noel Fehily, unseated from State Of Play at the fifth, had surgery on a fractured leg yesterday and now faces yet another long spell on the sidelines.
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