Neptune soars but National sinks

Veteran chaser ends his career in triumph and gives trainer Paul Nicholls his first win in the world's most famous race


In any risk sport, the twin imposters ride along together and yesterday's 165th Grand National was, sadly and grimly, not an exception. In the winner's circle, there was the triumph of a first victory in the world's most famous steeplechase for the champion trainer Paul Nicholls as 33-1 shot Neptune Collonges ended his run of 52 losers. But for his colleague, Jonjo O'Neill, his charge Sunnyhillboy's agonising nose defeat was compounded by a much worse loss. The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised was one of two horses killed in a contest that produced drama from before the first stride to the very last.

Two races before the National, Ruby Walsh was so badly shaken by a fall from Nicholls-trained hurdler Zarkandar that he had cry off his big-race ride on much-fancied On His Own. Then poor Synchronised unseated Tony McCoy as he jinked on the warm-up canter before the start and ran calmly loose on the course before being caught by a photographer and reunited with his rider. With the start delayed by his antics those waiting, both horses and riders, became increasingly on edge and twice the tapes were charged.

Becher's Brook was one of the obstacles modified in the wake of last year's two deaths but it still played its part in this year's tapestry.

First time round Synchronised came down, got up and five fences later fell riderless, sustaining a hind leg injury that proved fatal. On the second circuit According To Pete, travelling just behind the leading pack, was brought down by the fall of On His Own and he, too, broke a leg.

By then the race had developed towards its thrilling denouement of the closes finish in the race's history. Planet Of Sound and the two 8-1 joint-favourites Shakalakaboomboom and Seabass had blazed a trail up front, each horse jumping with flair and flamboyance. But there, quietly stalking, were the veteran grey Neptune Collonges, ridden by Daryl Jacob, and 16-1 shot Sunnyhillboy, with Richie McLernon in the saddle.

Seabass, given a wonderful ride by Katie Walsh, led over the last, but up the daunting 494-yard run from the last his suspect stamina ebbed as that of the dourest gallopers kicked in. At the elbow, just 10 strides out, two strides out, Sunnyhillboy was going to give O'Neill and owner JP McManus their second National in three years, after Don't Push it. But in the last half-stride Jacob put the grey's muzzle in front. Seabass, five length behind, provided the best-ever finish for a woman rider. Cappa Bleu (16-1) came in fourth, in front of In Compliance and last year's winner Ballabriggs. Fifteen of the 40 starters completed the course.

It was a first success at the fifth attempt for 28-year-old Jacob, so often the understudy to Ruby Walsh on Nicholls' horses.

"I just kept my head down and the horse kept grinding out the whole way to the line," said the man from Donegal. "I wasn't sure where the winning line was but I knew that inch by inch I was starting to grind the other horse down."

The 11-year-old, known as Nipper at home, was one of the class acts in in the race; in his youth he had twice been placed in Cheltenham Gold Cups and has now bowed out in glory; he will not be asked to race again.

"He was very, very good," added Jacob. "He kept me out of trouble the whole way round. I was going in the same gear from start to finish; he knew exactly what pace he was going and I trusted him with it. I don't think he missed a beat the whole way round and he loved the whole thing.

"I was comfortable enough that he would run a big race because he has that touch of class. And you can never forget class."

Neptune Collonges, only the third grey to win a National and the first since Nicolaus Silver in 1961, was a first runner in the race for his owner John Hales, a businessman who is as much a supporter of top-level show jumping as racing.

But as for Nicholls, if he does not have a picture of Robert The Bruce's spider in is office, he should have. He sent out his first National runner, sixth-placed Just So, 20 years ago and his nearest shot before yesterday's triumph was Royal Auclair's very distant second to Hedgehunter in 1995.

"This is not a race we've had the best of luck in," he said with masterly understatement. "But this is probably the best horse we've run in it in terms of pure class. The verdict could have gone either way, but ours was the one who was finishing and the other horse was stopping.

"Ruby could have ridden him, but he felt he was just that bit old. But I'm absolutely chuffed for Daryl, he went the brave man's route and little short cuts like that make – and this time clearly made – all the difference."

Despite his great rival Nicky Henderson's three good winners earlier on the card, the National's £547,267 first prize gave Nicholls a seventh successive trainer's championship at a stroke. "That's great," he added, "but this is the race that everyone knows and watches. This is the one we really wanted."

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower