'We lost our Pete – we don't want to lose the National too'
As settles the emotional dust raised by Saturday's dramatic and traumatic Grand National, and begins a reasoned debate over the direction the historic sporting contest must take – starting with a meeting next week between the British Horseracing Authority's chief executive, Paul Bittar, and animal welfare groups – two men intimately involved with one of the fatalities have spoken in the defence of both the race and the broader concept of man's use of animals.
It was the death of Synchronised, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, that led the post-National headlines. But the lower-profile performer According To Pete, who was brought down through no fault of his own in a melee at Becher's second time round and broke a shoulder, also lost his life.
The white-faced 11-year-old, winner of 11 races, was the star of Malcolm Jefferson's small Norton yard. "He was one of my favourites," said the trainer yesterday, "so it's hit me very hard. And the girl who looked after him, Tina Pearson, is devastated. No one in the business expects to go to the races and lose their horse.
"But his was just a freak accident. He was loving it, jumping those big fences for fun, as I knew he would. If he'd been brought down and got back up, we'd have been taking him back next year."
Jefferson, 65, does not feel that the National should be made perceivedly easier. "It's a great race and, because it is, everyone watches and so you get a reaction when things go wrong. Now the authorities may try to please everybody, which you can't do. And if I have a suitable horse again, I'll enter him. You've got to support the race, it's our biggest day of the year."
According To Pete was bred by his 71-year-old owner Peter Nelson who, with his family, was understandably distraught after the loss of an individual he had known since a baby. But, as the son of a farm labourer, he has known livestock all his life and, although there is room for sentiment over the death of his pride and joy, none of it is mawkish.
"Horses have always been, and are, a tremendous servant to man," he said. "They were used for work, and in war as well. A century ago they were killed in their thousands, but without them there would have been no gun carriages. Now they're bred to be used for our pleasure. Pete gave us huge fun for many years, he was one of the family and we'll miss him. But without racing, he wouldn't have existed at all."
Two who made an early National exit could make a quick reappearance: Junior and West End Rocker, who both fell at the second fence, are among yesterday's entries for Saturday's Scottish version. Harry The Viking is 6-1 favourite to give Paul Nicholls, trainer of Aintree hero Neptune Collonges, a rare double.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Fairoak Lad (3.30 Exeter)
Likes to go right-handed, copes with fast ground and is best over an extreme distance. Gets all three today and should be better for last month's return after a four-month break.
Next best: Silver Blaze (2.10 Southwell)
Narrowly defeated on the last of his three juvenile runs as he drew clear with a rival regarded as well above average.
One to watch: Frosty Berry (Marco Botti), who won on her belated debut in January, has progressed since then to judge by her homework in Newmarket.
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