The John Smith’s Grand National once again proved beyond the reach of champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls who, try as he might, seems destined to find winning the ‘world’s greatest steeplechase’ beyond him, writes Elliot Slater.

Nicholls went into the Grand National with a number of fancied runners, principally the Sir Alex Ferguson-owned What A Friend and the former Irish National winner Niche Market both of which were strong betting tips. The gallant Niche Market ran a tremendous race and was bang in contention at the second from home, but couldn’t quite raise his game going to the final fence and eventually faded on the long Aintree run-in to finish fifth under a fine ride from Harry Skelton.

What A Friend, despite being one of the favourites in the horse racing betting, never really managed to get into the race although he did make some progress after halfway. A mistake at Valentines soon saw him struggling and he was eventually pulled up by Daryl Jacob when tailed off before 4 out. The Tother One, ridden by Ryan Mahon, was chasing the leaders when coming down at Becher’s first time round but happily both horse and rider escaped unscathed.

Tragedy struck the Nicholls team however when owner Andy Stewart’s Ornais took a fatal fall at the fourth fence, sustaining a broken neck from which he died instantly. Jockey Nick Scholfield escaped unharmed but was deeply shocked by the loss of his horse, one of two who paid the ultimate price in a race that garnered plenty of adverse publicity with Willie Mullins’ Dooneys Gate also suffering fatal injuries when falling at Becher’s on the first circuit.

Nicholls was understandably upset at the loss of Ornais, a horse who had been a smart novice a few seasons ago and who had returned to the fray this term via a couple of solid efforts in hunter chases. The Ditcheat handler will be hoping that sometime soon his Grand National hoodoo will be broken and all his horses return safe and sound in future attempts at the Aintree marathon.

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