Few people have proved more loyal supporters of the sport of National Hunt racing than the popular racehorse owner John Hales whose One Man was a superstar of the sport in the mid-1990’s but who sadly met an untimely ended as the result of a fall on the Mildmay course at Aintree in 1998. The victory of Hales’ Neptune Collonges in probably the most exciting ever finish to the Grand National was no less than connections deserved after allowing the horse to take his chance, writes Elliot Slater.
The famously emotional Hales had barely been able to contemplate returning to the place where his beloved grey had passed away when bidding for the 1998 Grade 1 Melling Chase, but after much consideration he allowed champion trainer Paul Nicholls to run Neptune Collonges, a horse who had been placed in two Cheltenham Gold Cups a few years earlier and had won three Grade 1 contests in a fine career. That said he was barely mentioned in horse racing betting tips before the big day.
In a truly dramatic contest Neptunes Collonges, (who connections had confirmed before the big event would be running the last race of his career before being granted an honourable retirement), raced in midfield for much of the way, managing to avoid the plethora of fallers and brought down horses around him, under a fine ride from Daryl Jacob.
Going to the final fence the 11-year-old was still in fifth place but he began to really stay on strongly on the run to the elbow, although second appeared the best he could hope for as Sunnyhillboy went clear. But conjuring a truly outstanding turn of foot at the end of such a long race, the son of Dom Alco reduced the deficit all the way and joined the leader right on the line, the pair passing the post as one.
The photo finish result seemed to take forever, but in the end it was Hales’s star who prevailed by a nose at best racing odds of 33/1, the shortest winning distance in the 173 years of the great event, to go out in a truly sensational blaze of glory and guarantee the trainers’ championship for Nicholls.