In a race that will live long in the memory for many different reason, the Paul Nicholls-trained Neptune Collonges landed a sensational renewal of the Grade 3 John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree, on Saturday, in the most dramatic of fashions to break the hearts of Sunyhillboy and trainer Jonjo O’Neill. He won by the shortest distance in the 173-year history of ‘the world’s greatest steeplechase’, writes Elliot Slater.
It was a race that O’Neill will probably want to forget in a hurry, as he also suffered the tragedy of losing last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hero, Synchronised, who sustained a fatal injury after running loose from a fall at Becher’s the first time around. O’Neill saw victory snatched from his grasp in the very last stride.
Nicholls and Neptune Collonges’ sporting owner, John Hales, whose gallant grey came with a withering run under Daryl Jacob from the elbow to first pass the brave Katie Walsh on the gambled-on Seabass, will remember the race with delight. Somehow, the horse then clawed back five-lengths to catch Sunnyhillboy on the post in the very last stride and prevail by just a nose.
Hales was returning for the first time to Aintree since losing his outstanding chaser of the 1990’s, One Man, in a fatal fall on the Mildmay course in 1998. The horse died contesting the Melling Chase. This happy return was made all the sweeter by connections having decided before the great race that they would retire the 11-year-old grey whatever the outcome.
Neptune Collonge, placed in two Cheltenham Gold Cups behind Denman and Kauto Star, and the winner of three Grade 1 contests over the years in his own right, went off a relatively unconsidered 33/1 in the Grand National odds, and provided the bookies with their best result since Mon Mome’s shock success at 100/1 in 2009.