It’s over for another year. The Grand National, one of the most thrilling and important steeplechases in the world, has been run, won and lost. A breathtakingly tense photo-finish as, in the final seconds, the beautiful grey Neptune Collonges stretched out his neck and pushed his nose a few inches further than Sunnyhillboy, who had just overtaken the joint favourite Seabass, ridden by one of the few top-class women jockeys Katie Walsh. So hearts were really going boom boom boom.
I love the beauty of racehorses, and revel in watching their graceful strength as they run, but I don’t normally take much interest in horseracing. The Grand National in particular is one race that I would prefer to avoid watching, knowing that it almost always involves nasty falls and fatalities. It’s a tough marathon of an event, though always exciting.
I caught this year’s race by chance on TV today, and yes – there were the expected falls and sadly two superb horses had to be put down. That is the tragedy of it: especially as the first, the magnificent Synchronised, recently won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and was expected to do well in the National. Superstitious folk might claim that the horse sensed the danger in advance and tried to get out of running, as he unseated his jockey and got loose just before the start. However, the much feared Becher’s Brook claimed yet another victim. Up to that point, Synchronised had been going fine, and he even took the jump well, but fell on his nose.
To add to it all, Sunnyhillboy, the horse pipped at the post, was Synchronised’s stablemate, so a double disappointment for his owner and the stable crew. And although Katie Walsh didn’t manage to maintain her lead in the last few seconds of the race – which would have made her the first ever woman jockey to win it – she can be very proud of coming third and being the highest placed woman rider so far in the history of the National.
Ever since Enid Bagnold’s book “National Velvet” was published in 1935 (and twisted into an unfaithful film version with the young Elizabeth Taylor in 1944) girl riders have lived in hope of achieving that great distinction. Katie has come closest yet to realisng that dream!