An Al Duncan musing

15th April 2012 : Aintree reflections

My own fear is that the ramifications of this year's Grand National may play a signifiant role in the future of the race. Although watching the 3 days of Aintree from the comfort of my own sofa - courtesy of the excellent people at Racing UK - I was spellbound by the continued feast of equine magnificence served up by the meeting.


Before events take off, and I'm bombarded by opinions, I just wanted to put down a few of my own thoughts.

John Hales

The interview on RUK in early afternoon on the Saturday of the Grand National day itself, exposed the double edged sword of emotion experienced by any racehorse owner prior to a raceday in which his horse participates. John poured his heart out to Lydia as he talked off the last races for 2 of his horses - Noland and National contender Neptune Collonges. Neptune, it appeared, was the most contentious  - John talked of the family being split due to his participation in the big race.

Pre-race, he could literally not hold back the tears as he was dreading the consequences should any of his horses be injured that day.

Now John is not quite the man who would be favourably cited as an example of those Kipling imposters of "Triumph and Disaster", but the sight of the victorious owner (post race in the winners enclosure) in a long hug with Lydia as she approached him for an interview, made for remarkable TV.

Katie Walsh

An angel

An experienced amateur jockey, as well regarded - but not as often sighted - in the UK as in her native Ireland, I was struck by her relaxed, confident manner when interviewed together with her brother by the Parkinson-esque Nick Luck on Friday. And it was obvious to see the affection with which Ruby holds for his sister. Heartwarming, from such a hard-boiled, successful sportsman.

That I was holding a 25-1 voucher about her intended National mount Seabass of course added to my interest.

But what a fine ride Katie gave the horse in the race, finishing third - no one would even think the horse was ridden by an amateur far less a member of the fairer sex when watching the race unfold.
We've come a long way since 1982 and Geraldine Rees, and there are several top class women jockeys around besides Katie - sister in law Nina Carberry, Rachael Green and Lucy Alexander spring to mind.

Oh, and I still think Katie resembles Elizabeth Taylor at the same age................


If we NH afficiandos are feeling slightly uneasy today, just what is going through the minds of JP McManus, AP McCoy and JJ O'Neill (and that's not to forget Malcolm Jefferson and connections in any way).

Jonjo must be wrecked by deja vu. Thirty two years ago, he was riding Alverton in the National, who was sent off favourite on the back of a Gold Cup victory three weeks earlier. Then. there were doubts raised about that particular horse's (flat) jumping style, and Jonjo even rode with an adapted saddle as an aid. Alverton was prominent with every chance when fatally crashing out at Becher's Brook second time around.

This year's GC winner Synchronised fell at Becher's first time and was fatally injured either at that point or shortly afterwards - he continued riderless until the Canal Turn I believe. According to Pete was brought down at Becher's second time, again fatally injured.

I fear the swell of public opinion in the aftermath of the death of 2 horses in the name of sport may be too much for the BHA. Just what happens next may range from drastic modification of the Aintree GN fences to wholesale scrapping of the race.

Everyone connected with horse racing feels dreadful when any horse, on the racecourse or off it, suffers a life ending injury. God knows they are plentiful.
However, unlike Bullfighting, Hare Coursing and Foxhunting, the object of horseracing is not the death of an animal.

My opinion on public do-gooders has been revealed previously, but there are so many outlets - media, internet, etc. - through which their campaigns can be vented, that it feels that it is only comparatively hand-in-the-dyke attempts with which racing authorities can counteract.
I hope they are strong.

Horse racing, as a spectator sport, is about to take off in the next few years in this country.
The Grand National is the prime event, there is quite simply no other race like it in the world.
It is that important.

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