When looking at the racing calendar there is one race that is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of its profile – the Aintree Grand National. With last year being an unfortunate exception to the rule, it’s the race of office sweepstakes, of choosing a horse because of its quirky name, of going for that ambitious, big priced outsider.
There is such tradition to the Grand National, which on the whole has to be a good thing. Though as Katie Walsh highlights in this Betway segment, some traditions outstay their welcome. It wasn’t until the late 70s and because of the Sex Discrimination Act that a woman even started taking part in the Grand National (Charlotte Brew in 1977). Participation was patchy over the years but in 2012 Walsh herself placed third in the Grand National. This was the best performance by a female jockey to date. With three female jockeys taking part this year, surely it’s only a matter of times before we have our first female winner. It will be a big achievement; one that is long overdue.
Owned by John Hales and trained by Paul Nicholls, Neptune Collonges was a top-class staying chaser with three Grade One victories to his name. Indeed, he ran in the Cheltenham Gold Cup four times, finishing a closing third, beaten 7 lengths and short head, behind stable companions Denman and Kauto Star in 2008. However, as far as the man in the street is concerned, Neptune Collonges is best known for winning the 2012 Grand National, which was the last to be run over the traditional distance of 4 miles 4 furlongs.
The son of useful jumps sire Dom Alco spent the whole of the 2009/10 season on the sidelines after sustaining a tendon injury in the 2009 Cheltenham Gold Cup and had won just once in nine starts since returning to action at the start of the 2010/11 season. He had looked rejuvenated when failing by just a neck to win the Grand National Trial, over 3 miles 3½ furlongs, at Haydock, under 11 st 5lb, in February, 2012 but, even so, victory at Aintree appeared unlikely.
On Grand National Day, his intended jockey, Ruby Walsh, was injured in a fall in the Aintree Hurdle earlier on the card so, with Daryl Jacob deputising, and shouldering 11st 6lb, he was sent off at odds of 33/1 to give Paul Nicholls his first National winner. That he did, but only after a thrilling finish, in which he reeled in the leader, Sunnyhillboy, in the final stride to win by the minimum possible margin, a nose. Connections had already decided that, win or lose, Neptune Collonges would be retired immediately after the Grand National and, true to his word, Hales said, ‘He’ll never race again. That’s it.’