Deaths mar Grand National
Aintree - Neptune Collonges won the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, but the famous race ended in tragedy with the deaths of two horses, including Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised.
Neptune Collonges, a 33-1 shot, was the first grey to win the race since Nicolaus Silver in 1961.
The Daryl Jacobs-ridden horse, who succeeded where trainer Paul Nicholls's previous 52 runners had failed, beat home Sunnyhillboy (16/1) in a thrilling finish to win by a nose.
However, the race was overshadowed by the deaths of Synchronised, who fell at Bechers first time round, and According to Pete, who came down at Bechers on the second circuit.
Two horses had been killed in the 2011 race.
"When a horse gets hurt, everyone is deeply upset. Safety is the first priority for the organisers and we make every effort to ensure that everyone involved in the event is able to participate in safety," said Aintree managing director Julian Thick.
"Since last year's race we have made further significant changes to the course and there have been four races run over the course without serious incident since then.
"After today, we will, as always, be looking at all aspects of this year's race to see how we can improve safety further."
The authorities had modified Bechers after two runners died there last year.
For Synchronised's trainer, Jonjo O'Neill, it brought back the awful memory of when he rode Gold Cup winner Alverton in the 1979 National and came to grief at Bechers. Alverton was also put down.
Animal welfare campaigners blasted Saturday's race as "the worst kind of mob entertainment".
"The Grand National is a disgusting and shameful spectacle masquerading as sport," said Andrew Tyler, the director of Animal Aid.
"For anyone who genuinely cares about horses watching this race was an utterly depressing and melancholy experience."
Away from the controversy, 27-year-old Jacobs was celebrating an emotional win.
He had contemplated retiring from the sport when his best friend Kieran Kelly was killed in a riding accident in 2003.
Indeed the Irishman, on hearing he had prevailed in a stewards enquiry pointed to the heavens, saluting his dead friend.
"I owe everything to Kieran," said Jacob. "But I always said to Paul Nicholls that I would ride a National winner for him and I have delivered."
Nicholls said it surpassed any other race that he had won including the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
"This is the race to win and it is unbelievable. The winner I always believed in because he has the class and the stamina," he said.
The 8/1 joint favourite Seabass came in third under Katie Walsh - the best ever finish by a female jockey - and Cappa Bleu fourth in an incident-packed race that had also seen Synchronised dump Tony McCoy before the start.
Sadly, as it transpired, they were reunited and O'Neill was to suffer further heartache as Sunnyhill Boy saw glory snatched on the line.
Synchronised was the third of the fancied runners not to make it past the first six fences as both Junior and another grey, West End Rocker, had gone at the fourth and the field were taken along by the heavily-backed Shakalakaboomboom and Planet of Sound.
That duo exchanged the lead virtually till the business end of the race where Walsh came alongside them looking as if she could become the first woman to ride the winner of the race.
However, just as Shakalakaboomboom and Planet of Sound faded so Sunnyhillboy arrived looking as if he was coasting under Richie Mclernon while Neptune Collonges was still looking good for just a place.
Over the last and Mclernon went clear of Seabass but then Jacob conjured up a stunning bust of pace from Neptune Collonges.
Mclernon looked to have held him off but inch by inch Jacob got closer and on the line had done just enough to get his nose in front.
Walsh was delighted with her performance.
"I was never going to win it, but he gave me a fantastic ride and I feel so pumped up that I want to get back here as soon as possible," said the 27-year-old.
It wasn't a happy day for her brother Ruby, as the two-time winning National rider had to stand down from the race for the second time in three runnings because of a heavy fall he took earlier on the card.