JOHN Francome had it right in my book. “Make the Aintree fences bigger, not smaller. It will make the jockeys and horses slow down.” Francome was derided for his contrary viewpoint back in April amid the blizzard of animal welfare support, but he had a salient point. Saturday’s Becher Chase was an underwhelming spectacle. I felt like I was watching a race over fixed brush hurdles.
The Grand National now more resembles the Scottish National, which is run a week later, as a simple long-distance steeplechase. But there is a £400,000 difference in the winning prize money pot. That amount of prize money demands something special and exciting.
This year’s National winner, Auroras Encore, would not have won it 10 years ago because he is not a good enough jumper. Likewise, a horse like Grittar (1982 winner) would never win it now. He would not be quick enough.
Francome argued that horses used to naturally back off and slow down when they approached the fences. Now, because the fences are so much smaller, the horses go quicker into them, with the speed being a recipe for more injuries.
I adore the Grand National and have written lovingly about it on this site in the past. But this year’s race left me cold and I don’t think the race will ever be the same again. Some will say that’s a good thing and it is better to have a safer, watered-down National than no National at all. I disagree. Most of the thrill has gone.
For the record, the Becher Chase winner Chance Du Roy was given a 25/1 quote by William Hill in the ante-post market for the 2014 Crabbie’s Grand National. Paddy Power were not as impressed and go 40s. The runner-up Baby Run is 33s with Stan James and BetVictor but can a 14-year-old win the National? Over these fences, probably!