THE Randox Grand National always throws up a good story. Foinavon. Red Rum. Aldaniti – the world’s greatest steeplechase has spawned so many legends of the game.
This year was no different. Two days before the race, Sam Waley-Cohen – an amateur in all but name – announced that this year’s Grand National would be his last race as a jockey.
Waley-Cohen, whose day job is to manage more than 200 dental practices, had a remarkable riding record around the National fences since the year 2000 but his National mount Noble Yeats was unfancied, going off a 50-1 shot.
His odds were probably 5,000-1 after two fences as Noble Yeats only had one horse behind him and the other 38 in front of him.
But Waley-Cohen, who was second in the National on Oscar Time in 2011, did not panic. He allowed his horse to find his stride and get into a rhythm and by halfway the pair had a decent position on the heels of the leaders. Indeed, early on the second circuit, Noble Yeats was clearly travelling better than most – and jumping for fun.
As he jumped the last fence alongside Any Second Now, the pair pulled clear of the Delta Work and Santini and fought out a famous finish.
Riding like a man possessed, Waley-Cohen coaxed an almighty final lunge out of his steed to win narrowly. The perfect end to a great career.
The Grand National had delivered again but the feelgood factor of Waley-Cohen’s spectacular swansong was marred by the deaths of two runners, Discorama and Eclair Surf, sparking more calls from many for the race to introduce further welfare measures.
One idea is to reduce the field to a maximum of 30 runners from the current 40. Personally, I think the main problem is speed. The National fences were reduced considerably in 2012 and so the field goes off faster. Falls are harder and injuries more likely.
Although it sounds odd, increasing the size of the fences might slow down the riders. Or another option is to water the course a bit more to ensure softer ground. That would also encourage jockeys to go off at a bit more of a sensible pace.
Scrapping the race is a non starter. It still thrills millions and although it is not the test it once was, it remains one of the most captivating sporting events of the calendar.
From a tipping perspective, the National is a nightmare. A friend spent hours and hours poring over the form and concluded rather confidently that Enjoy d”Allen was a dead cert. The horse fell at the first and his hard work was wasted in about 10 seconds. Mind you, every cloud has a silver lining and the horse is now likely to run in next week’s Irish National if he is none the worse. Check out the latest odds on horse racing betting site Betway who made a Gogglebox-style interview with the Walsh family and friends.