Neptune lands National thriller

Neptune Collonges gave champion trainer Paul Nicholls his first John Smith's Grand National success when getting up on the line to beat Sunnyhillboy in a thrilling race at Aintree.

Ridden by Daryl Jacob, the 33-1 shot looked booked for minor honours rounding the famous Elbow, with Jonjo O'Neill's Sunnyhillboy holding a clear lead.

But as the line approached, Neptune Collonges lunged late to land the honours by a nose and become the first grey to win the race since Nicolaus Silver in 1961.

Katie Walsh had every chance of becoming the first female winner of the race soon after the turn for home, having had a great spin off Seabass, but he did not finish off his race as well as the first two and had to make do with an honourable third. Cappa Bleu was a gallant fourth.

A clearly overcome Jacob said: "You can't beat this. I was on a tough horse and I said to Paul that one day I would ride you a National winner. That was two years ago and now I've done it."

Nicholls added: "He's probably the best horse we've run in the race. He's got great form, he's been placed in Gold Cups, he stays, he's genuine and Daryl gave him a fantastic ride when you analyse where he went. It's absolutely brilliant. It's blown Nicky Henderson out of the water now (in the trainers' championship)."

Winning owner John Hales had mixed emotions as One Man, probably the best horse he ever owned, was killed in a fall at this meeting in 1998, though not in the Grand National.

Hales, who announced the immediate retirement of Neptune Collonges, said: "When he crossed the line I thought he might have got it. My first thought was if he has got it Paul has won the trainers' championship. And then I thought thank you Aintree - you know why, many years ago.

"It split the family coming here. My wife was 50-50, my daughter couldn't face it. She has gone show jumping and is overcome with emotion. We've nothing against Aintree. We love coming here and this year we've come up trumps."

There was a tragic note to the race as the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised, like Sunnyhillboy owned by JP McManus and trained by Jonjo O'Neill, suffered a fatal injury in a fall at Becher's Brook. Malcolm Jefferson's According To Pete was reported as another fatality later in the race.

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