Bookmakers cheered loudest in the closing stages of the Grand National 2013. Trainer Sue Smith’s unheralded Auroras Encore, ridden by stable jockey Ryan Mania, pinged the last and powered away to claim victory at the dismissive odds of 66/1.
It was a fairytale first tilt at the Grand National for both Auroras Encore and his jockey. The partnership had come second by the shortest of margins in the Scottish National in 2012. Lacklustre performances since had resulted in the 13lb drop in Auroras Encore’s rating that probably enabled him to stay the distance better than his more heavily weighted rivals. Carrying just 10st 3lb, Auroras Encore beat the Evan Williams trained Cappa Bleu (12/1) and Paul Moloney by nine lengths.
Auroras Encore had been bought at the beginning of the year to provide his trio of owners with a runner in the National. Their reaction after the race suggested that they were almost as surprised as everyone else at the success of the venture.
Rebecca Curtis’ more strongly fancied Teaforthree (10/1) was a neck behind Cappa Bleu in third. He was carrying a stone more than the winner and had given his followers a good run for their money. He had been close to the front from the off and travelled and jumped beautifully for Nick Schofield.
He took the lead at the Foinavon second time and only fluffed his lines slightly at the last fence. Curtis was delighted with his performance and thought it was the weight that took its toll in the closing stages. It would be no surprise to see Teaforthree run another mighty race in 2014.
Two fences from home it looked to be a four horse race for the top placings. Donald McCain’s previously prominent Across The Bay (40/1) had run his race. Another 66/1 outsider, Martin Lynch’s Oscar Time under Gold Cup winning amateur Sam Waley-Cohen, was in the lead. He weakened at the last and finished 20 lengths adrift of the winner in fourth.
Young man of the moment, the 20-year-old Bryan Cooper, finished fifth on Dessie Hughes’ Rare Bob. His price had contracted from 40/1 to 16/1. Last year the same partnership had been brought down at the fifth. More recently, the son of trainer Tom Cooper who saddled Forpadydeplasterer (66/1) had hit the headlines when he won three races at the Cheltenham festival. He had also scored two hours earlier in the day on board Henry De Bromhead’s 28/1 outsider, Special Tiara, in the Grade One John Smith’s Maghull Novices’ Chase.
The public relations people and the majority of punters wanted Seabass and Katie Walsh to win. She had come third in the race last year and had realistic hopes this time. It would have been a wonderful story. Not only would she have been the first lady jockey to win but there would have been the family angle too. Seabass was trained by her father, Ted Walsh in County Kildare.
There was massive media coverage of the pairing before the race and it was no surprise to see them sent off at a ridiculously short price on the day. They were the 11/2 favourites in the Grand National betting.
Seabass did have the advantage of being trained with this race as his target all season. Now a ten-year-old, he did not look too old. But why should a horse that had not quite stayed the distance on faster ground last year suddenly gain the stamina necessary to prevail on much more testing ground? Having an additional 7lb on his back did not enhance his chances.
Seabass gave his supporters a reasonable run for their money, tracking the leaders for the first circuit and jumping well until he blundered at the 21st fence. His stamina was found out sooner this year on the watered ground and it did not take a genius to work out that he had little chance of succeeding. Once again he completed but finished a remote 13th.
Katie’s brother, Ruby Walsh was on the second favourite. The nine-year-old On His Own shortened close to the off to 8/1. Trained by the in-form Willie Mullins, who had dominated at Cheltenham, On His Own looked the part and was now at the optimum age for National success. He had been going well last year (2012) under Paul Townend when, in third place, he fell at Bechers second time around.
Many punters realised that Ruby Walsh (unlike his sister) would have had the choice of a number of fancied runners and understandably locked on to his selection. Walsh also had the best Grand National record of all the jockeys in the race with two wins under his belt and a phenomenal completion record.
It was not to be this time. The ground that was described as ‘dead’ by Barry Geraghty earlier on that day seemed to sap the stamina of On His Own. He looked a tired horse when he crumpled on landing at the second Valentines.
So what happened to the other major fancies?
AP McCoy unseated on Ted Walsh’s Colbert Station (12/1) at the Chair. McCoy said that he simply could not settle the horse so he knew, fairly quickly, that he stood little chance of being there at the business end of the race.
Sam Twiston-Davies reported that Imperial Commander (11/1) trained by his father Nigel, weakened surprisingly quickly although he seemed to enjoy the fences. He pulled up before Bechers second time.
Chicago Grey, another 11/1 shot trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Paul Carberry, never got into the race. He didn’t realise that the fences were meant to be safer this year and jumped rather slowly, blundering early on. He pulled up when tailed off before the last.
The efforts of the health and safety brigade seemed to have reaped rewards. On His Own was one of only two fallers. A record number of runners went out on the second circuit and there were no injured horses or jockeys.
If there is a lesson for punters from our Grand National review of 2013, then it is that in the new era of a supposedly safer race that watered ground puts a bigger premium on stamina than may have previously been anticipated.