NEPTUNE Collonges, the Grand National hero whose coat is about as white the snow-capped moors of North Yorkshire, was the star attraction at yesterday’s Middleham Open Day.
The grey was immediately retired by his owner John Hales after beating Sunnyhill Boy on the line to win last year’s Aintree marathon in the closest ever finish to the world’s greatest steeplechase.
Now 12 years old, Neptune Collonges is being trained as a dressage horse and he was in great demand at his temporary home at Karl and Elaine Burke’s stables.
They were among the leading racehorse trainers who opened the doors to the public to give thousands of visitors an unique insight into the horse racing industry and to raise valuable funds for local charities.
Not even the Arctic-like weather deterred organisers of the 20th open day, even though snow and frost forced the abandonment of a similar event that was due to have been staged in Lambourn.
One reason why both events are so popular with countryside enthusiasts is that there is no horse racing on Good Friday, hence dismay at the announcement by Musselburgh yesterday that it wants to stage a three-day Easter festival in future that will clash with the open days.
If trainers have to transport their horses to Musselburgh on the outskirts of Edinburgh, or any other fixtures that might also be sanctioned by the British Horseracing Authority, it has been claimed previously that the open days would lose their prestige if trainers, jockeys and stable staff can’t meet visitors.
But Musselburgh boss Bill Farnsworth was unrepentant. He claimed that Scotland does not have any similar training centres and added: “Most retailers and leisure operators are open as normal and we have to move with the times.”