THE similarities between the £1m Crabbie’s Grand National winner Pineau De Re and the Yorkshire’s 2013 winner Auroras Encore are uncanny. An 11-year-old horse conquering Aintree, a winning jockey who had come out of retirement and that rider – 37-year-old Leighton Aspell – using exactly the same tactics that Ryan Mania had deployed so effectively 12 months ago.
Yet the continuing stand-off between the jockeys and racing authorities over the chaotic start, and the handing down of two-day suspensions to 39 riders, should not detract from the fact that every horse and jockey returned safely for the second successive year and an incredible training performance by Dr Richard Newland that showed, once again, that the underdog can win a lottery like the National.
He is a Cambridge University-educated GP who only took up training as a sideline and has a handful of horses at his small yard in Worcestershire. Racing is not even his main source of income – he leaves his stables in the capable care of his five staff while he runs his thriving medical businesses.
It was Newland’s expert eye which spotted that Pineau De Re, a former Ulster National winner named after a French aperitif wine, was due to go to the Doncaster Sales last year and he negotiated a private sale with its then owner Barry Connell.
It then took 60 seconds to persuade his longstanding friend John Provan, the man who persuaded Newland to go into training, to buy the horse.
Both had attended the National for the past 20 years and it was their dream to have a runner in the race. They did not, however, expect to win the world’s greatest steeplechase at the very first attempt as Pineau De Re survived a couple of serious mistakes as many of the top contenders – including Tidal Bay and Long Run – came to grief on the first circuit.
It was the riderless Tidal Bay, whose luckless jockey Sam Twiston-Davies had a successful association with the Newland stable and Pineau De Re previously, that so hampered Middleham rider Henry Brooke on the pacesetting Across The Bay at the start of the second circuit.
For a long time, it looked like history was going to repeat itself as Mr Moonshine, running in the Auroras Encore colours, led the field with some prodigious leaps before his stamina faded.
Although stablemate Vintage Star was pulled up, High Eldwick trainer Sue Smith was delighted with how Mania gave Mr Moonshine every chance of winning, even though the going had become “too dead” for the 10-year-old’s liking after persistent rain.
As for Mania, he tweeted: “Mr Moonshine was class. Just got tired.” This could be a horse better suited next year to the Topham Trophy over one circuit of Aintree while rugby player Mike Tindall’s Monbeg Dude, tutored over jumps by his wife Zara Phillips, will definitely have another crack at the National after running on to finish seventh.
Phillips told The Yorkshire Post that she had been “very nervous” before Tindall disclosed that he had been forgiven for bidding for the horse at an auction on a spur of the moment. “As my wife said, you can’t be disappointed with that,” he added.
To cap an amazing weekend, Newland then saddled a double at Market Rasen courtesy of Dalmo and Ardkilly Witness, the latter ridden by Aspell.
As for the National jockeys, the BHA must now decide whether to impose the suspensions or take a more pragmatic view that the start was a split-second away from being perfect. If it has any sense, it will drop the matter.