The 2016 Grand National Grey Horses: ‘Everybody loves a grey…’
Three different grey horses have won the Grand National four times – The Lamb (1868 and 1871), Nicolaus Silver (1961) and Neptune Collonges (2012).
But greys have gone close in recent years. Suny Bay, second to Lord Gyllene in 1997, filled the same spot behind Earth Summit in 1998 when the top-weight.
Cavalier came seventh and 12th in the same two renewals. Baronet fell at the fourth in 1999 and Senor El Betrutti failed to get beyond the first in 2000.
Two greys were among the first four home in 2002 – the runner-up What’s Up Boys and the fourth Kingsmark – while Birkdale finished 10th and two other greys, Carryonharry and Gun ‘N’ Roses, failed to complete.
There were no Grand National Grey Horses in 2003 but What’s Up Boys (brought down sixth) and Kingsmark (ninth) ran again in 2004, with the other grey that year, outsider Royal Atalza, being pulled up two out.
The three greys that ran in 2005 did not fare well – Strong Resolve finished 17th, while Double Honour and Marcus Du Berlais unseated their riders.
In 2006, Ross Comm fell at the fourth, while the two greys in 2007 also failed to complete – Kandjar D’Allier fell at the eighth fence and The Outlier unseated at the 19th.
King Johns Castle finished an execellent second to Comply Or Die in 2008, while the two other greys did not get round – Turko fell at Valentine’s on the second circuit and D’Argent unseated Robert Thornton two fences later.
Reveillez lined up as the only grey in the 2009 John Smith’s Grand National but the Jonjo O’Neill-trained 10-year-old, who had won a handicap chase around the Mildmay Course at the John Smith’s Grand National meeting in 2007, made an early departure after being brought down at the third fence.
Four Grand National Grey Horses took part in the 2010 renewal. Character Building and Piraya completed in seventh and 13th respectively, while Beat The Boys was pulled up before the 19th fence and King Johns Castle refused to race.
The 11-year-old Neptune Collonges in 2012 became the first grey victor since Nicolaus Silver in 1961 and gave champion jump trainer Paul Nicholls a maiden John Smith’s Grand National victory with his 53rd runner in the world’s most famous chase. The landmark win sealed a seventh consecutive trainers’ title for Nicholls, who had trailed main rival Nicky Henderson by £150,000 going into the great race, which was worth a record £975,000. The win prize money of £547,267 transformed the situation.
Nicholls’ hopes of landing a first John Smith’s Grand National had seemingly been dealt a major blow in the build-up to the showpiece when the more fancied of his two entries, Niche Market, was sidelined by a tendon injury in March. This left Neptune Collonges on 11st 6lb, near the top of the handicap.
The top-class performer had in his pomp won three Grade One chases in Ireland and finished third to stablemates Kauto Star and Denman in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Neptune Collonges stepped back to handicaps after finishing eighth in the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup and, before coming to Liverpool, had been a fast-finishing second to Giles Cross in the Grade Three Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock in February, having earlier performed well in handicaps at Ascot and Sandown.
Even so, Neptune Collonges was sent off a 33/1 chance by the bookmakers and paid over 46/1 on the tote. A top-class field for the 2012 John Smith’s Grand National was headed by the previous month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Synchronised, the first winner of chasing’s level weights championship contest to come on to Aintree since Master Oats in 1995.
After two false starts, the 40 runners were sent on their way to the roar of 70,000-strong crowd and Neptune Collonges was settled well away at the rear of the field by Daryl Jacob. Planet Of Sound had established a clear lead over the 8/1 joint-favourites Shakalakaboomboom and Seabass jumping the Chair at the end of the first circuit of the Grand National course, with Neptune Collonges, Sunnyhillboy and On His Own working their way into contention.
On His Own fell at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit when very much in contention, bringing down According To Pete and leaving Neptune Collonges, Seabass and Hello Bud disputing third behind Planet Of Sound and Shakalakaboomboom who continued to duel for the lead jumping Valentine’s for the second time. They plus Seabass, Hello Bud, Neptune Collonges and Sunnyhillboy established a break over the chasing pack.
Rounding the home turn, eight horses were in contention after Ballabriggs and In Compliance latched on to the tail of the main group but Planet Of Sound began to drop back after his earlier exertions, leaving Shakalakaboomboom in the lead. Seabass was driven to the front by Katie Walsh approaching the last as Shakalakaboomboom faded but Sunnyhillboy looked full of running under Richie McLernon.
Neptune Collonges, just in behind the leading trio, was rousted along to maintain his position. Sunnyhillboy, trained and owned like Synchronised by Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus respectively, established a two-length lead halfway up the famous run-in but his stamina ebbed away in the final 50 yards and he could not resist the very late thrust of Neptune Collonges who went ahead in the final stride. There was a tense wait for the result of the photo-finish to be announced.
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