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Thread: Neptune lunges late for glory
14th April 2012 #1
Neptune lunges late for glory
Neptune Collonges became the first grey to win the John Smith's Grand National since 1961 and added the only major prize missing from trainer Paul Nicholls' trophy collection in a desperately tight finish at Aintree.
Neither Jonjo O'Neill, the trainer of runner-up Sunnyhillboy who was later to find his Gold Cup winner Synchronised had lost his life in action, nor Nicholls was quite sure whether it was to be their day as the pair flashed past the line together, before a margin of a nose was announced in favour of the 33-1 chance.
Neptune Collonges and Daryl Jacob had greater momentum than Richie McLernon and Sunnyhillboy as they remorselessly clawed back the lead, and they hauled themselves over the line just in front virtually to secure Nicholls yet another trainers' championship. Seabass was third under Katie Walsh.
There was only one grey hero last century, Nicolaus Silver 51 years ago, and Neptune Collonges's late lunge for victory was by the shortest possible winning distance before a dead-heat has to be announced.
Jacob dedicated the moment to his late best friend Kieran Kelly, a highly accomplished jockey himself. He said: "Kieran looked after me when I worked for Dessie Hughes and he virtually kicked me out of the house to go and ride in England, so without him I wouldn't be here. It is the same with Robert and Sally Alner - I'm just happy to repay them.
"I didn't know where the winning line was but I knew that, inch by inch, I was starting to grind him down. Luckily enough the line came and we held on just enough to get there. Nipper (Neptune Collonges) was going as fast at the start as he was at the end - he knew what pace he was going and I just trusted him on it."
Nicholls, who had saddled 52 previous runners, getting closest with runner-up Royal Auclair in 2005, added: "I kept saying to my wife Georgie that he was probably the best horse we've run in the race - if it wasn't for Kauto and Denman he would have won a Gold Cup.
"He's been placed in Gold Cups, he's won Grade Ones, he stays and he's genuine. Gold Cup form counts for an awful lot and Daryl went the brave man's route, and little short-cuts make all the difference. I had given up on the championship after the day Nicky (Henderson) has had, so it's a surprise.
"This was going to be his last race and he'll be retired now. He can go out in a field over the summer with Denman and Kauto Star and have a wonderful home (with owner John Hales) for life. Good old Neptune."
Hales said: "After what happened a few years ago with One Man (who was killed at the meeting), the place has owed me that one. It split the family coming here. My wife was 50-50, my daughter couldn't face it. She has gone showjumping down in South Wales - she has probably jumped off the horse if she is in the middle of the round!"
14th April 2012 #2
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