Aintree Grand National: Drama of false start and inquiry row fails to mar renewal

Former Irish-owned Pineau De Re obliges for Cambridge-trained GP

Pineau De Re (right) ridden by Leighton Aspell wins the Grand National. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Pineau De Re (right) ridden by Leighton Aspell wins the Grand National. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

 


If Barry Connell has a cat, it might be advised to keep a low profile for a bit. The Dublin businessman has endured a torrid couple of months but watching Pineau De Re, the horse he sold privately less than a year ago, win Saturday’s Aintree Grand must have stung.

Competing at the top is what Connell wants. And despite controversy and adaptation, the National remains at the summit of jump-racing achievement.

That Pineau De Re has progressed to such exalted status will have surprised many who watched the diminutive 11-year-old race in Ireland for former trainer Philip Fenton. It’s safe to assume not too many told Connell he was wrong to believe the hardy customer getting on for veteran status was badly handicapped here and running out of opportunities. And it’s not as if he was going somewhere high profile.

Dr Richard Newland admits to training a dozen horses near Worcester for “a bit of fun”. The Cambridge-trained GP though boasts a notable success rate, although nothing to compare to what he masterminded at the weekend when Kildare jockey Leighton Aspell (37) guided the 25 to 1 shot to a famous defeat of Baltahazar King with Double Seven the first Irish-trained horse in third.

Once retired for a year, Aspell’s previously unwanted claim to fame came in 1998 when he was arrested for false race-fixing claims. That he had, prior to Saturday, been enjoying his best season to date makes this National success the cherry on top of a career built upon perseverance.

However, the famous old race has an unmatched capacity for provoking controversy.

Even when it is scandal free, what happens at the start is notoriously capable of drumming up headlines and so it was on Saturday. A couple of false starts subsequently led to near-mutinous scenes after racing when 39 of the 40 jockeys – Brendan Powell’s mount Battle Group wouldn’t line up – refused to hear the outcome of a stewards inquiry into those scenes at the start.


Measured BHA response
The potential ramifications of such a dramatic move are going to hang over the upcoming British Horseracing Authority hearing into the matter where officials will not only have decide on penalties for the riders’ actions at the start, but

also a response to such a public snub of their authority.

The original inquiry was called into why the jockeys attempted to line up before the official start time, and if they had disobeyed the starter’s instructions, putting the safety of one of the starting staff at risk. Assistant starter Simon McNeill was knocked down by a horse.

An initial enquiry took place during the race after the National at which Tony McCoy acted as spokesman for the jockeys. But when the inquiry was reconvened after the final race the jockeys refused participate.

A spokesman for the Professional Jockeys Association said the move was made because of unease over “certain aspects of the conduct of the inquiry.”

Association chief Paul Struthers said he had contacted his counterpart at the Irish Jockeys Association, Andrew Coonan, “and other solicitors.” He said the jockeys felt “very strongly that matters were not being conducted correctly.”


Progressive Double Seven
Meanwhile, Curragh trainer Martin Brassil hasn’t ruled out another start this season by his stable star Double Seven

.

Brassil, who won the National in 2006 with Numbsersixvalverde, saw his horse heavily backed for the Liverpool spectacular but Double Seven faded in the closing stages.

Jockey Tony McCoy reported ground conditions were slower than ideal for Double Seven but Brassil said: “He ran an absolute stormer. We’re delighted with him. Going to the fourth last I was happy with where he was but I sort of knew going to the back of the third last he wasn’t going to reach the winner . . . He is only eight so hopefully he might go back, fingers crossed.”

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