This year’s John Smith Grand National was a great race that thankfully was not marred by any bad falls or fatalities. In fact, all 40 starters returned to the stable safe after the race and 17 horses finished.
Only two horses fell during the race. Perhaps this year the course designers finally got it right and created a course that was challenging but still safe. All the horses made it over the first seven fences and 33 horses started the second circuit.
There were two major changes to the course: First, 12 of the 16 fences were rebuilt using “plastic birch” instead of timber frames. The plastic birch is a softer material. So, even though the fences remained the same height, they were more forgiving. In addition, the starting line was also moved 90 yards closer to the first fence, further away from the spectactors’ stands and thereby reducing slightly the overall distance. There was some hope that reducing the distance to the first fence would keep the horses slower as they started.
Auroras Encore, who raced at odds of 66-1, is a described by his trainer as a “spring” horse who comes alive when the temperature starts to rise and he certainly took advantage of the warmer weather, beating the favorites and carrying his jockey, Ryan Mania, to victory on his first Grand National ride. Mania had temporarily retired from racing in 2011, working as staff for a hunt, when he found mounts hard to come by. That will certainly no longer be the case. (Note: On Saturday, Mania’s mount Stagecoach Jasper fell at Hexham. Mania was airlifted to the hospital with injuries to his back. Although it is believed that a horse kicked him between the shoulder blades, Mania has reported that he’s “grand” and not seriously injured).
Auroras Encore is trained by Sue Smith — she is the third female trainer to have a Grand National winner.