IT should have been a celebration of the closest Grand National ever – but within minutes of Neptune Collonges being declared the winner, the mood at Aintree changed.
The news started to break that Synchronised, who weeks earlier had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and According To Pete, had lost their lives after falls.
An estimated global TV audience of 600m saw Synchronised unseat his rider, champion jockey AP McCoy, before the race even began and run loose on the course, delaying the start of the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Within minutes, the top trending topic for Twitter in the UK was #banhorseracing, with thousands of people publishing their distaste at a sport described by some as “cruel” and “barbaric”.
At Aintree, a siege mentality was adopted. Racecourse managing director Julian Thick went before the media to repeat the mantra “we never stand still on safety” and promised a review of the course in conjunction with the British Horseracing Authority.
But the same thing happened last year, when Ornais and Dooney’s Gate were killed in the race. Since 2002, 11 horses have died as a result of taking part in the four-mile, four-furlong race over what experts acknowledge are the most difficult fences in horseracing.
The size of the field has also been criticised, with 40 horses lining up on Saturday for one of Merseyside’s blue ribbon events, attended by more than 150,000 people over three days.
The RSPCA’s equine consultant David Muir was at Aintree – and he called the Grand National “the unacceptable face of horse racing”.
He also criticised the “drop fences”, where the landing side of the jump is lower than the take-off side. Becher’s Brook, where Synchronised fell, is such a fence although he galloped on after his fall before sustaining his injury.
Following last year’s race modifications were made to that fence but for Mr Muir, the changes have not gone far enough.
He said: “For the Grand National to continue, the first thing we must do is to get rid of the drop fences.”
He added the circumstances surrounding each death must be analysed individually to save “jumping to conclusions”.
Saturday’s reaction and Sunday’s headlines were ugly for Aintree and racing enthusiasts argue simply altering the fences will make little difference.