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Mania strikes as Aurora's Encore takes Grand National‏

A Grand National which held the weight of National Hunt racing upon it's broad shoulders, the 166th running of the world's greatest steeplechase provided a sublime advert for the sport with exhilarating fence-to-fence action as 66-1 outsider, Aurora's Encore, bellowed his odds to power away for a facile success under jockey, Ryan Mania.

In recent years, the Grand National has come under ever increasing pressure from a vast number due to the alarming level of horses which have fallen or been fatally injured when attempting to complete the challenging Aintree showpiece course. However, Aintree have listened to criticisms, taken stock of the issues which have continued to overshadow the world's greatest steeplechase and have made alterations in all areas in an attempt to re-earn the Grand National the positive publicity from national and international media it so richly deserves. 

Aintree Racecourse entered the Grand National confident that the alterations made to the challenging course would provide the best possible opportunity of a safe return for all forty horses, yet as the runners edged ever closer to the tape it is far from shameful to admit that many, including yours truly, took a deep breath, crossed everything, hoped and wished for a safe trip for all concerned. Aintree needed a Grand National which would remind the masses of the unique nature of the great race, a winner which would reignite that romance that the British public have long had with the race.

Enter jockey Ryan Mania and eleven year old, Aurora's Encore whom, at odds of 66-1, who would provide the welcome relief that the Grand National required and in fantastic fashion. Up and down the country, participants in the sweepstakes in work places, public houses and between groups of friends were drawing their lots in the hope that the likes of 8-1 favourite, Seabass, or 10-1 second-favourite, Teaforthree, would be the names etched upon their lucky pieces of paper - Aurora's Encore at 66-1? Well that's just one to put straight in the bin, surely?

Horse racing is a wonderful sport, one that never fails to throw up the most spectacular of exhilarating moments as each day passes, but if one phrase had ever been written for a sport as a whole, it'd be 'never write off the underdog'. Second in the Scottish National the season before, Aurora's Encore had failed to complete in three of his seven outing in the 2012/13 National Hunt season, yet the sunkissed skies that the commencement of Spring readily provides seems to exert renewed energy and enthusiasm from the gelded son of Second Empire.

Victorious at the 2008 Aintree Grand National Festival as a novice hurdler, Aurora's Encore was confidently settled towards the head of the Grand National field as the runners cantered towards the first of thirty fences. In good company, Aurora's Encore jumped smoothly in the early stages towards the middle of the pack as the consistent Balthazar King, Welsh National second-placed Teaforthree and Horse Racing Nation favourite, Imperial Commander, towed the forty runners along. 

Having his first ride in the great race, 23 year old jockey, Ryan Mania, seemed to switch his mount off in the early stages with a increasingly amount of ease as the runners and riders propelled their way over each and every obstacle.

As each fence was jumped, the onlookers which feared the worst, both at Aintree and at home, began to peel back those fingers and palms covering their eyes. Heading to Beecher's Brook, one of the most famous fences and highly criticised jumps in steeplechasing, all forty horses remained standing, and that continued after Beecher's Brook too. For the first time ever in the 166 runnings of the Grand National, all horses and jockeys would make it to the Canal Turn, the eighth fence on the course, a rapturous cheer and applause would break out at Aintree, a sign of relief and of support to the great race, as the Grand National had seemingly propelled it's way back into the hearts of the general public without the full race having even been run.

Fallers are an ever-present fixture in steeplechasing, and as the runners head towards the twelfth fence Tatenen, a 100-1 shot ridden by experienced jockey Andrew Thornton, would be the first horse to fall on the course. A crushing fall, Tatenen would escape the fall uninjured and make it to his feet unharmed, as would Thornton. Just one other horse would fall, On His Own at the twenty-fifth fence, who would also escape the fall unscathed.

As the runners edged onto their second circuit of the Grand National course, Mania and Aurora's Encoure would began to edge closer to their rivals, jumping onto the second circuit in around seventh place as Rebecca Curtis' Teaforthree travelled ominously well at the head of affairs. Cutting the corners well at each of his fences and jumping for fun, as each fence passed by it seemed that the superbly-travelling Teaforthree would take the world of beating in the closing stages, as would the returning figure of Oscar Time who had seemingly been lit up by his first outing over the Aintree fences since his close second to Ballabriggs in the 2011 Grand National.

At the Canal Turn on the final circuit it was clear; Aurora's Encore and Ryan Mania had edged even nearer, travelling and moving exceptionally well behind Teaforthree and with three fences to go there seemed to be just four horses left with clear cut chances of victory. Two fences to go, and Sam Waley-Cohen and Oscar Time looked to have the race at their mercy; the amateur jockey had exerted a fantastic tune from his mount and seemingly needed just one sublime jump before powering towards the famous 'elbow' and into the home straight, yet as Oscar Time produced a good jump at the last, with Teaforthree blundering with a tired jump to his inside, Mania pointed his charge towards the elbow and began to charge towards the straight. Mania and Auroa's Encore had jumped the final fence in superb fashion and had began to bound clear with dead aim on Grand National victory. Victory which had been sealed with the perfect jump from the perfect staying horse - a perfect advert for National Hunt racing if ever there was one.

“It’s unbelievable - people keep telling me to look happy and I am, but I just cannot believe it’s happened. It’s a dream and you cannot explain what it’s like." said Grand National winning jockey, Mania, "I was happy with my early position and he jumped really well over the early fences, with just the odd mistake here and there. He was on his head a bit, but he learned from those mistakes and learned to back off the fences a bit. He was always travelling so well."

“I got a blow into him after Becher’s {Brook], and having ridden here in November I remembered that I probably kicked on a bit soon then and realised you have to give them a chance to get their breath. My only ambition was to get round, although I knew he stayed the trip, but he hasn’t been himself all season and has needed this better ground and sun on his back. He’s not had the sunshine, but he got the better ground and he’s class on his day. Coming to the second-last I was delighted because I realised I was going to be placed, and I thought ‘this is great, let’s just jump home’, then the front two [Teaforthree and Oscar Time] stopped in front of me at the last and I said to myself ‘this isn’t happening’. So I got down and gave him a shove and he quickened on past them.".

Cappa Bleu flew from the clouds to finish in second place, a year after flying in similar fashion for a last gasp fourth placed finish for the yard of Evan Williams who have now had a horse placed in the last five runnings of the Grand National. Teaforthree would finish only third, whilst Oscar Time would complete in fourth. A total of seventeen horses would complete the distance in full. 

Love it, hate it, like it, loathe it, the unique test that the Grand National provides is an awe inspiring sight and Aintree will not stop at these improvements to ensure the safety of all horses and riders whilst retaining the draw of the race. A renewal of the Grand National which required a helping hand, a friend to reignite the romance of the race, it was provided with two able ambassadors for National Hunt racing in the form of Ryan Mania and Aurora's Encore. 

The Grand National is back where it rightly belongs, at the heart of British racing. 


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Older Comments about Mania strikes as Aurora's Encore takes Grand National‏...

Glad to see that idiotic organizations like PETA have not ruined this: it is a national treasure. I do like the fact that Beecher's was filled in as it has caused less morbidity to the contestants both two and four footed. Red Rum Red Rum I heard your name today.
Wonderful recount of the race, Dan! I also hold my breath at every jump, and often avoid watching jump racing for the fear of watching an injury. However, stories like this, told with such enthusiasm, makes me regain confidence in the rich tradition that is the Grand National.
This is a well-written, descriptive article, I felt as if I was there! Thanks for the insight, Dan!

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