The Ulster National at Downpatrick was overshadowed by the death of the winner, Chief Oscar, the locally trained horse collapsing shortly after passing the post.
Winning trainer Brian Hamilton, from Downpatrick, was devastated.
He said: “I can’t take it in. There was no obvious reason why Chief Oscar collapsed — according to the vet he ruptured an artery and died of a heart attack.
“He was on his way back to the parade ring having finished the race when he collapsed.
“It’s hard to take this all in.”
The winning jockey Andrew Lynch, thrown from Chief Oscar when the horse collapsed, was shocked by the course of events.
“There was no indication as he jumped the last fence in front that this drama would follow.
“I pulled him up after passing the winning post and it was only after cantering back to the start that he lost his rhythm and went down. I have never known anything like it,” he said.
Winning owner Bobby Donaldson, from Enniskillen, admitted his dream had been shattered in the saddest of circumstances.
He said: “This would have been my biggest win but I’m saddened for the trainer.
“We had always wanted to win the Ulster National. Now we have done so in circumstances that are better forgotten. I can understand why Brain is in tears.”
Hamilton later said: “I told everyone a year ago that my big hope was to win an Ulster National. It means everything to me and now this has happened. Fair enough, I have won the race because the result will stand but to lose Chief Oscar is just unbearable.
“He was such a valiant servant of the stable.
“Ironically when I was a jockey I rode my first winner here and the horse broke down although he didn’t die. It’s strange the way it has happened today but everyone has been so kind. They have gone a long way to make me feel I have a lot of friends in racing.”
Jeremy Maxwell, well known Downpatrick trainer and a close friend of Hamilton, said: “I can see why Brian is upset. What can you say to him?
“As soon as I saw him coming back from the spot where Chief Oscar collapsed I knew something was wrong. He then burst into a flood of tears. That’s not the way to finish the race.”
Chief Oscar came on the scene late on in the race and at the finish just got up to beat Bally Wall, trained by Ian Ferguson in Cullybackey, by a neck with third place going to Selection Box, trained at Crossgar by Colin McBratney.
It was an all Ulster finish but the delight of the crowd was soon stifled by the news that something had happened to the winner.
Ian Ferguson, trainer of runner-up Bally Wall, said: “It’s sad for Brian. He has won the race and yet he is going home with a heart full of sadness.”
Meanwhile, trainer Paul Nicholls' challenge for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which looked like being five-strong, has been reduced to four after it emerged that Taranis has suffered an injury setback and will miss the Festival and the Aintree Grand National.