Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the Box: Ban the Grand National? Go take a jump

“What you see at Aintree is the end product,” said Clare Balding with sooth-saying accuracy ahead of the big race on Saturday.

Sadly, but not tragically, two horses died as a result of their injuries sustained in the Grand National and it has produced the sort of angst and uproarious indignation that you might get, say, for a liner sinking and 1500 people losing their lives.

Yes, a little perspective may be needed here, for as much as the owners love their animals, their equine-friends are bred for sport and like our old chum, the cow, would be confined to a zoo if they weren’t needed elsewhere.

It over-shadowed what was a fantastic race, sprinkled with some superb build-up, including Clare’s visit to see According to Pete, one of the horses who was to die, and the highlight was a look back at the life and times of someone who is no longer with us — Ginger McCain.

The legendary trainer of Red Rum passed away last year and it was great to see a few clips of the curmudgeonly great, although Clare’s face when Richard Pitman said ‘you were on the end of his tongue a few times’ was a picture.

There was drama too, Tony McCoy coming a cropper before the race started, then two false starts and the battle to the line was an epic one with Neptune Collonges getting up to win by a nostril as Jim McGrath described it.

The Beeb learned from last year though and where a black-sheeted object was described as an obstacle there was no repeat although Ian Bartlett commenting that Synchronised had been ‘destroyed’ was less than tactful.

Pitman explained that putting a horse down was ‘not a light-hearted thing at all, it’s the kindest thing’ but you sensed he was fighting a losing battle.

And then it was all over — the BBC at least — as the curtain came down on their coverage of the world’s greatest steeplechase forever.

“A huge thanks to all those who have been involved in the television coverage for that was the Grand National on the BBC,” ended Balding.

It will return next year on Channel Four, where the build-up will be much the same, the hype will remain and millions will tune in and 40 runners and riders will risk life and limb for the sport they love. It was always thus

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