In April, 2012, Paul Nicholls had won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship for the last six years running but, after 52 attempts, had failed to win the highest profile race in the National Hunt calendar, the Grand National. However, on April 14 his luck changed, when Neptune Collonges, owned by John Hales and ridden by Daryl Jacob, snatched victory by the minimum margin in the final stride of the Aintree marathon.
Sent off at 33/1, despite having failed by just a neck to overhaul Giles Cross, who was receiving a stone, in the Betfred Grand National Trial on his previous start in February, Neptune Collonges made headway from mid-division heading out on the second circuit and, by the time the field reached the twenty-seventh fence, also known as “Booth”, was on the heels of the leaders. Only third jumping the last fence, he looked beaten when Sunyhillboy took the lead at the Elbow but, switched to the outside in the closing stages, bore down on his rival to win by a nose in a head-bobbing, pulsating finish. It was, in fact, the closest ever finish in the history of Grand National.
Seabass, ridden by Katie Walsh, finished third, a further 5 lengths away, having found no extra when headed at the Elbow. Nevertheless, in so doing, the gelding made Walsh, who was having her first ride in the race, the most successful female jockey in the history of the Grand National.
Neptune Collonges, for his part, became only the third grey, after The Lamb and Nicolaus Silver, to win the Aintree spectacular. His victory also secured yet another National Hunt Trainers’ Championship for Paul Nicholls, who said of him, “He got there at the right time and that’s what counts. This has been a race we haven’t had the best of luck in, but it’s great to win.” He also added, “If it hadn’t been for Denman or Kauto Star, then he’d have won a Gold Cup.”
John Hales announced the immediate retirement of the winner, as he had intimated before the race, saying simply, “He’ll never race again, that’s it.”