Pineau De Re wins Grand National by 5 lengths

AINTREE, England (AP)—Pineau De Re won a chaotic Grand National by five lengths on Saturday, giving the most prized victory in jumps racing to a doctor who trains horses as a hobby and a jockey back in the saddle after a premature retirement.

More than half of the 40-horse field failed to finish the world’s most grueling steeplechase at Aintree, but Pineau De Re—a 25-1 shot—steered clear of the carnage to break free after jumping the last of the 30 fences in front.

It was a confident and assured ride from jockey Leighton Aspell, who finished second in his debut National in 2003 and retired from riding in 2007— a decision he admits making in the heat of the moment after a tough end to a season. He returned within two years, having missed the weighing-room camaraderie and the thrill of racing.

“I was a bit low,” the 37-year-old Aspell said, “but within 12 months I realised I had unfinished business and that there was some life in the old dog.”

Only 18 horses completed the 4 1/2 -mile (7.2-kilometer) trip but, for the second year running, there were no horse fatalities to mar a race that is always heavily criticized by animal-rights protesters because of the fearsome nature of the fences.

“It’s great to report that all jockeys and horses came back safely which is what we wanted to achieve today from our perspective,” said John Baker, a regional director of the Jockey Club Racecourses. “We’ve got a fantastic story here.”

He wasn’t just referring to Aspell’s comeback.

It was also a day to remember for Dr. Richard Newland, a graduate from Cambridge University who trains just 12 horses in his home town of Worcester in central England. He was instrumental in persuading good friend John Provan to buy Pineau De Re last year as a 10-year-old, and now has a Grand National winner on his hands in his first entry in the famous race.

His timing was perfect, too—this was the first year that prize money climbed to 1 million pounds ($1.65 million).

“This is a hobby for me really,” said Newland, who runs a healthcare business after giving up being a practitioner at a surgery, “and I have no real plans to change anything at the minute.

“I’m lucky enough to be able to do this (train horses) and enjoy it but if you do it as a full-time job, there’s a higher level of stress and less fun.”

The 11-year-old Pineau De Re—named after an aperitif wine produced in western France—is the third straight outsider to win the thrill-a-minute National, which is screened to a worldwide TV audience of about 600 million. Neptune Collonges (33-1) won in 2012 and Auroras Encore (66-1) romped to victory last year.

Teaforthree, Long Run and Tidal Bay were among the well-backed horses that failed to finish the race, which began on the second try after a false start.

Pineau De Re was never far from the front but moved into serious contention after jumping the Canal Turn, with only six more fences remaining. After clearing the last, he had more energy than his rivals on the long run to the finish line and never looked like being passed.

Twenty-one horses have died over fences used in the Grand National since 2001 but the three-day 2014 Aintree Festival has passed without a single horse dying. Modifications to the course ahead of the 2013 race, which included softening the high fences and improving landing areas and course irrigation, appear to have improved the situation.

“It has given us greater confidence in the measures taken to make Aintree safer for horses,” said Mark Kennedy, head of science for animal welfare at World Society for the Protection of Animals. “Though, of course, we need to see what happens over the next few years.”

Updated Apr 5, 2:27 pm EDT