Grand National for wimps or as unpredictable as ever? Ask Corach Rambler

Corach Rambler and Derek Fox fall at the first fence in the Randox Grand National at Aintree
Last year's Grand National winner Corach Rambler fell at the first in 2024 - Davies

This was the Safety First National, the National for Wimps, less a steeplechase, more a procession. Or at least that was the reaction of online critics before the first running of the country’s most popular horse race under its new restricted rules.

After last year’s race was stalled and delayed by an invasion of animal rights activists, the organisers announced they had made changes to reduce the chance of the kind of equine fatality which had long tarnished this meeting. The fences were reduced in height, there were fewer runners, there was a foreshortened dash to the first: generally less chance of pile ups.

And yet, the critics warned, it was always this potential for mayhem that had delivered the race’s most formidable quality: its absolute unpredictability. Anybody could win it, and many an anybody had, picking their way through the debris to steal a glorious unexpected victory.

So in a sense what happened moments after the race began this year would have undermined many a naysayer. At the very first hurdle the 32 horses faced, Corach Rambler, last year’s winner and this year’s joint favourite, clipped the top of the fence and sent his jockey Derek Fox flying from the saddle. That was it. The most heavily tipped horse out of the running.

The grin on the faces of the bookies was widening by the stride. But unlike the mayhem that ensued 12 months ago at the same stage of the race, when Hill Sixteen broke its neck in a horrible fall amid the congestion, both Corach Rambler and Fox were uninjured. Indeed, the only things damaged were the wallets of many a punter in Edinburgh and Glasgow hoping for a second Scottish victory on the bounce.

Loose and rider-free Corach then went on and fell at the very next fence. But he bounced straight up and trotted off, eventually to be collected by a member of his stable staff. No other horse fell, no other horse was endangered. The green screens remained packed and unused. Yet the jeopardy was still in place.

Indeed the idea that the rest of the race then became a procession is absurd. Sure, it was eventually won by I Am Maximus, the horse trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend, the outfit so routinely successful it can be best described as the Manchester City of jump racing. But nobody could have seen that coming halfway round the course. Or even at the final fence. It wasn’t until he made a burst down the concluding straight that those who had backed the horse began to bounce in expectation of a return on their investment. In the glorious April sunshine, Liverpool was letting its hair down en masse.

After the race was over, and he had changed from his silks into a collar and tie, Townend was asked if he had noticed any significant practical difference in this his 13th National ride, compared to the previous 12 he had ridden under the old rules, he was quick to play down the idea that the race had become easy – and boring.

“The fences still take respect,” he said. “I made a few mistakes and lost my position because of that. These fences still slow down the horse if you don’t attack them well. Actually, it’s probably a lot tighter race now.”

The risk may be reduced and thankfully so. But the idea that this is now a doddle is fanciful; for the horses, it remains the most significant physical challenge they will ever face. If only we could ask Corach Rambler. He would tell you it hadn’t turned easy.

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