Auroras Encore sprang a 66-1 upset in the £975,000 John Smith's Grand National Chase April 6 at Aintree, surging to a nine-length triumph in the world's most famous steeplechase.
The 11-year-old Second Empire gelding posted his first win from eight starts in a year since capturing a 2 1/2-mile handicap last April at Haydock. Following up that effort, he demonstrated his class and stamina in finishing second by a head in the Scottish Grand National over four miles at Ayr.
The race, contested before an estimated crowd of 70,000, appeared to be incident free after four horses died in the past two editions of the grueling event.
Jockey Ryan Mania was riding in the Grand National for the first time and coaxed the best from Auroras Encore, placing him close behind the front-runners before sending him to the lead soon after the final of 30 testing fences. From there the gelding coasted to the easy victory.
"There are no words to describe it. I got a dream ride round, I couldn't believe my luck," Mania told Associated Press. "I couldn't fault the horse. He loved every second of it. He was just class."
Auroras Encore was timed in 9:12 for the nearly 4 1/2-mile trip on a turf course rated as good to soft. Cappa Bleu kicked from the back of the field to take second near the finish line, a neck in front of Teaforthree, who led a quarter-mile out but was collared at the final fence and finished third.
"The horse ran a fantastic race," trainer Sue Smith told Racing Post. "Ryan gave him a fantastic ride and always had the horse where he wanted to be.
"Because he ran so well in the Scottish National we knew he would get the trip. All winter long the ground has been against us. He really does not like soft ground. How it ended up here has been superb for him."
Smith is one of three women to trainer a Grand National winner, joining Jenny Pitman (Corbiere in 1983 and Royal Athlete in 1995) and Venetia Williams (Mon Mome in 2009).
Seabass, the 11-2 favorite with Racing Post, finished 13th in the full field of 40. Katie Walsh was bidding to become the first female jockey to win the race aboard Seabass, who ran out of steam in the closing stages. Two other well-regarded horses, On His Own and Colberts Station, were among 23 of the original 40 starters that did not finish.
Late last year, Auroras Encore's previous owners sold him to a three-man partnership that includes David Pryde, David van der Hoeven. and Jim Beaumont.
Bred in Ireland by Mountarmstrong Stud, Auroras Encore is by French group I winner Second Empire, an 18-year-old son of Fairy King. A former Coolmore stallion, he died in South Africa in 2011 after shattering a hind leg while emerging from an anesthetic after surgery.
Auroras Encore is out of the Rainbow Quest mare Sama Veda, who raced on the flat as a homebred for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. He is from the family of French multiple group winner Samando and Australian group I winner Runyon.
Grand National officials, under pressure because of recent horse deaths, were breathing a sigh of relief afterward. In the last two years, more than £1 million was spent on safety and welfare measures at the course, including making changes to the core of every fence, leveling work. and enhancing the watering system to help to produce the safest possible jumping ground.
"Far fewer fallers were recorded in the 2013 John Smith's Grand National, as with the other races over the Grand National Course during the meeting," said race director John Bake. "The new construction of the fences appeared to play a significant part in the spectacle and we also need to recognize the part the jockeys have played right from the off. British racing should be tremendously proud of their contribution today."
Race officials said only two horses fell during the race, with six jockeys unseated, and that all returned safely.