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Tragedy strikes at National

The 165th Grand National produced the closest finish in the history of the race as Neptune Collonges beat Sunnyhill Boy by a nose, but the drama on the run-in was all but obscured here yesterday by the news that two horses, including Synchronised, the Gold Cup winner at Cheltenham last month, had been put down after suffering injuries during the race.

Synchronised, which was ridden by champion jockey Tony McCoy, fell at Becher's Brook on the first circuit of the track, but did not appear to suffer a serious injury. However, he then broke down while running loose and was put down shortly afterwards. According To Pete, one of the outsiders for the race, was also put down after being brought down at the same fence on the second circuit.

Synchronised, one of the favourites for the race, had been the focus of attention before the National had even begun, as the nine-year-old unseated McCoy on the way to the starting area and galloped loose for several minutes before being caught and reunited with his rider. The horse was examined by a vet before being allowed to take part, causing the National to go off nearly 10 minutes late, a delay that was further extended by two false starts.

Synchronised is the most significant casualty of the Grand National since another Gold Cup winner, Alverton, was killed in a fall, also at Becher's Brook, in 1979. Alverton's jockey that day was Jonjo O'Neill, the trainer of Synchronised.

For the second year running, it was also necessary to bypass a fence on the second circuit of the Grand National, as Noel Fehily was receiving treatment after being unseated from State Of Play at the fifth. Fehily was taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg, while State Of Play was uninjured.

The Grand National's safety record was the subject of close scrutiny in the run-up to yesterday's renewal after the death of two horses in the race last year, and the debate over the risks that are run by horses and riders in the world's most famous steeplechase can only now increase.

The role of Becher's Brook, the most famous obstacle on the course, in both fatal injuries yesterday is likely to draw attention to the continuing use of 'drop' fences -- which are lower on the landing side than on take-off -- at Aintree.

"I think the Grand National has a future if it changes and makes the risk factors lower and more acceptable," said David Muir equine consultant to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Observer

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