Auroras Encore passes the winning post in the John Smith's Grand NationalPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Mania strikes as Encore wins Grand National
Report: Aintree, Saturday
John Smith's Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 7yo+, 4m3½f
IT WAS a fairytale Grand National result in every respect. As all 40 runners and all 40 jockeys returned home safe, Ryan Mania, having his first ever ride in the race, crossed the line first on the back of 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore.
It was a remarkable reversal of fortunes for a rider who only two years ago quit the saddle, disenchanted with the scarcity of opportunities available to up-and-coming jockeys as wintry weather took its toll on jumps fixtures.
But the call of racing and the possibility, however remote, of days like this was too strong to resist. Mania returned to the saddle last winter and in the splendid spring sunshine at Aintree completed a storybook journey from being out in the cold to triumphing on the grandest stage of all.
He delivered a riding materclass on-board Auroras Encore. There was little recent form to suggest the Sue Smith-trained 11-year-old should be a contender, except for a close second in last year's Scottish National, but he was given every assistance by a composed Mania.
Riding patiently, prominent but not jostling for position among the front-runners, Mania produced Auroras Encore late to lead just after the last jump and he strode out to the line, accompanied by a loose horse from the Elbow, as if he could run all day.
The Welsh National second Teaforthree gave his all in a superb front-running performance, but by contrast to the winner he was emptying out on the run-in and the on-rushing Cappa Bleu snatched second to place in the race for the second year running.
"Crossing the Melling Road I thought we would be in the first three or four. I couldn't believe the way the front two stopped in front of me at the last," said the Scottish-born Mania.
"I couldn't quite believe my luck in the Scottish National last year let alone this year. Again everything went right."
It was also a first National victory for Yorkshire-based trainer Sue Smith. "It's fantastic. I would have been happy to be in the first four or five and here we are, we've won it. The horse ran a fantastic race, Ryan gave him a fantastic ride and always had the horse where he wanted to be," she said.
"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," she added.
Auroras Encore at full stretch passing the packed Aintree grandstandsPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Cappa Bleu's trainer Evan Williams has had a placed runner in each of the last five Grand Nationals without winning, but insisted he was not upset to narrowly miss out again.
"How can you be disappointed to finish second in the Grand National?" he said. "We are getting closer. I vow I will do it one day. I will do all in my power to get there."
The second's jockey Paul Moloney added: "When I got to Valentine's I really thought I could win but crossing the Melling Road I couldn't go with them and I got caught flat-footed."
Rebecca Curtis, trainer of third-placed Teaforthree, said: "He jumped amazingly well and had an absolutely brilliant round. It was probably just the weight that got him in the end - he had 11st 3lb and the winner was on a light weight but we're delighted with him, it was just brilliant."
Gold Cup winning amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen took fourth on Oscar Time. Waley-Cohen's father Robert, the horse's owner, said: "That was amazing, so exciting. Sam had him in a great position and gave him every chance."
Rare Bob finished fifth under Bryan Cooper and Swing Bill came home sixth. In all, 17 runners finished the race. There were few hard luck stories among those who failed to finish, however.
Colbert Station unseated Tony McCoy at the Chair and could plausibly have worked his way into the race, but On His Own, the 8-1 second favourite, looked tired when falling at Valentine's on the second circuit.
Imperial Commander, the 2010 Gold Cup winner and National top-weight, was pulled up, as were Chicago Grey and Ballabriggs.
Seabass, the 11-2 favourite and last year's third, ran well for Katie Walsh until emptying completely with a handful of fences to jump and fading to finish 13th. Likewise Balthazar King, a 16-1 shot, who battled for the lead on the first circuit but came home in 15th.
Welfare changes introduced by Aintree appeared to pay dividends as just two horses fell and six unseated. For the first time in the race's history the entire field of 40 remained in contention up to the Canal Turn, the eighth fence.
Harvey Smith, husband of the winning trainer, paid tribute to those involved in introducing modifications to the National.
"The fences were absolutely beautiful. All the horses came back in one piece and so did the jockeys. There were over 30 still standing going out in the second circuit, so full marks to Aintree, Lord Daresbury [chairman of Aintree Racecourse], Andrew Tulloch [clerk of the course] and even the RSPCA contributed," he said.
"They have all worked hard and it's onwards and upwards for the Grand National."