Neptune Collonges (left) and Sunnyhillboy fight out a thrilling finishPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Neptune Collonges gives Nicholls first National
Report: Aintree, Saturday
John Smith's Grand National (Grade 3) 4m4f, 7yo+
NEPTUNE COLLONGES gave champion trainer Paul Nicholls his first Grand National at the 53rd attempt as jockey Daryl Jacob edged out Richie McLernon on Sunnyhillboy in a thrilling photo finish to the world's most famous race.
John Hales's gallant grey, sent off at 33-1, nailed Sunnyhillboy (16-1) on the line by a nose, the shortest winning margin in the history of the Aintree marathon.
Neptune Collonges, who became the first grey winner of the National since 1961, was immediately retired so goes out in a blaze of glory.
Sadly, Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised was one of two deaths reported after the race, alongside According To Pete.
Nicholls said of the winner: "This is probably the best horse we've run in the race. If it hadn't been for Denman and Kauto Star he'd have probably won a Gold Cup. He deserves to win a fantastic race because he has been a brilliant, consistent horse."
Close: Grand National photo finishPICTURE: racetech
The victory puts Nicholls in pole position to defend the jumps trainers' title despite Nicky Henderson's successes at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.
Nicholls aded: "It's blown Nicky Henderson out the water, that's put that game over for another season. This is the one we wanted. It's brilliant."
Hales said: "I just wanted him to get round safe. I never dreamed we'd win it. I’m so emotional I cannot believe it. He'll never race again."
Jacob, who Nicholls has always rated, ever since recommending him to then near-neighbour Paul Keane when he was still a conditional, said: "Paul [Nicholls] really looked after me this year. It was a very, very tough, very close finish. He just kept going for all he's worth. He's dug very, very deep.
"It's a massive, massive team effort. All credit to all down at Ditcheat."
Daryl Jacob rejoices after riding the most high-profile winner of his careerPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
The Katie Walsh-ridden Seabass (8-1 joint favourite) fell away from the leading duo after the Elbow and finished in front of fourth-placed Cappa Bleu (16-1) with In Compliance belying his 100-1 odds in fifth.
"Seabass was super all the way," said Walsh, who went closer to National glory than any previous female jockey.
"He was still on the bridle with two to jump and those around me were off it. But I could hear horses coming behind me away from the second last. Although my horse never gave up the first two had more left on the run in."
Cappa Bleu's trainer Evan Williams, no stranger to saddling placedrunners in the National after his State Of Play made the frame in the previous three runnings, said: "Inexperience caught him [Cappa Bleu] out. He got shuffled back. Paul said he found every faller he could. It was a good run and I'm proud."
Last year's winner Ballabriggs was sixth at 12-1, a significant placing for those who backed him each-way with BetVictor, who paid out on the first half-dozen home.
In a National chock-full of incident, there were a whole host of early fallers, including leading fancies Junior and West End Rocker as 15 of the 40 runners completed the 4m4f contest.