BY CHRIS MCNULTY
AINTREE was awash with Donegal racing enthusiasts on Saturday – and for one south-west Donegal family there was a real pep in the step as 33-1 shot Neptune Collonges nosed to victory on the line in the John Smith’s Grand National.
Winning jockey Daryl Jacob has strong connections to Portnoo, where his mother Anne Gallagher hails from.
The family has still a lot of ties to the area, Daryl’s uncle is the Killybegs-based business man Michael Gallagher, who is well known in the fishing industry.
Members of the family were in Aintree to see Jacob guide Neptune Collonges to one of the tightest victorys in Grand National history.
Jacob had marginally greater momentum than Sunnyhill Boy and hauled himself over the line to secure the win for trainer Paul Nicholls and become the first grey winner of the prestigious race since 1961.
Jacob dedicated the moment to his late best friend Kieran Kelly, who lost his life after a fall in 2003.
“I didn’t know where the winning line was but I knew that, inch by inch, I was starting to grind him down,” he said.
“Luckily enough the line came and we held on just enough to get there.
“Nipper (Neptune Collonges) was going as fast at the start as he was at the end – he knew what pace he was going and I just trusted him on it. I don’t think he missed a beat the whole way round.
“Kieran looked after me when I worked for Dessie Hughes and he virtually kicked me out of the house to go and ride in England so without him I wouldn’t be here.
“It is the same with Robert and Sally Alner – I’m just happy to repay them for what they did.”
The race was again remembered for some on course tragedy as pre-race favourite Synchronised – the winner of last month’s Gold Cup at Cheltenham – and According To Pete had to be put down after falling at the famous Becher’s Brook fence. Synchronised unseated AP McCoy on the first circuit and According To Pete was a casualty on the second loop. Both horses had to be euthanised after the race, bringing its future into question again.
But for one Donegal family, there was unbridled joy and Portnoo can now lay claim to a slice of victory from the world’s greatest steeplechase.
The award means that Gillian will now go on to represent Donegal at the National IBYE Finals in March