Racing pays respects to Prince Philip on eve of Grand National

Aintree (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Aintree racecourse fell silent as a mark of respect to the late Prince Philip on the eve of the Grand National on Friday as royal trainer Nicky Henderson won one of the day's biggest races.

The Duke of Edinburgh, 99, a polo player in his youth, accompanied racing fan Queen Elizabeth II to Royal Ascot every year.

"I was very lucky to spend time with him at Windsor Castle, he was a very interesting man and a very interested man," former jockey AP McCoy told ITV.

Henderson's horse, Chantry House, backed up his win at last month's Cheltenham Festival with victory in the Mildmay Novices' Chase.

The outcome of the race was in the balance until the penultimate fence when long-time leader Espoir De Romay fell.

"It was a magnificent effort," said winning jockey Nico de Boinville.

"It was just a case of keeping him interested and with Cheltenham only three weeks ago he showed tremendous heart."

Flags flew at half-mast at Aintree and the jockeys wore black armbands in memory of Prince Philip, with Henderson, who has saddled many winners for the queen, paying his own tribute.

"Prince Philip was a remarkable man, an absolute stalwart who served this country so well," he said. "Racing was not his favourite sport but he enjoyed many other equestrian sports.

"He had a wonderful life serving queen and country and we should be saying an enormous thank you for what he has done."

- 'Heart on his sleeve' -

Belfast Banter, like Chantry House, showed he had not gone stale since winning at Cheltenham, triumphing in the Top Novices' Hurdle.

Jockey Kevin Sexton stood up in the saddle, punched the air in delight and then kissed the neck of the horse as he secured his first win at this level.

It was also a first Grade-One success for trainer Peter Fahey.

"I didn't think I could be more shocked than after the County Hurdle, but I am more shocked today," said Sexton.

“The last month has been unbelievable. I have my first ride in the National (aboard Shattered Love) tomorrow.

"A year ago I was at home watching myself ride in the virtual Grand National (the race was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic), having never ridden in the real thing."

Belfast Banter was one of four Irish winners even though there are far fewer Irish runners at Aintree than there were at Cheltenham.

Patrick Mullins warmed up for the ride on the fancied Burrows Saint in Saturday's National by guiding Livelovelaugh to victory over the same fences in the Topham Handicap Case.

The bold front-running display was just the omen Mullins and his father, trainer Willie, as well as owner Susannah Ricci would have wished for ahead of Burrows Saint's daunting task.

"He jumped spectacularly but I was not confident at all as I could not hear anything behind me," he said.

"It is indescribable to ride over those fences and I feel very sorry for those who have not experienced it."

Fakir D'Oudaries put a string of runners-up spots behind him at the top level to finally win a Grade One of his own when he won the Marsh Chase.

Trainer Joseph O'Brien was not present for his moment of glory but said he had never doubted his courage.

"Although he has finished second a lot there is no questioning his attitude as he wears his heart on his sleeve and gives everything in every race," said O'Brien.