Synchronised homecoming after Gold Cup win, with Tony McCoy and Jonjo O'Neill

Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised died duringthe Grand National

  PICTURE: Getty Images  

RSPCA seek further changes to National

THE Grand National is clearly not safe enough, according to Gavin Grant, the chief executive of the RSPCA, who has called for further changes to the race following the deaths of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised and According To Pete in Saturday's John Smith's-backed showpiece.

Modifications were made to the course after two horses died in the race last year, but Grant wants further action.

He questioned the number of runners (40) and said the famous Aintree fences need examining again.

"It's clearly not safe enough," Grant said on Sunday morning. "Excitement and drama at Aintree yes, death and suffering no, has to be the message.

"Three horses have died at Aintree this week [Gottany O's broke down on the flat in a juvenile hurdle on Thursday] and five died at Cheltenham five weeks ago. Changes have to happen here.

"We recognise racing is part and parcel of the fabric of our country but we've all got a responsibility as human beings - after all the horses haven't got a choice, they can't make the decisions - to make racing as safe as it can be."

Grant, who was speaking to BBC Breakfast, added: "As far as the Grand National is concerned there are lots of factors, Firstly, the scale of the field. Forty horses is a heck of a lot. Secondly, there are unique jumps there that horses aren't experienced in going over and I think we need to look at those jumps again.

"Becher's Brook has claimed another casualty [According To Pete] and perhaps it's time for that to go.

"We need to look at the landing areas. Some improvements have been made there, but when you've got a drop on the other side of the fence a horse isn't expecting that. And the going. The ground conditions are very important. Aintree has made a lot of progress making sure the going is softer because when it's hard the horses run faster.

"There is lots of work tobe done to take the risks to horses out of this."

The National was won by Neptune Collonges, who was having his first start over the Aintree fences.

His trainer Paul Nicholls tweeted on Sunday morning: "Neptune Collonges fine today."

As sporting sights go, few match the sheer excitement of 40 horses thundering towards the first fence at Aintree for the John Smith's Grand National.

A race steeped in history that always provides a story, the Grand National is the ultimate test of endurance and skill for both horse and jockey, as the pairing must navigate 30 treacherous fences, and then still have enough stamina to make a challenge on the run-in.

To manage a clear round in the 4m4f epic is no mean achievement, with the fences notoriously difficult and offering unique challenges.

Over the years, there have been countless memorable moments, Devon Loch's phantom leap in the 1956 contest, Foinavon's shock 100-1 win in 1967 and the brilliance of Red Rum, who took the chase on three occasions in 1973, 74 and 77.

In 1981 Aldaniti and Bob Champion completed a heartwarming tale when winning the race, as Aldaniti had recovered from a career-threatening injury while jockey Champion had battled back from cancer.

In 2011 the race provided another fairytale story as Donald McCain emulated his father and Aintree legend Ginger when winning with Ballabriggs - and that came just a year after champion jockey Tony McCoy finally gained victory in the race at the 15th time of asking.