66-1 outsider Auroras Encore romps to Grand National victory

Ryan Mania riding Auroras Encore clears the last to win the Grand National steeplechase at Aintree Racecourse on Saturday.

Story highlights

  • Auroras Encore defies the odds to win Saturday's Grand National at Aintree
  • Ryan Mania rides the 66-1 outsider to victory in jockey's debut appearance
  • Only 17 of 40 entrants complete race, but no repeat of last year's two horse deaths
  • However, two horses died following races earlier in the three-day meeting

Patience and persistence paid off for jockey Ryan Mania on Saturday as he helped Sue Smith to become only the third woman trainer to win Britain's most famous -- and most controversial -- steeplechase, the Grand National.

The Scottish jockey, having his first ride in the race, briefly quit horse racing during a frustrating 2011 season. But in a fairytale turnaround, the 23-year-old, who only returned to the saddle this winter, rode 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore to victory in the four-and-a-half-mile marathon.

After an almost flawless run, the 11-year-old stormed home ahead of Cappa Bleu and Teaforthree in front of a 70,000 crowd in Liverpool, watched by an estimated 600 million television audience.

"I couldn't have asked for a better ride and the old horse was loving it as well," said Mania, after winning by nine lengths on a horse who had failed to finish three of his last seven starts and was well off the pace in the other four.

Read: Ultimate challenge or death trap for horses?

Mania started working with 65-year-old Smith and her husband Harvey after a six-month hiatus when his former boss lost his training license.

The richest day of horse racing
The richest day of horse racing


    The richest day of horse racing


The richest day of horse racing 03:02
From camel racing to prized jockey
From camel racing to prized jockey


    From camel racing to prized jockey


From camel racing to prized jockey 02:46
Man + horse + skis = ??
Man + horse + skis = ??


    Man + horse + skis = ??


Man + horse + skis = ?? 03:03
Life as an expat jockey in Doha
Life as an expat jockey in Doha


    Life as an expat jockey in Doha


Life as an expat jockey in Doha 02:30

"I couldn't have come back without them," he said. "The opportunities for jockeys up north are very limited and I am lucky to have such a good yard behind me."

There was further welcome news for racing fans as it was confirmed that all 40 of the horses and riders to start the race returned home unscathed -- although only 17 of those completed the course.

The annual Aintree event had been under intense scrutiny from animals rights groups after recent editions of the race had been marred by a high number of equine fatalities -- 11 since 2002.

That prompted race organizers to introduce a number of new safety measures this year, spending more than £1 million ($1.5 million) on alterations, including modifying the structure of the jumps themselves to make them safer and more forgiving and watering the ground the ensure going no faster than good-to-soft.

Read: Safety changes for Grand National

However, there were two deaths in races in the first two days of this week's meeting, prompting criticism from animal welfare groups.

"We are delighted there have been no fatalities in today's big race," Dr. Mark Kennedy from the World Society for the Protection of Animals told CNN on Saturday .

"The (earlier) deaths of the horses Battlefront and Little Josh reflects current risk of fatalities in steeplechasing which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

"Horse deaths or fatalities at the Grand National are not freak accidents, but statistical probabilities. The risks prove to be high each year. We are not calling for a ban of the Grand National or a ban of horse racing, but merely to make the race safer for the horse and indeed the jockey."

In a nonetheless eventful race, on which in excess of £100 million ($150 million) was wagered by punters, Seabass, the 11-2 favorite and last year's third-placer, ran well for Katie Walsh until running out of steam with a handful of fences to jump, eventually fading to 13th.

She was seeking to become the first woman rider to win the race, but caused controversy in the buildup when she claimed it would have been "a lot worse if two jockeys had lost their lives" in reference to the two fatalities at last year's Grand National.

Her brother Ruby, riding the second favorite On His Own, was a casualty at Valentine's Brook, the 25th fence of 30. But fortune did smile on swashbuckling amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, who finished a creditable fourth on Oscar Time, the runner-up in 2011.

      Winning Post

    •  Bode Miller (L) and Morgan Miller attend 140th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

      Ski star Miller plans new 'voodoo'

      He's won six Olympic medals on two legs, but Bode Miller's future will ride on four -- can he replicate his skiing success in the "Sport of Kings"?
    • Flanders Mud

      Ex-jockey molds new career

      As a jockey, Philip Blacker lived for the thrills and spills of horse racing. As a sculptor, his work captures the horror of World War I.
    • Zebra Mombassa in the English countryside, 1980s.

      Queen's 'horseman' tames zebras

      Ever thought zebras couldn't be tamed? Think again. Gary Witheford has a remarkable way with wild animals -- which he proved after a pub boast.
    • The ancient art of horse taming

      The internet went wild for so-called "horse yoga" -- but there was something deeper going on that reconnects humans with the animal world.
    • Runners canter before racing during the Laytown race meeting run on the beach on September 08, 2011 in Laytown, Ireland. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

      Quick sand: A race like no other

      The going is always soft and the only permanent building is a toilet block. It's the antithesis to the pomp of Royal Ascot ... welcome to Irish beach racing.
    • The Crow Fair and Rodeo takes place in Montana each summer.

      World's largest teepee city

      Each August, over a thousand tents and hundreds of horses converge on Little Big Horn River in Montana for the Crow Fair and Rodeo.
    • Rider Jon Marc goes for victory in the Indian Relay

      America's best sporting secret?

      Little-known outside the tribes of the Rocky Mountains in the American northwest, Indian Relay is a "magical" horse-racing relay.
    • Jockey Gary Stevens looks on after a race prior to the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

      'This is middle-aged crazy'

      Now in his 50s, one of the world's most successful jockeys explains why he gave up acting to return to the sport that nearly crippled him.
    •  An infrared camera was used to create this image.) A horse and exercise rider head to the main track for morning training at Belmont Park on June 4, 2014 in Elmont, New York.

      More rare than a moonwalk

      More people have walked on the moon than have won the fabled Triple Crown of U.S. horse racing. California Chrome is seeking to square that score.