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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Cornelius Lysaght column
Cornelius Lysaght
By Cornelius Lysaght
BBC racing correspondent

If this year's Grand National proved anything, it is that Irish racing is absolutely buoyant at present while its British counterpart is down in the dumps.

Numbersixvalverde's fine win was another Irish success to go with those of the Cheltenham Festival and smaller races that the Irish seem to be targeting all the time these days.

In contrast, British racing's image was dealt a double blow by events at Aintree.

Numbersixvalverde (left) leads over the final fence
Numbersixvalverde was the new boy in the class looking to make his mark... it was an outstanding performance

First came the breach of security which saw an undercover reporter get into the stable of last year's winner Hedgehunter.

Admittedly, he was never left alone with the horse, but those who downplayed the seriousness of the matter are missing the point.

Hedgehunter could have been attacked. This was a worrying incident, and something must be done about it.

Then we had the embarrassment of the false start, with the race delayed while two men seemingly tied a bow in the broken tape.

Maybe that was the quickest way to resolve the situation and, yes, the false start flag system worked immaculately.

But on the one day of the year when the eyes of the whole world are trained on British racing, it all felt rather farcical.

These things didn't affect the big race itself, which was a vintage National in many respects, but they do affect the image of racing.

Starting staff at Aintree struggle to mend the broken tape
Image is everything, and British racing's teetered at Aintree this weekend

The problems must be addressed by the new Horseracing Regulatory Authority, which is now responsible for racecourse security and starting procedures.

Aintree officials, who had spent many months preparing for the National, are privately furious about what happened at the start.

When you also consider the recent problems with Kempton's new all-weather track and with the starting stalls at Redcar, the HRA has a lot on its plate.

The new body only officially came into existence on 3 April, but it must work hard to ensure its new dawn for British racing does not become a false one.

Like it or not, this is an age where image is everything, and British racing's image teetered this weekend.

This is not to detract from the quality of the main event, with Numbersixvalverde, 20-year-old jockey Niall Madden and trainer Martin Brassil all winning on their National debuts.

The winner pulled away in the finishing straight to come home by six lengths from Hedgehunter, who put in another sterling display under Ruby Walsh.

He was carrying 11st 12lb compared to Numbersixvalverde's 10st 8lb, and proud owner Trevor Hemmings reckoned if the weights had been comparable his horse would have finished 10 minutes ahead of the rest.

Hedgehunter and Clan Royal, the 5-1 joint favourites, were the established Aintree names hitting the front once again in the closing stages.

Numbersixvalverde, last year's Irish Grand National winner, was the new boy in the class looking to make his mark, and he saw off his illustrious rivals.

It was an outstanding performance, and it will be interesting to see if he can return to Aintree and do well with more weight in the saddle.

As for Clan Royal, who finished third, what do trainer Jonjo O'Neill, jockey Tony McCoy and owner JP McManus have to do to win the big race?

If even that team can't be guaranteed to get it right, if just goes to prove the old adage that on the Turf everyone is equal, particularly in jump racing.

That's what continues to make the National such a compelling institution.

Interview: Winning jockey Niall 'Slippers' Madden

Interview: Numbersixvaldeverde's trainer Martin Brassil

Numbersixvalverde wins National
08 Apr 06 |  Horse Racing
Racewatch: Aintree day three
08 Apr 06 |  Horse Racing
Madden hailed after National win
08 Apr 06 |  Horse Racing
Aintree suffers security breach
08 Apr 06 |  Horse Racing
Aintree course guide
03 Apr 05 |  Horse Racing

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