Neptune Collonges, ridden by Daryl Jacob, took a dramatic John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree by the smallest of margins from Sunnyhillboy.

The Paul Nicholls-trained gelding — the first grey to win since Nicolaus Silver in 1961 — wore down Sunnyhillboy, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, on the run-in and the pair flashed past the post together. But the photo-finish was declared in Neptune Collonges’ favour to give his trainer, jockey and owner John Hales a first Grand National victory.

The 33-1 shot, an 11-year-old French-bred by Dom Alco, was retired immediately after the race.

“I just wanted him to get round safe and sound and I never dreamed that he would win it,” said Hales, who also owns showjumpers such as the Nick Skelton-ridden Arko.

Paul Nicholls said: “I wasn’t sure. Everyone told me he’d won, but I wasn’t sure. He’s the best horse we’ve run in the race — if it hadn’t been for Denman and Kauto he’d have won a Gold Cup [he was third behind them in the 2008 race].

“What a brilliant ride. I am so chuffed for Daryl.”

The £418,860 first prize also secured Paul Nicholls a seventh consecutive trainers’ championship.

Katie Walsh had a dream first National ride to finish third on Seabass, trained by her father Ted, and achieved the highest ever placing for a female jockey in the race.

Fourth was Cappa Bleu, trained in South Wales by Evan Williams and ridden by Paul Moloney.

Sadly, two horses lost their lives in the race — the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised, who fell at Becher’s with AP McCoy, and the Malcolm Jefferson-trained According To Pete, ridden by Harry Haynes.