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A dark shadow eclipsed the sun filled skies on the opening day of the Martell Grand National weekend, with the news that four horses had to be destroyed after sustaining fatal injuries.

Strong Promise and Lake Kariba met their peril in the Martell Cup Chase, Rossell Island was a casualty in the Martell Fox Hunters' Chase, which is run over the Grand National fences. Architect was put down after suffering spinal injuries when falling at the second last in the Glenlivet Anniversary Novice Hurdle.

'A lot of attention is focused on this course but there's no one factor you could attribute to these sort of injuries,' said Jockey Club chief veterinary officer Peter Webbon. 'It's very unfortunate that injuries like this do happen from time to time and it's a freak that it should happen in a small field. 'But the fact that the Grand National is two days away is irrelevant.' 'We are deeply concerned about the welfare of horses and fortunately injuries like this happen infrequently. But this is the sort of thing that could have happened anywhere in the country.' See More Business, the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, strolled to victory in the Martell Cup chase, a race which despite being dramatic, failed to live up to expectations after principal challenger Strong Promise took a fatal fall six fences from home.

The winner, who failed to handle the fast ground at Cheltenham, took up the running from the start and put in a comfortable jumping display on the first circuit to lead Strong Promise by four lengths. The fast pace that had been set by the winner left both Lake Kariba and Mulligan trailing out the back.

See More Business made the first notable mistake when crashing through the top of the first of four fences down the back straight. Strong Promise had been tracking the winner throughout but ploughed through the open ditch hurling jockey Robert Thornton to the ground. Strong Promise, a superb third in this year's Gold Cup, broke his back on landing and died instantly .

See More Business, trained by Paul Nicholls , was left a distance clear of Mulligan but blundered again at the fourth last. The remaining fences posed no threat to Fitzgerald as he popped his mount over the last to saunter to the easiest of victories.

Winning trainer Paul Nicholls admitted the plan was to make it a stamina test. 'I told Mick to go a right gallop on him all the way and use his stamina,' said Nicholls. 'Mick said he would have won anyway despite the fall of Strong Promise. It's a great way to end the season with him.' Nicholls admitted his heart went out to Strong Promise's trainer Chris Kinane. 'It's very sad when anything like that happens and my commiserations go out to Chris.' Ironically the two deaths came on the supposedly less taxing Mildmay Course. Lake Kariba, another who impressed in the Gold Cup, suffered a fatal heart attack after finishing third. He was immediately attended by vets with oxygen and emergency resuscitation equipment but was unfortunately pronounced dead coming off the course. See More Business was returned the 5/4 favourite.

Bells Life announced his return to form in fine style when landing the Martell Fox Hunters Chase, but the race was marred by another fatality after Rossell Island sustained a spinal injury when falling at the first fence. The David Pipe-trained animal died instantly. A post-mortem will be carried out at the Leahurst Veterinary Hostpital.

Winning jockey David O'Meara survived a scare when a loose horse took a sharp turn into the path of the winner when passing the elbow, but 23-year-old O'Meara, an equine science student at Limerick University, steered his mount clear from danger and battled on gamely to record a 9 length victory over Secret Bay.

Bells Life was successful around this course in 1997 when landing the John Hughes but pulled up in last year's Grand National.

Carley Lad ran a credible race having run up front alone for much of the contest, only to relinquish his lead after jumping Valentines.

Enda Bolger, winning trainer in this race last year with Elegant Lord, could not enjoy the same fortune this time round as Spot Thedifference finished in eighth place having never featured throughout the two mile and six furlong race.

Trainer Charlie Egerton's hopes of landing the Grade 1 Sandeman Maghull Novices' Chase were dealt a premature blow as Decoupage, third in the Arkle last month, made one too many novice type mistakes in the two mile event ending with a crashing fall at the fifth fence.

This paved the way for Cenkos, an impressive second in the Arkle behind Tiutchev, to power away from the last to record a one-and-a- half length victory over the Noel Meade-trained Frozen Groom.

Paul Carberry, aboard Frozen Groom, was left 3 lengths clear turning for home but had Cenkos in close pursuit. Frozen Groom jumped the second last in front but steered right on landing allowing the quickening Cenkos to head him. Approaching the last, jockey David Casey produced his mount upside Carberry and quickened away on landing to record a stylish victory.

Winning jockey David Casey received a four day ban for excessive frequency and force of the whip. The ban takes effect from April 15th - 19th .

Ross Moff was the only Irish trained winner of the day when landing the Barton & Guestier Handicap Hurdle in the hands of Paul Carberry. Carberry, in his first day back riding since injuring himself at Cheltenham, was deputising for a shaken Mick Fitzgerald, who picked up an injury when taking a fall from Architect.

Ross Moff was cruising approaching the last. Carberry popped the Tony Martin-trained gelding over the last and battled gamely up the hill.

Tony Martin indicated the winner may reappear at either the Fairyhouse or Punchestown festivals, with the long term plan to go chasing next year.

Phardante Flyer knocked any doubts about handling the sharp Aintree track firmly on the head when battling gamely in the hands of Richard Johnson to land the opening Barton & Guestier Top Novices' Hurdle.

The winner, who ran a blinder to finish fourth behind Sausalito Bay in the Capel Cure Sharp Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham last time, was kept handy throughout the two mile event. Phardante Flyer had been tucked in behind front runners Moulouya and race favourite Rodock, but seized the initiative to hit the front when the latter blundered at the fourth last.

The Philip Hobbs-trained gelding was left clear turning for home and remained untroubled until the final flight. Phardante Flyer jumped right at the last but Johnson corrected his mount to steer home and hold off the challenge of the flying Gold Merit.

Rodock, fifth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, had been prominent but hit the fourth last hard and duly feel away from the leaders.

Lord Brex's triumph in the Glenlivet Anniversary Hurdle gifted trainer Philip Hobbs with a memorable opening day treble. Lord Brex benefited most from chaotic scenes at the second last flight as leader Bounce Back and the well positioned Architect took crashing falls leaving the winner with a clear path to the line.

The win was jockey Richard Johnson's second of the day with the pair battling home for a seven length victory over the Christy Roche-trained High Stakes.

Architect looked a real threat approaching the second last but the gelding refused to put in the leap that jockey Mick Fitzgerald had asked for. Instead Architect went bundling through the flight consequently suffering severe spinal injuries. The animal was humanely put down bringing the total of fatalities to four for the day.

The Johnjo O'Neill-trained Radiation was the surprise 12/1 winner of the Chivas Regal Handicap Chase when getting the better of Ashwell Boy and Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase winner Honey Mount by seven lengths and two-and-a-half lengths respectively.

The Richard Johnson-Philip Hobbs combination were denied a further winner when Bouchasson fell when travelling in front down the back stretch.