In horse racing, a dead-heat – where two, or more, horses cannot be separated, not even by a high resolution photo finish camera – is a rare occurrence. Nevertheless, dead-heats do happen and, while hardly commonplace, triple dead heats are not unknown. In Britain, all the triple dead-heats and, believe it or not, a few quadruple dead-heats, were recorded before the introduction of the photo-finish camera in 1947.
However, elsewhere in the world, several bona fide triple dead-heats have been captured in official photographs down the years. In the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct Racecourse, in New York City, in June 1944, for example, Brownie, Bossuet and Wait A Bit crossed the line in unison to record the first triple dead-heat in a stakes race. A dozen years later, in November, 1956, Ark Royal, Fighting Force and Pandie Sun did likewise in the Hotham Handicap at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. Even as recently as April, 2014, in an otherwise nondescript maiden claiming race at Evangeline Downs, in Louisiana, All In The Art, Chessie Slew, and Memories Of Trina all hit the finishing line simultaneously.
The Grand National may be the most celebrated steeplechase in the world but is still, essentially, a handicap, in which each horse is allocated a weight according to its ability. In other words, the official rating of each horse represents, in Imperial pounds, the ability of the horse in the eyes of the handicapper.
According to their previous form, which is assessed on a regular, typically weekly, basis, more capable horses are allotted higher official ratings than their less able counterparts, and carry correspondingly higher weights, such that every horse has an equal chance of winning. Consequently, in the eyes of the handicapper, the ideal result of the Grand National, or any other handicap, is a dead-heat among all the participants. Of course, the countless imponderables governing the outcome of any horse race, not least the Grand National, render any such notion completely infeasible in practice.
Indeed, the first official running of the Grand National took place in 1839 and after 172 attempts the race has yet to result in a dead-heat between two horses, never mind more than two. Nevertheless, in 2012, Neptune Collonges edged out Sunnyhillboy by a nose or, in other words, the narrowest possible margin, in the closest finish ever seen at Aintree.