Chaos at Grand National reduces spectacle to farce

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The Independent Online
THE 1993 Grand National was declared void yesterday after chaos at the start reduced one of the greatest events in the sporting calendar to a pitiable shambles.

Three hundred million television viewers saw jockeys and trainers close to tears after 30 of the 39 riders failed to realise that a false start had been declared and headed off round the Aintree track.

Amid frantic scenes, the jockeys took their horses round Aintree oblivious to shouts from the crowd. Jenny Pitman, the trainer of Esha Ness, ran into the weighing room close to a breakdown. 'You must stop this race]' she shouted at the stewards. 'What are you doing? My bloody horse has already gone one circuit, I don't want to win the National like this]'

Esha Ness 'won', but only when they crossed the line after the four-and-a-half mile ride did jockey John White and the other six riders, who completed the course, realise that the race had been declared void. The muddled false start had achieved what two world wars failed to do.

The confusion appeared to have been caused by a number of factors:an old-fashioned starting tape which twice ensnared riders and horses; the failure of the 'recall man' stationed down the course to wave down the riders once they started and the presence around the track of animal rights demonstrators seeking to draw attention to the alleged cruelty of the event.

The sequence of events was as follows:seconds before the race was due to start protesters got on to the track close to the first fence. They were spotted, and after a delay they were moved off and the horses were called up to the line again.

When the order to start was given, the tape which marks the line failed to rise properly and some horses ran into it. A false start was quickly declared and the riders returned to line up again.

After four more minutes of confusion, Keith Brown, the veteran Aintree starter presiding over his last National, gave the order again, but again the tape a number of horses and riders became tangled in the tape. Richard Dunwoody, who was riding Won't Be Gone Long, said: 'The tape ended up around my neck. The horse was treading on it behind. I nearly got pulled off a couple of times.' Mr Brown showed a red flag to signal a second false start, but the recall flag was not shown and 30 riders and horses raced away. The recall man, Ken Evans, who had done the job at two previous Nationals, was interviewed by stewards afterwards.

Desperate efforts by officials to flag the riders down failed. Some riders did not see the signals and some who did believed they were a trick. John White said he saw people waving when he got to the Chair fence and 'thought some protesters had got on to the course'. Gradually, most of the jockeys realised something was wrong but a few, with the pounding of hooves in their ears, carried on. Last of the finishers was Con O'Dwyer, on Laura's Beau. 'What would you do?' he asked. 'It is the Grand National, you have to keep going.' Bookmakers who had seen at least pounds 75m bet on the race said that all money would be returned to punters. A spokesman for William Hill said: 'It's a real tragedy for us. Ninety per cent of punters got a better result than if the race had been run _ I mean they are going to get their money back. We took pounds 15m today. It's tragic this coincides with the biggest betting day in British history. It's cost a fortune in advertising and administration fees.'

Perhaps the biggest single loser was the Norman Lamont, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Taxes on the bets would have brought the Treasury pounds 6m.

In bookmakers' shops across the country staff and customers were angry and bitterly disappointed. One clerk in a central London bookies said it was a catastrophe. 'Nothing like this has ever happened before and I've been in racing for thirty years,' she said. A man returning to collect his money said: 'It was not just the bet. It was the whole bloody day. All the excitement, and the build-up. A national disaster.'

The greatest disappointment was to racing professionals, the owners, jockeys, trainers and their staffs. 'I have spent all year getting my horse ready for this day,' said John Upson, trainer of Zeta's Lad, one of the race favourites. 'I have sweated blood with this horse, and I come here today, absolutely right to run him, and this is what happened.'

According to Richard Lucas, a solicitor of Dibb, Lupton, Broomhead, who specialises in sporting law, trainers and owners may now be able to sue Aintree, If it is shown that the cancellation was the fault of race officials then the Aintree executive had to take responsibility, Mr Lucas said.

With jockeys and trainers describing the day as the most humiliating in racing history, it was clear that security at Anfield, and its antiquated starting system, which had been criticised in the past, would come under relentless scrutiny.

Reports, page 32

(Photograph omitted)

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