Four and a half miles full of falls, folly and misfortune

Greg Wood charts the fence-by-fence unfolding of a Grand National packed with incident and drama
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The Independent Online

The contest began at least a minute before the tapes went up. While half of the field formed a long, even line behind the gate, on the inside rail they were queueing three deep for a pitch. Papillon was there, so too Mely Moss, Bobbyjo, Micko's Dream, Listen Timmy, Escartefigue, Call It A Day and Stormy Passage.

The jockeys didn't listen when the stewards' secretary told them to take it easy to the first, but then they never do. Micko's Dream was first to the Melling Road, with Papillon and Bobbyjo close behind, but they were soon joined by Trinitro and Esprit De Cotte in the centre of the course. Two of those five would get no further than the first fence.

Bobbyjo jumped it in front, from Micko's Dream and Trinitro, who both overjumped and fell. Micko's Dream had turned out to be a 20-second fantasy, while Trinitro had travelled 1,000 miles from Norway to race two furlongs. Papillon, Torduff Express, Esprit De Cotte and Art Prince, who buckled on landing and fell, came next. Senor El Betrutti went too, along with Royal Predica. It could have been six - Tony Dobbin did superbly on Listen Timmy to avoid being brought down by Micko's Dream.

The first four were unchanged at the second fence, but Call It A Day, Star Traveller and The Last Fling were picking up the leaders. At the back of the field, though, Sparky Gayle's race was over.

Papillon got a little close to the third fence, the first ditch, but was clever enough to pop over without problems. A horse who had not fallen in 27 previous chases, he had the hang of the Aintree fences already. Not so Dark Stranger, the favourite, who left his legs behind and fell when running in about 15th place. Last over were Choisty and Celtic Giant, already 20 lengths off the pace.

Earthmover was up to 10th when he fell at the fourth fence, where Choisty went too, and The Gopher was down on his knees. It was here that Star Traveller jumped past Esprit De Cotte, who landed steeply, and Torduff Express into the lead he would hold or dispute for another circuit and a half.

Now the race was starting to take shape. Star Traveller led, a neck ahead of Bobbyjo, who was giving up the inner to no-one. Esprit De Cotte and Torduff Express were next, three lengths clear of Brave Highlander, running his usual fine race at Aintree. Papillon, The Last Fling, Niki Dee and Addington Boy, who stood off and flew it, were next.

Even Paul Carberry moved off the rail at Becher's Brook, where the leaders jumped superbly. Adrian Maguire on Addington Boy almost scraped the wing as he found a brilliant leap over the steepest part of the fence. Papillon jumped it sixth, with Lucky Town making a move towards the lead in ninth. Escartefigue was 10th, followed by Camelot Knight, Young Kenny, Call It A Day, Listen Timmy, Mely Moss, Djeddah and Suny Bay. Red Marauder, who jumped it with only four behind him, came down too steep, knuckled over and fell.

Bobbyjo had cleared Becher's brilliantly, but at the next, the Foinavon fence, the smallest on the course, he made a desperate mistake and pitched Carberry on to his neck. The jockey performed a miracle to haul himself back into the plate at a cost of just a few lengths.

But this handed the initiative to Star Traveller and Richard Johnson, who would lead for most of the next two miles. He cleared the Canal Turn with Esprit De Cotte, but jumped away from him at the next, Valentine's Brook, having manoeuvred smoothly around the loose Trinitro.

Young Kenny clipped the 10th fence and tipped over, and by the 11th, Star Traveller was five lengths clear and jumping beautifully. But Ruby Walsh, third on Papillon, never let him get too far away.

Casualties should have been rarer now, with the horses in a rhythm and tiredness yet to kick in, but almost every fence was claiming a victim. Druid's Brook bounced Rupert Wakley straight out of his saddle at the 12th, while Torduff Express, who was in second, went with The Gopher at the 13th fence.

Disaster nearly struck the leader at the 14th, as Richard Johnson had to pull around the loose Trinitro in mid-air, and hit the fence as a result. Down the field, Merry People unseated Garrett Cotter, as the 25 survivors set off for The Chair.

Now you could almost see the jockeys looking around and thinking, I'm still here, so I'm in with a chance. Twenty of them cleared The Chair within 15 lengths of the leader. Hollybank Buck was now second, and Lucky Town creeping forward in fifth, while Bobbyjo, given time to recover from his mistake at Foinavon, was getting back into it in 12th.

Star Traveller was brilliant over the water, where Esprit De Cotte was back in second and The Last Fling third. Papillon was still going sweetly in fourth, followed by Hollybank Buck, Lucky Town, Brave Highlander, Addington Boy, Bobbyjo and Mely Moss, who almost dropped his legs in the water and lost a couple of lengths. Listen Timmy jumped it last and was soon pulled up.

Back across the Melling Road, and the race was really on. They all survived the 17th, although Brave Highlander jumped straight across The Last Fling and could have brought both of them down. The 18th and 19th too were safely cleared, as Hollybank Buck moved up to dispute the lead, and Mely Moss crept closer.

There had been no fallers for five fences, but the 20th claimed Village King and Flaked Oats, both of them well behind. At the 21st, there was the first hint of confidence from Walsh, as he glanced back to check how many were still running.

Next it was Becher's again, and the race was transformed. Esprit De Cotte was in 10th but within striking distance. He landed too steeply and fell, almost bringing down Bobbyjo. For the second time in five minutes, Carberry did superbly to keep the partnership intact. As for winning, though, their cause was hopeless. Stormy Passage and Andrew Thornton were not so lucky, and were brought down by the sprawling faller.

Now there were no more than eight in with a chance, and none going better than Papillon, swinging along on a long, tight rein on the inside. Across Foinavon and on past the Canal Turn, where Buck Rogers, in eighth, fell, Mely Moss made four places into fifth by jumping at the sharpest of angles, while Djeddah, in 10th, was as close to the lead as he would get.

Star Traveller had jumped 24 fences impeccably and was still disputing the lead, but at the 25th he made his first bad mistake as Lucky Town surged into the lead. He jumped the 26th, but was pulled up before the 27th, where Papillon, ears pricked, leapt into a narrow lead from Lucky Town, with Mely Moss tracking the pair of them.

On the long run from the 28th to the home turn, it seemed the three of them would go clear. But now Niki Dee appeared on the scene with Brave Highlander, as Lucky Town's stamina evaporated at the second-last.

At the final fence it was Papillon and Mely Moss together and five lengths clear, and even when Papillon went on by two lengths, Mely Moss was not finished. He closed to within three-quarters of a length at the Elbow, only for Papillon to find more. A stirring race had its worthy, brilliantly ridden winner.

FINISHERS AND FAILURES IN THE 153rd GRAND NATIONAL

1. Papillon 10-1 2. Mely Moss 25-1 3. Niki Dee 25-1 4. Brave Highlander 50-1 5. Addington Boy 33-1 6. Call It A Day 50-1 7. The Last Fling 14-1 8. Lucky Town 20-1 9. Djeddah 16-1 10. Hollybank Buck 33-1 11. Bobbyjo 12-1 12. Kendal Cavalier 33-1 13. Suny Bay 66-1 14. Feels Like Gold 28-1 15. Camelot Knight 150-1 16. Kingdom Of Shades 50-1 17. Celtic Giant 100-1

FALLERS

Royal Predica, Trinitro, Art Prince, Senor El Betrutti, Micko's Dream (1st fence), Dark Stranger (3rd), Choisty, Earthmover (4th), Red Marauder (6th), Young Kenny (10th), Torduff Express, The Gopher (13th), Village King, Flaked Oats (20th), Esprit De Cotte (22nd), Buck Rogers (24th)

UNSEATED RIDER

Sparky Gayle (2nd), Druid's Brook (12th), Merry People (14th), Escartefigue (last).

PULLED UP

Listen Timmy (before 17th fence), Star Traveller (27th)

BROUGHT DOWN

Stormy Passage (22nd)

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