Grand National: Lord the master of a grand Monday

150th GRAND NATIONAL: New Zealand's finest leads from start to finish in high-class end to unhappy episode
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The Independent Online
Only a performance of huge merit at Aintree yesterday could have expunged the memory of what had gone before, but then there were was only one horse in the race. Lord Gyllene led from start to finish, won by 25 lengths and ensured there was at least one noble intervention in the 150th Grand National.

The diminution in spectator numbers may have taken something from this occasion, but this was not a factor that struck Tony Dobbin as he pushed his nine-year-old mount further and further ahead on the run-in. "I thought it might not have been the same atmosphere for the race and it wasn't," the jockey said. "It was better."

Lord Gyllene is the product of an unlikely National factory as he was bred and reared on the grasslands of New Zealand. He was bought not out of a field, but rather out of a video box after his owner, Stan Clarke, watched film of the gelding. But then Clarke himself departs far from the norm.

The 63-year-old Staffordshire businessman, a former plumber who is now a member of the Jockey Club, has built up a property company which recently announced pre-tax profits of pounds 11.7m. He has travelled some way since he began his working career aged 11, accompanying the local butcher on his horse and cart during the day and working in a chemist's at night. Yesterday it was his horse's opponents who looked as though they were pulling a carriage behind them; 16 other gasping finishers who appeared in need of medication.

The team is completed by Steve Brookshaw, a trainer well known in hunting and point-to-pointing circles, but rather less prominent in National Hunt racing. He has been training for just two years.

"Steve always told me that this horse was like a real Kiwi and he could play rugby if I wanted him to," Clarke said. "I know he's a little fuller in the neck, but he reminds me of Red Rum."

Brookshaw will tell you his family deserves to have their name on the scroll. In 1959, his uncle Tim should have won the National on Wyndburgh but his stirrup leathers snapped at Becher's Brook and he finished second to Oxo. Tim was paralysed in a fall at Aintree in 1963.

The omens did not look portentous for Lord Gyllene just before the off as he drifted from 10-1 to 14-1 in the betting. As soon as the tape went up however, the field was chasing the horse in the green and white go- faster stripes. The leader bounced along throughout with his ears pricked, the equine equivalent of clicking your heels in the air as you walk down the pavement.

Those that were first into his hoofprints were Suny Bay, who was tugged along into second place, and poor Smith's Band, who died on falling at the 20th. Straight Talk, too, will not be seen again after breaking a leg.

Dobbin's only problem came as the field passed the stands, when a loose horse tried to remove him from the track. About that time, a spot of eavesdropping confirmed his tactics.

"Going to the second last on the first circuit I heard Richard Dunwoody [on Smith's Band] call to someone in behind that we were going a sensible pace," he said. "It seemed that way to me, and when I got him over The Chair and the water we quickened away again. They didn't go bananas on the first circuit and from then he just jumped away."

The 24-year-old from Co. Down dared only to look over his shoulder in the closing stages and then he would have been struck by a pleasant myopia. "I didn't look back until half-way up the run-in and I didn't care how far ahead I was," he said "I wasn't going to stop riding him because he was idling out there."

A short time later he afforded himself a quick punch of the air, and a quick pinch of his trusty conveyance's right ear, as the race was secured.

A grey and chill morning had dawned at Aintree under a gunmetal sky. The ongoing police operation became visible at daybreak as officers once again searched the entire 250-acre site. Policemen with metal detectors checked the bristling fences for devices.

The police operation was so thorough that it soon became clear that customer comfort was a lesser priority behind ensuring the 150th Grand National was run as a defiant signal to those who had caused Saturday's abandonment.

Paul Stephenson, the assistant chief constable of Merseyside police, had, according to a press release, said: "Racegoers are going to experience a very high level of security and they are going to be searched when they come in. Everyone can be guaranteed that our No 1 priority is pubic [sic] safety." This went some way to explaining the thoroughness of the frisking all had to endure at the entrances.

Well after the gates opened at 2pm Aintree had the feel of a film set before the arrival of the cast and crew. However, a sense of stubbornness in the face of the enemy and the free entrance meant the official attendance eventually grew to an estimated 25,000, a warming figure in view of the fact that some enclosures were closed to the public.

The most voluble figure in the stands as the bay powered home was Stan Clarke himself. "I cheered and cheered and cheered and made a right fool of myself," he said. But Clarke was not the fool of this Grand National, and the cheers of yesterday sent out a message to those who tried to damage the great event.