Hail the nearly rider

The Grand National: Luckless jockey given the pick of Pitman's six-pack makes a choice he will always regret
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The Independent Online
TO THE winner, the glory, but don't forget the nearly men. Warren Marston, offered the choice of Jenny Pitman's six runners, picked 1991 runner-up Garrison Savannah, and had to sit and suffer as his stablemate Royal Athlete swept to victory. Marston said: "At the Canal Turn I was still travelling well, and the hope was still there. I could see Jason in front of me most of the way, but when I began to run out of steam he kicked away."

Marston returned with blood pouring down his face, the result of a bash on the nose when his mount pecked five out. He added: "Of course I feel disappointed about not picking the right one - I wouldn't be human if I didn't - but I had a great ride and it's great for the stable."

There was disappointment, too, for Richard Dunwoody, on last year's winner, Miinnehoma, pulled up before the 21st fence. Dunwoody said: "I jumped off fine, but landing over the first he sat down a little, and was never really jumping fluently after that. Perhaps he ricked his back, but he was sort of landing on all fours. And he wasn't really enjoying the ground."

At the back of the field there's time for a chat. Dunwoody said: "I was going to pull up on the first circuit, but I was alongside Graham McCourt (on Gold Cap), and I said to him `Let's go and jump the Chair, it might be the last time you do it'. We went out into the country again, and then he left me behind, so I called it a day.

"I trotted back to the big screen and watched the finish from there. I was delighted for Jason; he lives in the same village and is one of my best friends."

Rumours of Dunwoody's retirement have been rife, but he said with a grin: "I don't think that will have been the last time I jump the Chair. I've always said I'll retire when I stop enjoying it, but right now I'm enjoying it too much."

The Ulsterman's expertise helped amateur Chris Bonner, in his first Grand National, enjoy the ride of a lifetime on third-placed Over The Deel. Dunwoody said: "We were upsides going to the first and I told him to take it a bit steadier if he wanted to get home."

Bonner, 22, was as thrilled as if he had won. He said: "It's been my dream since I was a kid to ride in the race. My horse was absolutely brilliant. I jumped him off handy, hoping he'd stay there and he did. He kept coming off the bridle and each time I slapped him he came back on. I was in with a chance two out, but he couldn't get any nearer."

Norman Williamson paid tribute to favourite Master Oats, a brave seventh under top-weight. "He never put a foot wrong and gave me a dream of a ride. But with the fast ground and his weight, the others were just too quick for him."

Another National rookie was Tony McCoy, who fell with Chatam at the 12th. He narrowly avoided further disaster when Miinnehoma, following on, had to make an extra effort to clear him as he lay prostrate, but the experience has not put him off. He said: "I was nearly brought down at the third, and he took a bit of time to get going, but was travelling well when he fell. The experience was out of this world, and I can't wait for next year."

One who won't be back is Dubacilla, who stayed on to finish fourth after being outpaced on the fast ground. The mare returned with blood pouring from a gash on a hind leg, and she will join her half-brother Just So, second last year, in retirement. Her devoted owner-breeders, Henry and Veronica Cole, declared: "That's it. Her next job will be to have babies."

There can be little worse in a steeplechase jockey's career than falling at the first. All that build-up and preparation, and then instant deflation and another year to wait. This year Tsuyoshi Tanaka, who came all the way from Japan to ride The Committee, was among seven to suffer there. Jumbeau's rider Simon McNeill, who joined him on the floor, said: "I was going so well, too".

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