Racing / Grand National: Blame on Aintree flag man

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THE Jockey Club was sharply criticised yesterday after its official inquiry into the abandonment of this year's Grand National appeared to place much of the blame on the recall man, Ken Evans.

The 57-year-old part-time racecourse worker was singled out by the three-man Committee of Inquiry into the chaos on 3 April, when the National was declared void for the first time in its 150-year history. It was Evans's job to wave a red flag to alert the riders after a false start was declared, but while he insists that he did so, the committee did not concur. The Jockey Club itself, the Aintree authorities and the starter, Keith Brown, were also criticised.

Evans, who faces possible disciplinary action by the Jockey Club, was defended by the racecourse. A statement from the Aintree executive said: 'We consider that the observations made in relation to the advance flag man are unfair. There is no reason to doubt Mr Evans' submission that he did raise his flag on each occasion and we have not been made aware of any evidence that he did not.'

Racing's authorities were rebuked by John Upson, trainer of Zeta's Lad, who had been strongly fancied to win the Aintree race. 'As usual they've missed the whole point - they didn't need an inquiry, it's obvious what went wrong,' he said.

'It's absolutely pointless blaming anyone for this episode, there is human error in everything. It seems that the establishment thinking is that if it's been done for 175 years it must be all right. They are obsessed with the idea that if they make changes it's a criticism of the way they are doing things.'

Upson added: 'To me the whole starting issue is a red herring. What we should be doing is looking at bringing the control of racing into the 20th century.'

John White, the jockey who rode Esha Ness to 'victory' in the race, is trying to put the episode behind him and will start training in his native Ireland next season.

'I sent in a report to the committee and I didn't see a flag at any stage,' he said. 'But with all the noise it was hard to tell what was going on. Enough has been said about this whole thing now and I just want to forget about it.'

In addition to the criticism of Evans, the committee concluded that Brown was ultimately 'in control of the start and he must be responsible for its proper and effective conduct. The fact that the horses were allowed to line up too close to the tape must therefore be his prime responsibility.'

Aintree racecourse and the Jockey Club are criticised for failing to replace the outdated starting system, which has been used at the course since at least 1961. Problems with the system had been recognised for some years.

Unusual conditions on the day also added to the problems. The horses were at the start too long, and tension was increased by a demonstration by animal rights campaigners, while rain just before the start increased the weight of the starting tape and slowed its upward motion.

A Working Party studying possible improvements to the starting system is expected to report in August.

Full report, page 27