Racing: Grand National: Heroes in the mud: Andrew Baker on security patrol finds little relief for sodden punters

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The Independent Online
MIINNEHOMA'S thrilling victory and Rosemary Henderson's magnificent ride were ample reward for the Aintree punters. But they deserved a great race: yesterday's meeting was bedevilled by two predictable problems for the visiting crowd - a quagmire underfoot and tightened security everywhere.

Nobody goes to the Grand National expecting a heatwave, but the persistent hail that sent early racegoers diving for cover was extreme even for Aintree. At first it gave the entire course a crunchy sugar-frosting, then it melted and turned the infield into a soupy mass of black mud.

And this is where the security operation caused chaos. Hapless punters massed to cross from the clogged infield to dry land in the grandstand, and officials (only doing their job) policed pass laws and regulations in the most Draconian way. The crush was incredible: high-heeled women stuck up to the ankles in the goo, while behind them shoving louts cried 'mooo' and 'baaah'.

The solitude of Becher's early in the morning was a distant memory. There, before the guards got stroppy, the Sanderson family from North Yorkshire stood against the famous fence for photographs. What did they think of the obstacle? 'It's much softer than it used to be,' Mr Sanderson declared, 'and I can't see any gorse. They used to be all gorse.'

The Sandersons were among the last to get a look at the fence. Before the first race, large security guards appeared in a patrol vehicle and ordered spectators to their enclosures. I hitched a lift. Actually, I wasn't given any choice. The ride was a chilling taste of the Grand National post-1993. The walkie- talkies crackled with messages - 'Intruder at Melling Road] Assistance at Melling Road]' - and the bruisers leant out of their windows to shoo errant racegoers towards their approved positions.

Not all of Aintree's guardians behaved that way. Constable Neary, patrolling at Becher's on Hero, his nine-year-old dapple-grey gelding, was friendliness itself. 'He'd jumped the fence in a flash if I let him,' the officer admitted. He'd have been pushed to catch Miinnehoma.

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