Racing / Grand National: Images of carnage revived by mud-spattered melee: Ken Jones finds fears resurfacing that in deep going the race exacts too heavy a toll

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The Independent Online
WHEN a horse is tired, jockeys stay with old advice: 'Don't let it loaf into a jump unless you enjoy being hurt.' So, at the 24th, Adam Kondrat sent The Fellow in as hard as he would go. For an instant, horse and rider seemed to hang in mid-air. Then both came down head first. 'Knackered,' somebody said.

Inevitably, in the conditions it was that sort of race, a gruelling test of stamina reminiscent of Nationals past, loose horses causing havoc and for most of the 36 who set off, only what might have been.

Double Silk, going well, putting in huge jumps under Ron Treloggen, disputing the lead, then disaster; concentration disturbed by a riderless presence, the 13th did for him as it did for Master Oats. Garrison Savannah, making impressive progress on the inside rail until involved in a collision that threw Jamie Osborne sideways going into the 17th. And what of John White? First home last year on Esha Ness in the National that never was, he was unseated at the last from Into The Red.

The grief of it. Hopes and dreams gone in mud-spattered disappointment. Then remarkably, a finish to quicken the pulse.

Before the off most eyes were on Moorcroft Boy, backed in to favouritism at 5-1 on the strength of his stamina, economical jumping and a partnership with the thrusting Adrian Maguire.

When Maguire gained an advantage with one left to jump, a great roar went up in the stands and suddenly it looked like a contest between the two most accomplished riders in the race.

A tactic had taken shape in Richard Dunwoody's mind and now he had to find out what Moorcroft Boy had left. Remarkably, after all the rough and tumble, it was coming down to a tussle between the season's great adversaries and Dunwoody was fearful of getting Miinnehoma at the front too soon.

At that stage Maguire realised his chance had gone. 'Richard had more in the tank,' he said, when speaking gloomily about the experience.

Now another threat. Just So appeared at Miinnehoma's quarters and for a stride or so, Dunwoody felt he was going to be beaten. 'But the horse was all guts,' he said. 'It refused to give in.'

The history of the National is not short of such tales, and in truth images of the past were raised as conditions took a heavy toll of the steaming contestants.

Until Saturday, modifications had so reduced Aintree's perils that some people in the sport were inclined to speak of the race disparagingly.

What, we might ask, would the reaction have been had some of the fallers failed to rise? A great race, certainly, thrilling in its development and conclusion but exacting a brutal price that might have been a blight on the sport but for soft landings.

Where in recent years the National has taken shape as a long-distance handicap chase with up to six in contention in the latter stages, this was one out of the past.

The slowest winning time since Quare Times in 1955 emphasised the difficulties endured by horses and riders.

It was a slog that further established Dunwoody as one of the great riders of his generation. With a smile on his face, fingering the soreness that showed there, he went over the details time and time again. He'd chosen to ride Miinnehoma only 48 hours before the race. He'd made only one mistake, at Becher's the second time around. He'd spoken to Maguire as they crossed the Melling Road, the words unrepeatable.

The first time, on West Tip as a 22-year-old in 1986 had been great. But this one was better.