Racing / Grand National: Jockey Club makes move towards improved starts: Working group to consider package of changes for the future of the race in the wake of abandonment fiasco

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IMMEDIATE safeguards are to be put in place at Britain's racecourses to prevent a repetition of the Grand National starting debacle at Aintree on Saturday. The Jockey Club, racing's rulers, yesterday sent out proposals to minimise the prospect of another start or recall failure to the Racecourse Association.

At a meeting in Portman Square, London, six stewards, led by Lord Hartington, also determined to set up a committee of inquiry to establish why the race ended in farce.

'The stewards wish to express their profound regret generally to all supporters of racing and particularly to the racegoers at Aintree and the connections and riders of the horses, that this great national event was the cause of so much disappointment and frustration,' Hartington said.

The committee will deliver its conclusions in two weeks, by which time the composition of a working group to consider improvements to the starting procedure should be known. Jockeys and trainers are expected to play a significant role.

Despite the announcement of these measures, criticism of officialdom continued. Lord Wyatt of Weeford, the Tote chairman, described Saturday's events as 'a PG Wodehouse show. Everybody in the rest of the world, every kind of industry, has mobile telephones, but not Aintree - they were carrying on like a man with a red flag in front of a locomotive'.

David Pipe, the Jockey Club's spokesman, replied: 'British starting and recall procedures were simple but that did not necessarily make them bad. I think we would all now accept that even the simplest procedure has got to have the necessary back-up.'

There was some respite for Aintree, when William Hill, the bookmakers, decided against pursuing legal channels to recover an estimated pounds 2m lost when all bets had to be returned. 'If we pressed a case against Aintree, as we would have to, it could bankrupt the course,' a spokesman said. 'Such an outcome would be more counter- productive than productive.'

Keith Brown, the starter, and flag- man Ken Evans, the main figures in the starting shambles, also seemed to get a reprieve. 'Neither the Aintree board nor the stewards of the Jockey Club are saying that anybody is to blame,' Pipe said. Brown, though, was in a sombre mood at his home in Churt, Surrey. 'I died out there,' he said. 'It was an absolute nightmare, a disaster, but I don't feel bitter at all. Feelings were running very high, everyone was hotted up and people were understandably upset and then they said things they didn't really mean.'

Probably the man with the most difficult job now, however, is John Major, who yesterday continued his support for Manchester's claim to host the 2,000 Olympics at the Lausanne Headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. Of the National, the Prime Minister said: 'I feel very sorry for the people involved and for the millions of people who had a stake in the race.'

Olympic fall-out, page 19

Trainer threatened, page 31