Double Silk led over it, putting in the first of many astonishing leaps, but three runners were caught out by the drop on the landing side. Henry Mann put Charlie Swan, the Irish champion jockey, on the floor, Fourth Of July went too, and Elfast fulfilled the pre-race predictions that he would not see out the trip more swiftly than anyone had anticipated.
The second caused no problems, and only Ushers Island failed to negotiate the third, the first open ditch. As the leaders jumped it, Quirinus, the Czech challenger, had barely clambered over the second. Romany King went at the next, and as the survivors jumped the fifth and set off towards Becher's, loose horses were beginning to work their way through the field.
Three more runners parted company with their riders at the course's most fearsome obstacle. Its A Cracker, Laura's Beau and New Mill House all made the classic Becher's mistake, landing too steeply and sending their jockeys over their heads. Not so Double Silk. He jumped brilliantly, taking off a length ahead of Riverside Boy but landing three lengths to the good.
Gay Ruffian, the smallest horse in the race, survived Becher's but not the next, and already the back-markers were 40 lengths off the pace. Captain Brandy left his back legs behind at Valentine's and sent Kevin O'Brien out by the side door. By now there were loose horses everywhere and the hard luck stories were about to begin. The riderless Ushers Island fell again at the 11th in front of Young Hustler, bringing him down and knocking Mr Boston sideways. Far behind the leaders, Southern Minstrel was pulled up.
And so to the 13th. Rarely can this plain fence after the turn towards the stands have exerted such influence on the race. After 12 faultless jumps, Double Silk got too close and crashed out. Master Oats fell independently, and as he struggled to his feet, tripped Topsham Bay and unseated Jimmy Frost. Here too, Mr Boston's race came to an end, bringing down Mighty Falcon.
Now it was an old-time National, with horses and riders littering the turf after almost every fence. As they went to The Chair, 17 of the 36 starters were already missing. As they left it, two more were gone. Black Humour crashed through the course's highest obstacle. Quirinus, who has survived the notorious Taxis fence in the Czech version of the race, also found The Chair a challenge too far.
By the time he reached it, attention had moved on. Horses may be dumb animals, but many realise that another circuit lies ahead as they approach the 17th. They do not relish the idea, and four went no further. Garrison Savannah, the 1991 Gold Cup winner, had been disputing the lead since the exit of Double Silk, but now a loose horse immediately in front of him refused. Garrison Savannah stopped too. Jamie Osborne, his rider, did not, and was immediately joined on the downside by Mark Perrett, whose mount Run For Free ran into the back of Garrison Savannah. Ebony Jane did well to avoid the melee. Paco's Boy and He Who Dares Wins were pulled up shortly afterwards.
Down towards Becher's once more and suddenly the scale of the winnowing became clear. With Riverside Boy (refused at the 18th) and Channels Gate (ran into the ditch at the 19th) also missing, only seven remained with any chance: Miinnehoma, Fiddlers Pike, The Fellow, Moorcroft Boy, Just So, Into The Red and Ebony Jane.
At Becher's, Miinnehoma made his first, and only mistake. His nod on landing was mirrored by The Fellow on his inside, and for the Gold Cup winner the end was near. Clearly tired at the next, he fell at the Canal Turn, bringing down Mister Ed.
Though Moorcroft Boy made a mistake at the 26th, there was only one more faller before the last, Rust Never Sleeps at the 27th. At the final obstacle, Zeta's Lad, who had survived the turmoil almost unnoticed, came down and Into The Red unseated John White, last year's 'winning' jockey. As White hit the turf, Richard Dunwoody was galvanising Miinnehoma into a final effort to hold off Just So. Moorcroft Boy, Ebony Jane, Fiddlers Pike and Roc De Prince, who survived several bad mistakes, were the only other finishers.
1. MIINNEHOMA bay or brown gelding by Kambalda - Mrs Cairns R Dunwoody 16-1
2. Just So S Burrough 20-1
3. Moorcroft Boy A Maguire 5-1 fav
4. Ebony Jane L Cusack 25-1
Also finished: 100-1 Fiddlers Pike (5th); 100-1 Roc De Prince (6th).
36 ran. 1 1/4 , 20, 25, 9, distance. (Trained by M Pipe, at Wellington, for F Starr). Tote: win pounds 14.40; places pounds 3.10, pounds 3.50, pounds 1.80, pounds 5.50. Dual Forecast: pounds 122.20. Computer Straight Forecast: pounds 278.14. Tricast: pounds 1,686.75. Tote Trio: pounds 308.80. NRs: Bishops Hall, Windy Ways, Rifle Range.