Only golf makes me nervous, says starter

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The Independent Online

"I don't do nerves," the man entrusted with starting the Grand National for the first time, Sean McDonald, rather rashly said earlier this week.

With the image of the 1993 tape-tangled, void-race fiasco impossible to dispel and last year's embarrassing eight-minute delay still fresh in the memory, 45-year-old McDonald, the Deputy Senior Starter, will now share the task on an annual rotation with Peter Haynes, who was on the rostrum last year.

McDonald, a former jockey who started the Cheltenham Gold Cup for the first time last month, said: "Of course the adrenalin will be flowing, but I don't do nerves when I'm working. The only time I get nervous is when I'm going to play in a medal competition at golf."

In an effort to prevent last year's chaos, the runners will be instructed to line up behind a sand line running between marker poles set 20 yards behind the starting tape and then walk forward to the tape.

Yesterday's use of the system for the Topham Trophy over the National course did not bode well, with several attempts needed before the jockeys grasped what was required.

There will also be a change in personnel for BBC television's presentation from Aintree. Clare Balding takes over from Sue Barker at the helm, while the snooker player John Parrott will be reporting from the betting ring at what is his local track. Angus Loughran, the previous incumbent of that role, has been absent from the screens since February when he was declared insolvent over a £5,700 debt to a spread-betting firm.

This will be a final Grand National for Tony Dobbin, winner on Lord Gyllene of the 1997 running, postponed until the following Monday because of a bomb threat. He is poised to partner Point Barrow today. The 35-year-old Ulsterman will hang up his boots after riding at Carlisle on Thursday and will assist his partner, the amateur rider Rose Davidson, when she sets up a training venture next year.

Opera Mundi, who has suffered a joint injury, was the only withdrawal from the National yesterday, allowing Ardaghey to take part as first reserve. Promotion to the main event from yesterday's Totepool Handicap Chase was not without pitfalls for Ardaghey's trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies. He was left seething by a £140 fine imposed by the British Horseracing Authority for withdrawing Ardaghey from the Totepool Chase.

"I'm very, very angry," Twiston-Davies said. "The owners are up here so he has to run somewhere. I've got a £140 fine – well done the BHA. They can't justify it but they just love fining people."

There were two fatalities: In The High Grass and Time To Sell were killed in falls in the Topham Trophy.

More on the Grand National:

Click here to view the Grand National course at Aintree

Click here to view the Grand National runners and riders