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  Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 13:32 GMT
Aintree grabs the headlines
Last year's winner, Red Marauder, was one of just four horses to finish
Red Marauder, one of just four finishers in 2001
Since its inception back in 1839 the Grand National has been responsible for some of the most dramatic stories in sport.

And the last decade has been no exception. BBC Sport Online looks back at three famous episodes in Aintree's colourful history.

Click on a year: | 1993 | 1997 | 2001 |


Millions of people around the world were left frustrated by "the race that never was" after a fiasco involving the starting tape.

There were several factors responsible for the debacle, but the major problem was the "grey gate" starting system.

In hindsight, it seems amazing such a primitive device (basically an elastic tape) could be used at such an important event but until then, it had worked successfully.

Keith Brown
Keith Brown, the starter at the 1993 Grand National

On a wet and windy day at Aintree, 39 runners were called to the start ten minutes before the scheduled off-time.

There was a slight hold-up while 15 demonstrators at the first fence were removed and a couple of reluctant horses were coaxed forward.

But as the starter, Captain Keith Brown, called the horses into line and set the race in motion, the blustery conditions caused the tape to get caught around one of the horses and so a false start was called.

The whole field returned and prepared to line up again.

This time, some of the horses were too near the tape when it went up and it wrapped around Richard Dunwoody on Won't Be Gone Long.

A false start was again called, but too late for most of the field to realise.

The advance flagman, who stands 100 yards down the course, claimed he had waved his flag but the jockeys said they had not seen him.

Nine horses did pull up before the first fence but the rest of the field charged on.

And so Esha Ness wins the Grand National that never was
BBC race commentator Sir Peter O'Sullevan
  Aintree 5 April 1997 timetable of events
2.49pm Coded bomb warning received at Liverpool hospital less than an hour before the race is due to start
2.52pm Second warning received by police
3.18pm Emergency evacuation of course begins
3.58pm BBC TV evacuated from the course
4.11pm Meeting officially abandoned
4.14pm Bomb disposal experts carry out two controlled explosions

But in a case of every cloud having a silver lining, the hospitality of local residents towards the stranded racegoers became the abiding image of the National that year.

For many the experience was reminiscent of the World War II Blitz spirit, prompting tabloid headlines such as "We'll Fight Them On The Becher's".

In a determined act of defiance against the terrorists, the police and racing authorities organised for the race to be run on the following Monday, 49 hours late.

A crowd of 20,000, including Prime Minister John Major and the Princess Royal (who had also been at the abandoned Saturday meeting), turned up to see Tony Dobbin steer Lord Gyllene to victory.

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The build-up to the race was dominated by the threat of foot-and-mouth disease, which claimed the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival.

But the source of controversy came from racing's perennial enemy - the weather.

Many felt strongly the race should not go ahead at all after two days of torrential rain drenched the Aintree course and left the field to battle it out in atrocious conditions.

But the race did take place and the eventual winner, Red Marauder, was one of only four horses to finish, with two of those having been remounted.

Papillon was the final finisher in 2001
Papillon was the final finisher in 2001

Several newspapers and pundits criticised the decision to race, most notably the Racing Post.

Columnist Alastair Down wrote: "They can wash the mud from the jockeys' silks, but they can't wash away the stain."

However, many trainers and jockeys leapt to the defence of the organisers and insisted it was right to go ahead.

They suggested the weather was not to blame for the lack of finishers and instead pointed the finger at Paddy's Return who caused a melee at the Canal Turn.

Even Paddy's Return's own trainer Ferdy Murphy agreed with this view.

"It was one of those things and it was nothing to do with the ground," said Murphy.

Ted Walsh, trainer of Papillon who finished fourth, added: "They were definitely right to race.

"It was only heavy ground - there was nothing wrong with it."

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The world's most famous steeplechase

Bindaree's triumph

Our man at Aintree

Clickable guides

Video links



Links to more Grand National 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.

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Links to more Grand National 2002 stories

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