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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 17:14 GMT
Aintree grabs the headlines
2001 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. We look back at three famous episodes in Aintree's colourful history.


1993

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, the starter at the 1993 Grand National
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 officials tried to attract the attention of the competitors as they reached The Chair fence but the jockeys mistook them for protesters.

Ten runners stopped after the first circuit but the rest of the field carried on and seven horses eventually finished.

Esha Ness, ridden by John White and trained by Jenny Pitman, was the first past the post but the race was later declared void.

With so many of the horses having covered at least a circuit there was no possibility of a re-run.

Bookmakers claimed to have lost more than 70m after the race was declared void and all bets were off.

A huge global TV audience of 250 million people had witnessed one of the biggest sporting embarrassments in history.


1997

The 150th running of the Grand National in 1997 should have been a day of celebration.

But it turned into one of despair when an IRA bomb warning caused the evacuation of 60,000 people from Aintree.

An estimated 20,000 people were stranded in Liverpool when their cars and coaches were marooned inside the cordoned-off racecourse.

With most of the city's hotels full, it meant a night in emergency accommodation.

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.


2001

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, who came fourth, 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."





Links to more Grand National 2003 stories


 

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