It was very normal start to the day's racing and I remember that the weather was very poor on the day but this was not unknown for the Grand National and expectations were for a tiring race with not many finishers.
Everything was going to plan as the horses paraded in front of the stand and £75 million had been bet on the great race.
There had been some problems from people who oppose the running of the race who had demonstrated at the start of some of the recent past nationals and they were here again today.
The demonstrators do not show themselves until the start of the race so as the horses lined up at the tape the jockeys could be seen pointing down the course, as there were clearly demonstrators on the course.
The starter quite rightly told the jockeys to " Take a turn " to allow the demonstrators to be removed. The demonstrators are never covered nor are they mentioned on the television and from the stands you can't see the start clearly and you have to rely on the large screen television to see what is happening but everybody was aware that it was the demonstrators that were causing the delay.
It was a full six minutes later that the horses were asked to form a line again and this delay did not help the horses as the rain was falling but the temperature was quite high and a lot of the horses started to sweat a little. This type of hold up upsets horses temperament as they know that they are at the start of a race, so when they were asked to line up again some of the horses we behaving a little mulish. Roc De Prince was playing up and Royal Speedmaster was playing up even more.
As the horses lined up at the start, you could see that the start tape was not taught but was limp in front of the horses, and the jockeys always like to get close to the tape so that they do not loose any ground at the start of the race. The charge to the first fence in the Grand National is always too fast and usually there are fallers at the first, so it is not a good idea to jump the fence close behind another horse. So perhaps it is not surprising that when this limp start tape started to rise and the horses started to serge forward that the horses were on the tape before it had time to rise.
This caused the tape to tangle around some of the horses and seeing this the starter Keith Brown raised and waved his red flag signifying that the race was a false start. I have looked at the tape of the start of this race many times and I have never seen the second official who is supposed to be someway down the course who having seen the starter wave his flag should, also wave his flag thus showing the jockeys that a false start has occurred, however he must have been there on this occasion as the some of the jockeys pulled up before the Melling road, although it did take some horses a little longer, but all pulled up before the first fence
The horses made their way back to the start and the television commentator at the time Peter O Sullivan said " The runners I must say were recalled with commendable speed " little did he or anyone else know that it was to be very different in a few minutes time.
The horses were recalled and within a short time were again milling around down at the start. The wind was getting stronger and also the drizzle was continuing and the noise from the crowd was getting louder, the people in the crowd were getting more excited.
All of this was having its effect on the horses as some were starting to get even more uneasy and more were sweating up.
Again they were called into a line and again some of the horses were playing up and one could sense that everybody was eager that the start should happen soon but Royal Speedmaster was again causing problems and was being lead in by someone. You could see that again the starting tape was limp and like the first time when the starter released the tape it did not go up quickly enough and the tape was around one of the horses neck and although you can't see the tape here you can see the horse rearing up. The tape then got caught around jockey Richard Dunwoody's neck and the starter again raised his flag and waved it but as can be seen here the flag did not unfold as the starter had not unrolled it.
This was not seen by the second official and he did not raise his flag and although it was obvious to some of the jockeys at the start, and thanks to the television showing the flag waving it was also obvious to us in the stand that the race was a false start it was not to some of the runners on the inside group who would not have seen the tape getting caught and they carried on at full gallop to the first fence.
The commentator on the course announced to everybody that it was a false start but as the horses galloped across the melling road to the first fence it dawned on everybody that the main group of runners, not seeing a flagman were totally unaware that this was not a good start. The vast majority of the horses jumped the first and sped off towards the second fence and the commentators although knowing this was not a proper race had no choice but to commentate on the race.
And so the horses ran on relentlessly with Sure Metal leading the group.
The commentators kept up with the action but as the horses approached the canal turn some of the crowd there were waving their hands in the air and were booing, but noise at this end of the course is not unusual so the jockeys ignored this and went on to the next. The commentators then changed he said " I don't know why they are going on as this is a false race " but it was obvious that none of the runners were aware of this. The horses carried on up the back and as they came to the milling road Peter O'Sullivan said quite rightly " Well here's one of the greatest sensations ever in the national there are nine horses still at the start".
As the horses rounded the home turn and jumped two fences they were then onto the chair. An official was at the chair fence waving his flag but it was obvious that the jockeys thought either that there was an obstacle and they were being waved to the left of the fence or that the protestors were on the course so they all jumped the chair at the left hand side and went on to the water. At the water jump, horses were a little strung out and as they jumped the water the crowd started to boo and commentator said there are boo's from the crowd but we were not booing the horses and riders but just at that time the large screen showed a picture the starter and this is what caused the noise from the crowd.
At the start line another official came out with a flag but he was also ignored by the riders.
We were all in disbelief that this race was going on, and I don't think that many of us were unaware that this would be a void race and that we were witnessing something very strange here today.
Quite a few horses started to pull up as they saw people they recognized on the course and realized that they were not protestors.
There were still however quite a few of the horses carrying on. They jumped quite a few fences and when they came to Bechers for the second time the commentator summed it up by saying this is an absolute farce as on the course there was absolute bedlam.
There were horses milling around at the start who had taken no part, there were tired horses who had completed one circuit, there were jockeys owners and officials all wandering around not knowing what was going to happen next but for a few horses the race was still on.
At Valentines the horses did slow down and as the commentator said that the jockeys were sensing something was wrong but were not going to pull up at this stage of the race.
So seven horses continued on and jumped down the back fences and crossed the melling road and then as they came into the straight the commentator summed up what we all felt " Well this is one of the greatest disasters in the history of the national, because here as these heroic competitors preparing to come to the second last fence believing that the race is on and it cannot possibly be an official race".
At the final fence Esha Ness passed The committee and Romany King to take up the lead, and as they flashed past the finishing post it was interesting to note that the winning jockey did not 'punch the air ' as most winning jockeys do but just ran on.
As the commentator called out the finishers he summed it up by saying this is surely
" The Race That Never Was "
On pulling up the camera held a close up on the face of the winning jockey as he was told and realized that he had not won the national as it was a false start and we all witnessed on the large screen television the agony on the face of John White as he realized his dream had turned into a nightmare.
This winning line is close to the start line and there were horses milling around everywhere there were many officials on the course and the BBC man on the spot former jockey Richard Pitman tried to get some comment from the starter Keith Brown.
Keith Brown confirmed that it was a false start but did say, “ The horses that did obey the recall could restart under the rules of racing”. In the crowd very time that the officials were on the television there were boo’s but in general everybody was dumb struck as we had no idea of what was going to happen next. We all talked over what the likely outcome of this day might be and although there were loud arguments it was all pretty good humoured as we were all wet, cold and confused. Most of the people on the Aintree mound where I was decided at this point to take cover and head for one of the bars.
On the course jockeys, owners and trainers were still hanging around and stable lads were looking after their horses as it was not confirmed that some sort of a race was not still on the cards.
The officials headed across the course for the head on camera box to see a video of the start of the race. There was an announcement over the public address system that the stewards were going to hold an inquiry.
They were in the box for about 14 minutes before emerging to tell the press that they had come to no decision yet and that deliberations would continue in the steward’s room.
Meanwhile course officials started to rebuild fences, as they would need to be used should some type of race need to be held.
There were a lot of people wandering around on the course busying themselves trying to put the course back together quickly
All the horses connections were still on the course and jockey were thankful to see coats and also hot drinks being brought out to them as they waited for the decision from the officials.
As time went on we got the feeling that there would not be any sort of national this year and there were a lot of people being dragged in front of the cameras to give opinions.
As time went on you could see the disappointment on jockeys face as can be seen on Carl Llewellyn’s face here as he was on the favorite for the race last years winner “ Party Politics”,
10 Minutes later we got the official statement from the stewards that the race was officially void.
Horses were starting now to be unsaddled and were lead back to the stables by the lads.
The jockeys were returning to the weighing room so that they could get ready for the next race they would have to ride in. Some of the jockeys were asked by the journalists on the course to give comments that would appear in the next days national papers.
Irish Jockey Charlie Swan was the first to come in front of the camera. He started by saying that "In Ireland there is a white flag man to signify a false start but we did not see one." He went on to say that when we got to the chair we thought that there were people maybe trying to stop the national, we did not think he was an official."
When asked if the jockeys talked on the way round he said, " It was very hard to hear anything, the wind was very strong"
Former winning jockey Marcus_Armitage next came to give his comments, he started by saying that his horse had the tapes wrapped around his legs", he went on to say Richard "Dunwoody had the tape around his neck".
When asked about the tape he said, " When he said go (The starter) the tape didn't go very quickly".
He went on to confirm that he saw nobody wave a flag but that Richard Dunwoody said to him that it was a false start.
One of our leading trainers came before the camera next " It was a disaster and a great tragedy to the race" he said He gave his opinion that it was of course a false start and he thought that the rules stated that the ones that had obeyed the recall should restart although he confirmed that this would exclude his horse who completed a full circuit. He thought that this rule was black and white although he said that he thought this would be a farce and that he would not want to see this.
David has a lot of experience in racing and confirmed that there should be a man down the course waving a flag in the case of a false start and said that he assumed he was there the first time as the jockeys were in no doubt that the first start was a false start as they all obeyed it. But he wondered what happened the second time.
When asked should the race now be re-run. He said, " If good sense prevailed it shouldn't be, but good sense has nothing to do with the rules". He also stated that sometimes officials have to follow the rules.
The jockey that finished first John White was next in front of the camera. He started be saying " The first false start I saw a chap with a white flag I knew I had not gone 20 yards and I pulled up knowing it was a false start " he then went on to say "When we jumped off the second time, I have not seen a re-run of the race I was up there with the first half dozen I didn't see any flag", "At the chair I saw cones up the, going across the fence, I looked again and I did not think they were going right across and a man I though waved us across the inside of the chair". When asked didn't you realize there were a lot of horses missing He laughed at this and said " Ever ridden in a national you don't have time to count horses".
Tracy Piggott came to report on what was happening in the weighing room. " Well I have never seen anything like it" she said, " Mrs Pitman" (the trainer of the Esha Ness) "came in and she was in floods of tears", " Keith Brown came in and was almost accosted", " People are just gob smacked and just can't believe it".
Trainer of Zeta's Lad, John Upson came angrily next, He said " I think regardless of what they do it is an absolute disgrace that the worlds number one national hunt race is run like this, It would not happen in a point-to-point field in Ireland". He want on to say "We are not talking about a conditional jockeys race all the top jockeys were there all the top jockeys say they saw no signs of flags whatsoever.
Mike Dillon of the bookmaker Ladbrokes was interviewed and confirmed that as a void race all bets would be refunded, this would include anti-post bets and bets made on the day.
Rod Fabricuis, The acting clerk of the course said that the race had to be declared void as " The starter signalled a false start and the recall flag was not shown" he said "unless all the horses had pulled up without completing a circuit the race had to be declared void".
He went on to say that the recall man was in position but did not show his flag.
He also said that the starter could have elected for a flagged start when the starting gate failed the first time.
Jockey Peter Scudamore said " the first time we all heard him say false start " The second time nobody heard a thing". He said "I did not know a thing until I saw people waving after I jumped the chair".
He said that this was the third time he had seen this happen this season. He had gone a full circuit when he saw Martin Pipe a trainer he rides for wave at him and said " If he's telling me to stop it's right".
Past winning jockey Richard Dunwoody said that he thought he heard the starter say false start but the Starting tape got caught around my neck so I could not have continued. But said "the red flag man when I passed him definitely had not got his flag raised.
I think in all this the punters at home must have been disappointed. And people like me who had travelled a 9 hour round trip at quite an expense were very disappointed but this is insignificant when you think of the horses, jockeys, trainers and connections. They plan for years, and certainly all this current year, they set out their horses racing plans and get the horse to it's peak fitness in one piece and uninjured and on the top of it's form for this one race. Then they have to get their horse in the race as so many a balloted out, and to many of them it will be their only chance of a run in the race, or it may just be that this is their best chance and through something that is as small as a false start brings the worlds biggest race to a halt, and stops their dreams dead in their tracks.
In 1994 the starting tapes were changed and instead of the tapes going up vertically, they were made so that the tapes rise at a 45 degree away from the starters and this seems to work quite well but it still relies on the recall man first seeing the starter and second performing his duty and stopping the race.
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