Welcome to another post in my Horse Racing History series! Today’s is a very exciting one, just two weeks before my older brother was born, the 147th running of the Grand National took place but as always with my history stories… It didn’t quite go to plan! Let’s get straight into it…
On April 3rd 1993, the 147th running of the Grand National was scheduled to take place at it’s regular home of Aintree Racecourse, the day started off as it always did, then things suddenly took a turn. Before the Grand National could take place, fifteen animal rights protesters invaded the course near to the first fence, the second time in 3 years, a repeat of the 1991 Grand National 2 years prior, this caused the start to be delayed. However, that isn’t the biggest turn of events that happened that day.
When the race was finally ready to start the horses lined up as they normally would, however a false start was called when several riders became tangled in the starting tape. The starter was a gentleman called Keith Brown who was officiating his last ever Grand National before his retirement, he waved his red flag, then the second official Ken Evans who was 100 yards down the track signalled to the runners to turn around.
So they go again, on the second attempt, the tape became tangled again, this time around the neck of Richard Dunwoody, again causing a false start. However, this time his recall flag didn’t unfold itself as he waved it, which in turn meant that 30 of the 39 runners set off around the track, oblivious to the false start and the recall.
Officials, trainers and the crowd tried to halt the race, however the majority of the field continued on. By the 6th fence, Becher’s Brook only 1 of the 30 starters still competing had fallen. The BBC’s commentary team at the time were Peter O’Sullevan, John Hanmer and Jim McGrath and they continued to describe proceedings all whilst reminding viewers that ‘it’s got to be a void race’.
It wasn’t until the water jump, the final fence of the first circuit, that many of the jockeys became aware of the situation and pulled up, this included Champion Jockey Peter Scudamore on Captain Dibble and most of the horses to the rear pulled up also. Peter Scudamore pulled up due to seeing trainer Martin Pipe waving at him near the water jump to stop.
However, 14 horses continued to race into the second circuit. In the end, it was 50/1 shot Esha Ness ridden by John White and trained by Jenny Pitman who crossed the line first in the second fastes time in Grand National history. Only 7 horses finished the race.
Immediately after the race finished there was a lot of confusion as to what would happen next. Starter, Keith Brown was interviewed by BBC and hinted that there was a possibility that the nine jockeys who noticed and obeyed his recall could be eligible to take part in a re-run. A short time later several jockeys said that they though the officials attempting to stop them were actually something to do with the protestors from before the race. Esha Ness’ jockey, who unofficially won the race, John White, said that towards the end of the race “I could see there were only a few horses around, but I thought the others had fallen or something”.
The Jockey Club later declared the race void, ruling out any re-running of it and they subsequently launched an inquiry. At this stage bookmakers were forced collectively to refund an estimated £75 million in bets staked.
An inquiry was later conducted, headed up by High Court judge Sir Michael Connell, the deputy senior steward of the Jockey Club since 1988. His report portioned some of the blame to starter Keith Brown for allowing the horses to get too close to the tape in the first place, however most of the blame was aimed towards the second official Ken Evans for failing to notice the second false start. Later that year Keith Brown retired stating “it was very sad for all concerned, whatever could go wrong that day, did.”
Following the official inquiry, a 34 page report with recommendations was approved by the Jockey Club. Public discussion had included the possibility of introducing electronic devices, however the use of modern technology was dismissed on the basis of a lack of total success overseas and being open to sabotage or technical failure. The tape at the start line was made more sturdy, consisting of 3 strands instead of 1 with a more distinctive pattern and the width of the start was also reduced.
It was decided that when a false start is called, two official who are in constant contact with the starter via radio, will have fluorescent yellow flags that they wave at the jockeys, further up the course there will also be a third official who is positioned to stop those who fail to notice the two initial flags. If necessary, the third official can follow the field in a car to stop them.
This was the first and so far, the only time that the Grand National has been declared void and hopefully it will never happen again!
I hope you enjoyed this one, I feel like my history posts are sometimes a little short, but they’re also very interesting and I love doing the research into them. I hope to continue this series with plenty more stories. I have created a Google Form which you can access and input any ideas you may have that you would like to see me cover, this can be any historical stories, people to interview as well as any original ideas of content you may like to see me put out onto my site. I appreciate all of the feedback I get weekly from my readers so it is only fair I create content which best suits my audience and that my readers want to see! You can access the form right here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScg5vZg8Xonpg8l-3S6gVSwS3FPx8wiGFUcmkPX9qXiSW9QQQ/viewform
Thank you again for reading! I will see you all in my next post!