1997: The Postponed Grand National

Good Morning!

Welcome to a new post here at zoelouisesmithx.com. Today’s post is a brand new post in my Horse Racing History series and it is all about the 1997 Grand National, which was actually postponed. I would like to send a massive thank you to Mike Parcej who actually attended Aintree on the day and sent me over a first hand account of what he saw that day and I am super grateful. Throughout this post I will be quoting a lot of what Mike told me, as I believe this is the best way to really get a feel for how it was on the day! (All quotes from Mike will be in bold text.)

On Saturday 5th April 1997, it was the scheduled 150th running of the Grand National taking place at it’s usual home of Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. However, it didn’t take place on this day, instead taking place two days later on Monday 7th April, but why? Let’s get right into it!

The day started as normal. Intimidating police presence, everyone pushing all over the place, trying to find a quiet spot to have a coffee, a few presentations and thankfully plenty of room around the vast embankment of the huge paddock. The one place where you could actually see the horses! There was absolutely no indication of what was to come, it was just another Grand National Day.”

The day went pretty normally, the first few races took place without a hitch. However, at 2:49pm a bomb threat was made via a telephone call to Aintree University Hospital. Three minutes later at 2:52pm a second call was made, this time to the police control room in Bootle. Both callers used a recognised codeword used by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). They warned that there was at least one device planted within Aintree Racecourse.

With no announcement at this point, the paddock screen suddenly went blank and the message ‘would all racegoers please leave immediately’ came up. I was on my feet and out of the front entrance like a bullet from a gun. My mate Andy was hanging around awaiting further news but I was having none of it. In my mind a bomb was going to explode and I was out of there at once.”

The police evacuated 60,000 people, stranding 20,000 racegoers, media personnel and all horse connections and their vehicles locked inside the confines of the course. At first spectators were evacuated from the stands and sent onto the course itself, however the police consulted with course clerk Charles Barnett and then advised via a live broadcast that everyone should leave the course immediately.

Out front, I have never seen such scenes in my life – sirens, police cars all over the place, the big black Royal car with Princess Royal being driven away at top speed. There is a bus stop outside the track and between the madness a bus for Liverpool City Centre came through like a rescue helicopter coming out of the fog. I turned around and was horrified to see Andy in a burger stall queue for a coffee! I shouted ‘Andy I’m getting on this bus’ he said ‘wait a bit I’m getting a coffee – I shouted ‘you do what you want, I’m getting on this bus’ so he grumpily joined me.”

Most of the competing horses either travelled home or were moved to Haydock Park Racecourse, while a dozen remained at Aintree in their stables. At 4:14pm the police carried out two controlled explosions at the course. Aintree responded by opening their homes to racegoers who were stranded in the city overnight, with tens of thousands temporarily homeless for the night, being offered places to stay at homes surrounding the course.

It was one of those ‘I was there’ days but for all the wrong reasons.”

The race was then set to be run two days later on Monday 7th April at 5pm, less than 10,000 people were expected to return to Aintree, however over 20,000 turned up to watch the race 49 hours later than originally planned.

When the race was finally run, a 9 year old 14/1 shot called Lord Gyllene won by 25 lengths with Tony Dobbin riding carrying 10 stone exactly.

I was disappointed that they didn’t run the Amateur Riders Chase and the Bumper that were due to be run after the National as well. After Lord Gyllene had won, they all stood up and said ‘the terrorists didn’t beat us after all’ but for those who had runners and horses in those two latter races, the terrorists did win.”

Interesting to note as a side reference, during ITV’s coverage of the 2017 Grand National, it was revealed that another bomb threat was made on Monday 7th April 1997, however Merseyside Police were confident that this was just a hoax and the race took place without any disruption.

If you want to see footage from the day I found a YouTube video you can watch right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xok12BpmChQIf you go to 2:19:00 this is where the commentators start to become aware of evacuations taking place. I must say it is a very interesting watch for someone like myself who has never seen this footage before!

As always, my Horse Racing History posts are not always the longest, but sometimes the most interesting posts I write! I enjoyed researching this one, especially speaking with Mike and getting a feel for the day from someone who was there. It’s a very interesting day to research and look into, but also a very sad one, however luckily nobody was hurt in the proceedings and eventually the Grand National did get to go ahead.

Again, I want to thank Mike for giving us a brilliant insight, and I hope you all enjoyed this one. It’s a heavy, tense one to take in, but after my previous Grand National post, this one was highly requested! I will hopefully see you all on Wednesday evening for my next post!

1928: The Record Breaking Grand National

Hiya!

Welcome to a new post in my Horse Racing History series! Today’s is another interesting story which I felt I needed to share!

The 1928 Grand National was the 87th renewal that took place at Aintree Racecourse on the 30th of March and to this day, it still holds a record, can you guess what record that is? Let’s get straight into it!

On March 30th 1928 it was very misty in Liverpool and the going for the Grand National was heavy, being unofficially described as ‘very heavy’. With 42 horses declared to run, it started off a very normal race. That was until the field approached the Canal Turn of the first circuit.

At the Canal Turn, Easter Hero took a fall which then ended up causing a pile up of fallers including the starting price favourite Master Billie who went off at 5/1. Out of the 42 starting horses, only seven emerged from that pile up with their jockeys still seated.

The race continued with the seven remaining contenders, however when coming to the penultimate fence, there were only three horses left standing, Great Span who was 33/1 and currently leading ahead of Billy Barton who was also a 33/1 shot and closely followed by Tipperary Tim who had a starting price of 100/1.

Great Span’s saddle then slipped, which left Billy Barton in the lead who also ended up falling. Which left 100/1 shot Tipperary Tim as the last remaining horse. With baited breath, he did manage to jump the final fence safely and complete the course. The only horse to finish the race. Interestingly though, Billy Barton’s jockey Tommy Cullinan managed to remount and eventually complete the race. So the finishing order was Tipperary Tim at 100/1 winning for amateur jockey Mr William Dutton, trainer Joseph Dodd and owner Harold Kenyon. With Billy Barton eventually finishing the race in second place at 33/1 for jockey Tommy Cullinan. Due to the excessive distance between the two horses, the winning distance was officially declared as ‘a distance’.

With only two horses completing the course, to this day the 1928 Grand National set the record and holds the record for the fewest finishers in a Grand National.

Ironically, before the race Tipperary Tim’s amateur jockey Mr William Dutton’s friend had told him “Billy boy, you’ll only win if all the others fall” – Little did they know that this would be the eventual outcome only a few minutes later.

So there we have it, a record breaking Grand National that still stands to this day and in my opinion will probably never be broken. With jockeys continuously improving, horses continuously improving and the safety of both jockeys and horses improving within the sport, I don’t feel like we will ever have another occasion where there is a mass pile-up or so many horses not completing the course – touch wood.

I feel as though most of my history series are short posts, but I love sharing them as I find them interesting even when there isn’t a lot to write other than the facts. Thank you for reading and I shall see you all in my next post!