One of the most iconic events of the sporting calendar has fallen foul of the Coronavirus outbreak after it was confirmed that the Grand National will no longer take place on 4 April. This will be the first time in 27 years that we have not seen a winner of the most famous race in the sport, with the last such occurrence coming in the bizarre Grand National of 1993.
Unlike several sporting events we have seen this year, the crowds were packed in to watch what was the 147th running of the iconic race. The going was good to firm and crowds were keen to see if pre-race favourite Party Politics could defend the title that he had won the year before, just five days prior to the 1992 General Election.
With millions watching around the country, bet-slips in hand, the 39 horses gathered near the start of the 4m 4f Aintree course. However, disruption had already begun at the first fence as 15 animal rights protesters had broken onto the course, just as they had two years previously, to protest at the running of the race. They succeeded in delaying the race by eight minutes but once they were cleared from the course, at 3.58 pm, we were ready to rock and roll.
Starter Keith Brown was at the start line, conducting his very final Grand National before retirement, but even in his worst nightmares he could not have envisaged just how badly this would go.
With the runners ready for the off, he pressed the button to release the flimsy tape that had become damp in the rain. The tape got caught amongst some of the riders and Brown furiously waved his small red flag to indicate the race would have to be restarted for the first time ever. It took a few minutes but the entirety of the field did eventually return to the start line as we prepared for the off once more. With the 39 horses all raring to go once more, Brown lifted the start line again but this time it worryingly got caught around Richard Dunwoody’s neck on board Won’t Be Gone Too Long.
Dunwoody was fine but Brown’s tiny red flag could not draw the attention of the majority of the field as 30 out of the 39 contenders hurtled towards the first fence. Although it was clear to viewers in the crowd and at home that the race should be restarted, little attempt was made on course to stop the horses on the track until they reached the famous Chair, the 15th fence.
There, one official tried to stop the race, walking onto the track with a red flag, but many jockeys believed it to be one of the protesters who had attempted to stop the race previously, so just nine horses stopped ahead of the second circuit. Boos rang around Aintree as the horses continued to make their way towards the finish line.
John White, riding 50/1 shot Esha Ness, thought he had secured Grand National glory by two lengths from Cahervillahow before he became aware of the gravity of the situation. Over £75m was bet on the showpiece event and bookmakers were left in turmoil as the race was declared void, given that not all horses had had a fair chance.
Brown, the embarrassed starter, was booed by furious racegoers as he returned from his post before the Jockey Club confirmed the race would not be rerun. This was a black mark against racing in the United Kingdom and, simply put, one of the biggest sporting calamities in history.