The 1993 Grand National - The race that never counted
The 1993 Grand National - The race that never counted
We have recently lived the race that stops the nation. Yes, we’re talking about the Grand National, the most popular horse race in the British racing calendar. And for this massive event, along with some others like Royal Ascot, expert racing tips and analysis are provided by sites such as oddschecker for a complete fan experience. But more specifically, now we’re taking a look back at the only time in the history of this illustrious event that the race was called devoid.
All this talk of potential postponements and even cancellations got us to thinking about that time way back in 1993 that all hell broke loose. If you’re of a certain age, then you’ll remember it well. It was the day the Grand National took place, but the race didn’t even count.
A false start
It was the 3rd April 1993 and a field of 39 runners were champing at the bit quite literally. The meeting had already been subjected to delays due to protesters making their way to the first fence. This caused a considerable delay which left the horses and jockeys equally uneasy.
After spending what seemed like an eternity at the starting point, the course was clear and riders and horses were set for the off. However, when several jockeys found themselves caught in the starter tape, the officials called a false start. The race officials waved the recall flag to the riders who had made it further down the track and all runners returned to the start. But that was just the beginning of the mayhem.
At the second start, jockey Richard Dunwoody became entangled in the starter tape and another false start was called. But when the official further down the track waved his flag, it failed to unfurl and 30 of the original 39 runners took off sure that they were in the race for real this time around. Despite the remonstrations of the officials along the track, the horses and riders galloped around the track with one goal – finish the race.
Believe it or not, the horses continued their run around the circuit ignoring the officials, the horse handlers and trainers, and even the crowd who were all trying to stop the race. Even more incredible was the amazing work by the jockeys. By the sixth fence, only one of the horses had fallen, which in the Grand National is pretty much unheard of. In fact, the most horses to have ever finished the race was 23.
As the race continued more horses fell yet the majority of the field continued to race. Everyone watching knew full well that the race was nothing more than a run around the track, but the horses and jockeys still involved were convinced they were running the National. The commentary continued yet all felt the ‘winner’ couldn’t possibly win.
By the final fence of the first circuit, which was the fabled water jump, a number of the jockeys in the middle of the field realised what was going on and pulled up. Those taking up the rear saw what was happening and they too pulled up meaning that the majority of the entrants had now left the race.
The race that never was continued with 14 horses now left in the field. At this point, Sure Metal was in the lead followed by Howe Street. They had a considerable lead over the remaining 12 horses until both fell at the 20th fence.
Romany King then took the lead. Over the next series of fences several horses refused to jump while two horses, Paco’s Boy and The Gooser fell while another, Interim Lib, unseated his rider. It was pure bedlam and only seven horses were left in the ‘race’.
Romany King, Cahervillahow, The Committee, and Esha Ness were all vying for the lead and as they approached the final furlongs Esha Ness and jockey John White edged ahead to claim the win. Incredibly, the 50/1 long shot Esha Ness had just run the second fastest time in the history of the Grand National, but it was all for naught.
The final decision
As you can imagine, there was massive confusion at the end of the race. John White celebrated his win but his joy was cruelly cut short as he realised that something was amiss. The race starter initially declared that the nine jockeys who had heeded the restart call would qualify to enter a re-run of the race. This left jockeys, handlers, trainers, and owners in a rage. They felt that they were being punished for the poor officiating that led to the race continuing.
Asked why they didn’t stop when they saw people waving alongside the track, many of the jockeys said that they assumed the people waving were protesters. It’s a valid point given that the race had been earlier held up due to protesters on the track. John White also said that the fact that so few horses remained at the end didn’t seem all that unusual for the Grand National, another fair point.
With all of this in mind, it seemed grossly unfair to penalize the jockeys and horses who had completed the race. After all, the recall flag had failed to unfurl. A re-run of the race was impossible for those horses that had completed the race while the horse that had fallen would also have had no chance to recover in time for a re-run.
At the end of the day, the officials were left with no option but to declare the race void and rule out any re-running of it at any point in the future. It was a massive blow for the trainers and jockeys who had worked so hard to get to the Grand National but at the same time, it seemed like the only logical thing to do. Some officials later lamented that the race was a disaster waiting to happen and unfortunately they were proven right.
As for the punters, all bets were refunded with an estimated £75 million leaving the pockets of the bookmakers. And for those who had backed Esha Ness at 50/1, they were cruelly denied an unexpected windfall.