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Grand National history - Five Grand Nationals that didn't go to plan!

Trainer Jenny Pitman was on the receiving end of a crushing Grand National blow in 1993 ... find out what happened!

Brian Healy takes a look back at some Grand Nationals that perhaps didn’t go quite to plan.

There are plenty of classic memories surrounding the Grand National, such as Red Rum’s three successes in the race, and cancer survivor Bob Champion steering Aldaniti to glory in 1981 amongst countless others.

Some others however remain in the memory for altogether different reasons. Here we take a look at some of the Grand Nationals that didn’t quite go to plan.

1956 – Devon Loch and the phantom leap

Well-fancied for the 1956 Grand National, the Queen Mother’s horse Devon Loch looked set to give her a Grand National winner when both the favourite and a previous winner in the race departed early in the race.

In front at the elbow, and passing the royal box some forty yards short of the winning post, he held a commanding lead under jockey Dick Francis but inexplicably and suddenly jumped into the air, sprawling and landing on his stomach, and handing the initiative to second horse E.S.B to come through to win.

Despite the best efforts of his jockey after, Devon Loch failed to finish the race leading the Queen Mother, who was a great fan of the jumps game, to state graciously “Oh, that’s racing.”

There have been several theories surrounding the reason for Devon Loch’s unexpected jump; theories reign from the horse sustaining a cramp in his hindquarters through to an injury, to being spooked by a shadow cast by the adjacent water-jump and even the noise from the crowd in greeting home an expected royal winner.

1967 – Foinavon avoids the carnage at 23rd fence

Rank outsider Foinavon was sent off 100/1 for the 1967 Grand National, and even his owner at the time had such little faith in his horse, that he elected not to travel to Aintree.

Out with the washing on the first circuit, the race had little drama until the field had jumped Becher’s Brook for the second time. Heading to the next fence, a loose horse – Popham Down – had been running wild after dislodging his jockey at the first and with no run-out had made his own way around the course.

As the field approached the next fence, the loose horse veered dramatically into the oncoming runners, causing race-leader Rutherfords to unship Johnny Leech from the saddle, which in turn created a huge pile-up as runner after runner fell, unseated their rider or with their route blocked refused to jump the fence.

Foinavon, who was far enough adrift of the carnage, was able to be steered clear of the ensuing chaos to poach a huge lead before the other riders were able to sort their horses out and remount to get back into the race.

However, John Buckingham and Foinavon had managed to poach enough of a lead and they came home some twenty lengths clear of second-placed favourite Honey End.

1977 – Graham Thorner gets wired-for-sound

Nowadays we have jockey-cam, but back in 1977 – the third of Red Rum’s successes in the race - former champion jump jockey and past Grand National winner Graham Thorner was a late substitute for the BBC who had hit upon an innovative idea to have a jockey wired up for audio recording, with the aim of giving viewers a jockey’s perspective of the big race as it unfolded.

Thorner had come in for the job after original choice Tommy Stack elected not to partake in the experiment, withdrawing from the BBC’s plans after seeing the equipment he would be asked to carry.

However, the audio recorded by Thorner proved useless as, whilst riding Prince Rock, he forgot in the heat of the race that he was recording and instead of giving any sort of commentary he inadvertently launched into a three-minute-long expletive-laden verbal tirade, culminating with a twelfth-fence departure from the race.

1993 – The Grand National That Never Was

Millions were left frustrated by the shambolic scenes that blighted the 1993 Grand National, eventually leading to the race being declared void.

With an estimated 300 million people watching the race around the world, the race was delayed with the runners already down at the start when a group of animal rights activists managed to invade the racecourse and planted themselves by the first fence.

After being removed by police, the race then suffered a first false start after several of the riders became tangled in the starting stape. The race-starter, Keith Brown, who was officiating his last National before retirement, waved his red recall flag and a second official, Ken Evans, who was situated 100 yards further down the track, in turn signalled to the leading runners to turn around.

At the second attempt, and as the starter tried to get a perfect line amongst the 39-runners,  the tape became entangled around the neck of Richard Dunwoody and Brown again signalled with the red flag for another false flag. However, he had held onto the flag-cloth and from 100 yards away, Ken Evans could not see the flag unfurl and didn’t wave his flag to signal the false start to the runners.

30 of the 39 runners set out on the first circuit, with nine remaining at the line. The field had completed the first circuit despite frantic efforts of officials, trainers and even the crowd to halt the race.

It wasn’t until the field reached the water-jump – the last jump on the first circuit that many of the riders realised something was up and pulled up their mounts. However, several others continued and 14 horses set out for the second circuit of Aintree. 

Jumping the last, four horses were still vying for the lead - Cahervillahow, Romany King, The Committee and Esha Ness – and it was the John White-ridden 50/1 chance Esha Ness who eventually crossed the line in front, giving Jenny Pitman what she thought was her second Grand National winner after Corbiere in 1983.

Despite calls for a re-run, The Jockey Club later declared the race void, ruled out any re-running of the race at a later date, and launched an inquiry. Bookmakers were forced to refund an estimated £75 million in bets staked.

1997 – The Monday Grand National 

Having been scheduled as normal to be run on the Saturday, the 1997 Grand National was abandoned following an IRA bomb-threat that was received by Aintree University Hospital just ninety minutes before the race was due to take place.

Minutes later, a second threat was made to the police control room at Bootle using recognised IRA codewords; at least one incendiary device was warned to have been planted at the racecourse.

All 60,000 racegoers were evacuated to safety from the course; many had travelled long distances to be there and were unfortunately stranded as hotels became swamped. Locals stepped into the breach, allowing racegoers the hospitality of their homes for the night and the horses were shipped to nearby Haydock or back to their home stables.

Police later performed two controlled explosions on suspicious items found during a search of the course, but refused to confirm whether either item was indeed a bomb.

The race was rescheduled for 48 hours later, and over 20,000 people turned out on the Monday following to watch Lord Gyllene romp to a 25-length victory.

With the 2014 Grand National only a little over a day away, let’s hope this year’s renewal is one to remember for the right reasons!


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Join millions of fans preparing to celebrate the build up to the world's most famous race - the Aintree Grand National.


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Grand National history - Five Grand Nationals that didn't go to plan!

Brian Healy takes a look back at some Grand Nationals that perhaps didn’t go quite to plan.

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