`Low-Tech' Mires British Steeplechase
LONDON — ENGLAND'S famous Grand National steeplechase, steeped in history and watched around the world by 350 million people, was ridiculed Sunday as the victim of a typically British anachronism.
Even though $150,000 was offered as prize money to the winner, the prestigious race was in total disarray because of an outdated starting procedure. The system relies on officials waving flags to alert riders to a false start. It broke down.
Because most of the jockeys were unaware a false start had been called, most of the 39-horse field ran the 4 1/2-mile race even though nine stayed behind at the start line. For the first time in its 157-year history, the race was declared void and Esha Ness, who crossed the line first, was never declared the winner. His jockey, John White, broke down in tears when he was told.
Aintree race-course officials have ruled out any possibility of a rerun.
"Trainers who have been consulted overwhelmingly say it would not be practical from the horse's point of view to run it again this season," said Aintree chairman Peter Greenall.
Bookmakers pledged to repay the $115 million they took in bets. One major bookmaker threatened a lawsuit to recover lost profits, but decided not to pursue it, as it would bankrupt the track.
David Pipe, spokesman for the rulemaking Jockey Club, said an inquiry would begin.
"We will look at not only the personnel involved but also the technical side of it, to see what needs to be improved," he said. "It's extremely understandable that everyone was angry. It was just a catastrophe that it did happen, particularly for trainers who had brought their horses to a peak for that day."