A farcical day at the races

By Declan Colley ALTHOUGH twenty-eight pounds is not a lot of money for a day’s work, it’s decent enough if the extent of your labour is to raise an arm.

Ken Evans went to work ten years agothis Saturday without any expectation that he would be asked to perform this arduous task even once.

Had he known that it was to be asked of him twice, he should certainly have negotiated himself a better pay deal.

Captain Keith Brown was a more handsomely-paid symbol of British racing. His job was to militarily bark commands at cowering jockeys from beneath the rim of a bowler hat.

The tools of histrade: a rostrum, a length of tape, and a little red flag. Leading-edge technology in an industry where the state of the going is determined by how deep an indent the heel of a 'welly' can make in the turf.

Keith Brown and Ken Evans were the race starter and recall official for the 1993 Aintree Grand National. A decade later, they are still remembered as the accidental masterminds of the 'race that never was', the Laurel and Hardy of Liverpool.

The Aintree Grand National spreads itself across British and Irish racing like a patchwork quilt of history.

Strictly speaking, it is merely a long-distance handicap chase, but in reality it's an annual costume drama that informs most people's view of jump racing.

From the victory-bound Devon Loch falling at an invisible fence in 1956, to a bomb scare abandonment in 1997, the only predictable thing about this race is its uncertainty.

A strange story is always bound to unfold, and Keith and Ken's 'Carry On Grand National' of 1993 was perhaps the strangest of all.

Like all good English stories, this one begins with the weather. It continues through an invasion of animal libbers and a half-strangled Richard Dunwoody. It should have ended with Ken Evans' little red flag.

By the time the field of 39 racers had assembled, many in the crowd of 50,000 had spent the day sheltering indoors from the wet and blustery conditions.

Their high spirits and sense of anticipation had been well lubricated. Down at the start, things were more serious, as expectancy battled with apprehension and fear.

Experienced jockeys sought , a good early position, jostlingwith the horse-borne dreamers hopingto lead to the first, get toBeechers first time round and then walk back.

The anxiety of the wound-up horses wasn't helped when an invasion force of animal lovers charged loudly up the course to liberate them from the pain of certain death.

By the time the protesters had been rugby-tackled and led away by the police, the start was already nearly ten minutes late.

In fairness, the first aborted start was just one of those things. The wind blew the tape around somehorses and the race could not continue. The recall system swung into action and the process worked flawlessly.

'Captain Keith' signalled a false start and 'Recall Ken' raised his little red flag. The jockeys saw the signal and the field returned to the start.

A global TV audience of 300 million in 49 different countries made another cup of tea and waited for the restart.

The punters who had bet £75 million on the outcome settled back and waited a little longer for an answer to their prayers.

Meanwhile, the frazzled nerves of horses and riders frazzled a little more, as it took almost ten minutes to repair the tape.

The second attempted start is the one that will live forever in infamy. By the time the field was ready to make another line, the noise of an impatient crowd had whipped up only slightly less than the breeze.

Brown released the tape again, but this time it didn'tget any further than Dunwoody's neck. That his mount was named Won't Be Gone Long is another ironic twist of history.

As before, the intrepid starter raised his flag to signal a false start. But there are conflicting reports as to what exactly happened next.

One has it that Brown's flag did not unfurl, and that the recall man, stationed between the start and the first fence, therefore failed to see it and did not react.

Others sayhe was standing too close to the start, and that whena field of bad-humoured thoroughbreds came charging at him he didn't have time to react and believing that discretion was the greater part of valour, he dived for cover.

He later said he raised his flag. The jockeys said they never saw one.

Whatever happened, all but nine of the field set off across the Melling Road as though pursued by the hounds of hell.

The course commentator declared a false start and continued to call the race.

On BBC, Peter O'Sullevan was simultaneously agitated and morose. Back at the gate, Richard Dunwoody disentangled himself from the starter's noose, while the phantom race continued into the second circuit, past waving officials, pulled-up horses and a baying crowd.

Esha Ness is the name of a Shetland lighthouse that flashes white every twelve seconds.

It is also the name of the horse, trained by Jenny Pitman, that flashed Irish jockey John White past. The Committee, Romany King, the Aintree winning post and into about ten seconds of professional euphoria.

The picture of his changing face when toldof the 'little problem at the start' remains the abiding memory of the 'Grand Farcical' of 1993.

The aftermath was predictably hystericalTrainer John Upson summed up the feeling when he opined that you "wouldn't see the like of it at a point-to-point in a little country like Ireland".

He was right. We don't have starters and flagmen like that here.

Simon Morant starts the race today, aided by all kinds of new starting technology. It will probably work.

Keith and Ken made their exits. It's easy to imaginethem leaving the course likeLaurel and Hardy in the classic Going Bye-Bye.

Stan: "Maybe we should take that fella's advice and get out of town!"

Ollie: "Well how are we gonna get out of town?"

Stan: "Well, we've got a car..."

Ollie: "What are we gonna run it on?"

Stan: "On the road!"

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