Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Grand National 2001: A horse racing odyssey

More than ever in this year the Aintree Grand National Meeting became the focus of the National Hunt season –  the foot-and-mouth crisis had blitzed the country and robbed racing aficionados of their Cheltenham Festival fix so all eyes turned to Liverpool to salvage a bitterly disappointing season.

The 1990s had produced two of the heaviest ground Nationals ever in 1994 and 1998 but in all probability the 2001 version was the toughest test that we have seen for many a year. Three days of torrential rain made conditions extremely testing and on National Day itself it was touch-and-go as to whether the course was actually raceable. It also looked as though we would be missing an Irish challenge due to the foot-and-mouth crisis but restrictions were lifted at the last minute and the Irish horses were allowed to take part. Punters were clearly going to need to look for horses that had abundant stamina and had a real liking for the prevailing heavy going. This resulted in three co- favourites in the Grand National odds all of whom fitted the bill – Edmond, Moral Support and Inis Cara.

Incredibly Martin Pipe saddled a quarter of the 40 strong field with Blowing Wind the pick of the ten and then there was Red Marauder a horse that had been here before in 2000, but jumped poorly, however his form was much better in 2001. Needless to say that in desperate conditions the race was not without incident, the major one being Paddy’s Return attempting to take out the field when riderless at the Canal Turn – he managed to take out ten and with the conditions taking their toll we were quickly reduced to a single number of protagonists.

Various other incidents then quickly saw the 2001 Grand National reduced to a match between Red Marauder and Smarty as they galloped towards Becher’s for the second time. Gradually it became evident that Red Marauder partnered by Richard Guest was going better than Smarty and despite a couple of tired jumps at the last two fences he came home a distance clear of Smarty who was the only other horse to complete the course with an unblemished record with the eventual third and fourth Blowing Wind and 2000 Grand National winner being the only others to complete the course.

Guest described Red Marauder as perhaps the worst jumper to complete the course but in desperate conditions he refused to give in and delivered a gritty and resilient performance. The course may have come in for some criticism about the state of the ground but the race itself provided a gripping spectacle but it was the loose horse – Paddy’s Return – who caused most of the carnage and all of the horses returned safely. The 2001 Grand National provided another rich chapter in the history of the nation’s favourite race.

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