1997 Grand National
|Date||7 April 1997|
|Winning horse||Lord Gyllene|
|All the 1990s Grand Nationals in full Racing UK, BBC Sport, YouTube|
|Replay of the latter stages of the 1997 Grand National BBC Sport|
The 1997 Grand National (known officially as the Martell Grand National and also informally as the Monday National) was the 150th official running of the Grand National steeplechase held at Aintree near Liverpool, Merseyside. The race was scheduled to be run on Saturday 5 April 1997, but was postponed by two days to Monday 7 April after a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb threat forced the evacuation of the course.
The race was won in a time of nine minutes and 5.9 seconds and by a distance of 25 lengths by New Zealand-bred Lord Gyllene at odds of 14/1. He was ridden by jockey Tony Dobbin, trained by Steve Brookshaw at his Preston Farm base in Uffington, Shropshire, and ran in the colours of Stanley Clarke. Brookshaw collected £178,146 of a total prize fund of £303,300 shared through the first six finishers. There were two equine fatalities during the race.
The race was originally scheduled to be run on Saturday 5 April at 3:45pm. However, at 2:49pm one bomb threat was made via telephone to Aintree University Hospital in Fazakerley, and three minutes later a second was made via telephone to the police's control room in Bootle, both using recognised codewords of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). At least one device was warned to have been planted within Aintree Racecourse. This was one of several IRA threats in the lead up to the 1997 UK general election.
The police evacuated 60,000 people from the course, stranding 20,000 racegoers, media personnel and those connected to the competing horses, as their vehicles remained locked inside the confines of the course. Initially, spectators were evacuated from the stands onto the course itself but after consultation with the police, course clerk Charles Barnett advised via the live broadcast that everyone would have to leave the course completely. The people of Liverpool responded by opening their homes to racegoers stranded overnight in the city, with tens of thousands of temporarily homeless people being offered a bed for the night in the homes around the course. This prompted tabloid headlines such as "We'll fight them on the Becher's", in reference to Winston Churchill's war-time speech We shall fight on the beaches.
At 4:14pm, the police carried out two controlled explosions at the course. Fewer than 10,000 of the original crowd were expected to return for the postponed race, but over 20,000 turned out at Aintree on Monday 7 April to watch Lord Gyllene gallop to a 25-length victory, 49 hours late. In a retrospective item broadcast during ITV's coverage of the 2017 Grand National, it was revealed that another bomb threat was made on Monday. However, Merseyside Police were confident that the threat was a hoax and the race went ahead without disruption. Former Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Sir Paul Stephenson, believed a bomb was never planted at Aintree Racecourse.
Go Ballistic was made favourite after finishing fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup three weeks before the National. The Ascot specialist was considered to have been largely undervalued in the weights and was due to go off carrying the minimum ten stones with the previous year's winning rider Mick Fitzgerald in the saddle. Fitzgerald was one of many riders unable to make the allocated weight after the two-day delay and weighed out at 10 stone and 3 lb. Go Ballistic set off at 7/1 favourite but struggled to keep pace with the leaders; he was lying a distant tenth when he broke a blood vessel approaching the penultimate fence and was pulled up.
Suny Bay was an eight-year-old whose popularity was assisted by his being a grey, but was mostly built on a victory in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February, beating Lo Stregone. Ridden by Jamie Osborne, Suny Bay was sent off at 8/1 and ran prominently throughout but was beginning to tire when he made a bad mistake at the fourth fence from home. Although the pairing remained intact, Suny Bay was unable get on terms with the winner and finished a well-beaten second.
Wylde Hide was a ten-year-old, two-times winner of the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park who was carrying much of the Irish support to break a 22-year run without a horse from their homeland winning the race. It was also felt that the J. P. McManus-owned gelding would have gone close had he not unseated when starting to issue a challenge at the Canal Turn second time in the 1996 race. The Arthur Moore-trained 11/1 shot failed to improve on that and was chasing the leaders when he blundered at Becher's Brook on the second circuit and unseated Charlie Swan.
Avro Anson was a nine-year-old, trained by Maurice Camacho in Malton, North Yorkshire, who was well backed despite being relatively inexperienced as a chaser with just five starts in his career. Peter Niven took the ride, being sent off at 12/1 and they still held every chance in the first half-dozen at the Canal Turn second time, but a mistake at Valentine's cost him his chance. He faded out of contention over the remaining fences before rallying late on to finish sixth, almost 40 lengths behind the winner.
Smith's Band was trained by Jenny Pitman and given the most experienced rider in the race in Richard Dunwoody, his 12th Grand National mount (including the void race of 1993). He was sent off carrying two pounds overweight at 12/1 despite having pulled up on his only start in the previous 12 months. Smith's Band disputed the lead throughout before falling at the 20th fence. He suffered a broken neck and died instantly. The other equine fatality during the race was Straight Talk, who broke a leg at the 14th fence and had to be put down.
Other well-backed contestants at the off were 1996 Sun Alliance Chase winner Nathen Lad, Punchestown Grand National Trial winner Antonin, 1996 Scottish Grand National runner-up General Wolfe, 1996 Irish Grand National winner Feathered Gale and the 1996 Greenall's Grand National Trial winner Lo Stregone. Eventual winner Lord Gyllene had been the anti-post favourite until a few days before the race but drifted out to 14/1 before the race.
The 11 riders making their debut in the race were all on outside chances but included two future winners, Timmy Murphy and Jim Culloty, as well as a quartet of others whose appearances would go into double figures in Richard Johnson, Robert Thornton, Joe Tizzard and David Casey. It was Sean Curran who faired best of the debut riders on the day, finishing seventh with only Murphy and Casey also completing the course. Glen Tormey and Tom Treacy also made their debuts while this was the only ride in a National for Daniel Fortt and Terry Mitchell.
|Position||Name||Jockey||Age||Weight (st, lb)||Starting price||Distance|
|1st||Lord Gyllene (NZL)||Tony Dobbin||9||10-00||14/1||Won by 25 lengths|
|2nd||Suny Bay (IRE)||Jamie Osborne||8||10-03||8/1||2 lengths|
|3rd||Camelot Knight||Carl Llewellyn||11||10-00||100/1||1¾ lengths|
|4th||Buckboard Bounce||Paul Carberry||11||10-01||40/1||1¾ lengths|
|5th||Master Oats||Norman Williamson||11||11-10||25/1||8 lengths|
|6th||Avro Anson||Peter Niven||9||10-02||12/1||7 lengths|
|7th||Killeshin||Sean Curran||11||10-00||33/1||9 lengths|
|8th||Dakyns Boy||Timmy Murphy||12||10-00||100/1||1¼ lengths|
|9th||Nahthen Lad (IRE)||Jason Titley||8||10-09||14/1||8 lengths|
|10th||Valiant Warrior||Russ Garrity||9||10-00 [10-03]||33/1||12 lengths|
|11th||Antonin (FRA)||Conor O'Dwyer||9||10-00||14/1||3 lengths|
|12th||Northern Hide||Paul Holley||11||10-00 [10-01]||66/1||22 lengths|
|13th||Turning Trix||John Kavanagh||10||10-00||25/1||13 lengths|
|14th||Pink Gin||Mr. Chris Bonner||10||10-00||100/1||6 lengths|
|15th||New Co (IRE)||David Casey||9||10-00||40/1||6 lengths|
|16th||General Wolfe||Lorcan Wyer||8||10-00||16/1||A distance|
|17th||Evangelica (USA)||Robbie Supple||7||10-00||33/1||Last to complete|
Note: Weights in square-brackets indicate overweight.
|Fence||Name||Jockey||Age||Weight (st, lb)||Starting price||Fate|
|1st||Full of Oats||Jim Culloty||11||10-00||33/1||Fell|
|7th (Foinavon's)||Back Bar (IRE)||Tom Treacy||9||10-00||100/1||Brought Down|
|7th (Foinavon's)||Glemot (IRE)||Simon McNeill||9||10-00||50/1||Hampered, unseated rider|
|13th||Don't Light Up||Robert Thornton||11||10-00||100/1||Unseated Rider|
|14th||Straight Talk||Joe Tizzard||10||10-00 [10-03]||50/1||Fell|
|15th (The Chair)||Celtic Abbey||Richard Johnson||9||10-00||66/1||Unseated rider|
|20th||Smith's Band (IRE)||Richard Dunwoody||9||10-00 [10-02]||12/1||Fell|
|21st||Mugoni Beach||Glen Tormey||12||10-00||100/1||Pulled up|
|21st||River Mandate||Andrew Thornton||10||10-00 [10-01]||50/1||Pulled up|
|21st||Scribbler||Daniel Fortt||11||10-00 [10-02]||100/1||Tailed off, pulled up|
|22nd (Becher's Brook)||Spuffington||Philip Hide||9||10-00 [10-02]||100/1||Unseated rider|
|22nd (Becher's Brook)||Wylde Hide||Charlie Swan||10||10-00||11-01||Unseated rider|
|27th||Dextra Dove||Chris Maude||10||10-00||33/1||Pulled up|
|27th||Grange Brake||David Walsh||11||10-00 [10-04]||100/1||Refused|
|27th||Feathered Gale||Franny Woods||10||10-03||16/1||Pulled up|
|27th||Lo Stregone||Graham Bradley||11||10-04||14/1||Pulled up|
|29th||Bishops Hall||Mark Richards||11||10-01||50/1||Pulled up|
|29th||Go Ballistic||Mick Fitzgerald||8||10-00 [10-03]||7/1 F||Pulled up|
Note: Weights in square-brackets indicate overweight.
The BBC retained the rights to televise the Grand National live worldwide for the 38th consecutive year. The coverage was presented by Des Lynam, and broadcast to an estimated global audience of 400 million people.
At the time of the evacuation the broadcasting team were evacuated too, with the exception of commentator Jim McGrath who was located in the commentary position at the far extreme of the course. McGrath continued to cover the events of the evacuation until the end of the scheduled broadcast. The BBC covered the rescheduled race live on the Monday evening. The bomb scare overshadowed the final broadcast of lead commentator Peter O'Sullevan, who had called the Grand National for the BBC on radio and then television every year since 1946. O'Sullevan had announced his retirement earlier in the season. Along with O'Sullevan and McGrath, the commentary team was completed by John Hanmer.
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- "Results From The 5.00 Race At Aintree - 7 April 1997 - Racing Post". Retrieved 18 November 2014.
- "Aintree determined to rerun". The Independent. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
- "Business - Bomb Scare Cancels British Horse Race - Seattle Times Newspaper". Community.seattletimes.nwsource.com. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
- "BBC Sport Player - Ten years on: Grand National bomb scare". News.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
- "BBC SPORT | Other Sports | Horse Racing | Grand National 2002 | Aintree grabs the headlines". news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
- ITV Racing Live, Broadcast 8 April 2017
-  Archived 22 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- "The Independent - 404". The Independent. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
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- "Racing: Avro Anson an Aintree high flier". The Independent. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
- "Grand National: Grief for Pitman as Band dies". The Independent. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
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