Grand National - 1997 - The Year of the IRA Bomb Scare - great memories
As the Grand National is off this year, and was due to be run this weekend coming, I thought I would re-live the year of the IRA Bomb Scare (1997) when we ran Dextra Dove.
I had been fortunate enough to ride in The Grand National during my career as a jockey on two occasions, but I was now retired from riding and was finding my way as a trainer. We had two or three runners up at the Aintree Grand National meeting that year and we were particularly looking forward to running Dextra Dove (‘Dexy’) in the big race, The Grand National. Dexy had won 19 races for us including the Grade 2 Agfa Diamond Chase at Sandown, he was the first horse we bought and was very close to our hearts. We thought he might run well under 10 stone, he was being ridden by my good friend from my riding days, Chris Maude.
Everything had and was going well until I went to get the saddle from Chris…he jumped on the scales, I couldn’t believe it – he was putting up 3lb overweight! I was very cross, I didn’t say much as there was nothing I could do now, or so I thought.
Just as we were saddling up, the alarm was raised that the big race was called off due to the bomb scare. Although some horses were leaving to go to nearby Haydock, I decided to leave the horses at the racecourse stables at Aintree, I wanted minimal messing around for them. Come early evening, everyone was still in the middle of the course whilst everywhere was being searched including all the cars. Only horses and their handlers were allowed to leave the racecourse. We had had enough by this time and were desperate for a drink, so we loaded the lorry up with friends – there were jockeys, trainers, journalists and their friends, must have been about 30 people in the back of the horsebox, we made sure they were all quiet passing security leaving the course so we could get away. Indeed, we did and managed to park the big lorry in the car park of our Runcorn Hotel.
Dropping the ramp of the lorry we all headed to the bar of the hotel where we stayed till the early hours of Sunday morning. I made sure I had an eye on Chris Maude all evening and kept him well away from any food...as I went to bed there were bodies all over the hotel, all unconscious! It was some night.
The following morning, we were up a little later than some…the horses were being looked after very well at the racecourse by Richard Young (who is now travelling head lad for Colin Tizzard). We picked up Dexy and took him to Haydock Park Racecourse for a canter at what must have been about 11am. When we got there, we were surprised to see quite a few cameras. I think the journalists and photographers were up to the same thing as us the night before and they were subsequently late up and had missed all the horses being exercised much earlier. They were desperate for some shots and something to report on, so we obliged and saved their day.
Everything was set up, cameras set and rolling, the ramp was dropped with all expecting to see the wonderful grey Dextra Dove, the doors opened – only for Lavinia, our friend, to fall out of the lorry hair everywhere not knowing where she was and shielding her eyes from the brightness. We didn’t realise she had been sleeping in there from the night before!
Out of this we got a full picture on the front page of The Times Sport on Grand National morning, yours truly cantering Dexy at Haydock looking bright and breezy!
In the afternoon we heard there was a local point-to-point on locally, so we went back to the hotel and loaded everyone back into the lorry. We made sure they were quiet again as we went through security so as to make them think we had horses in the back to run so we could get in free. Again, all day I was keeping Chris Maude away from any food. It was a great crack as they had dancing on after racing so I made sure Chris stayed on the dance floor in the hope of him burning off some calories.
We then moved on to the day of the rescheduled Grand National which was run on the Monday, a great effort by everyone, the authorities and everyone involved with Aintree racecourse. It was a great atmosphere the place was heaving. I went to get the saddle from Chris, he was bang on 10 stone when he jumped on the scales looking as fresh as a daisy; left to his own devices that weekend who knows what overweight he would have put up. Dexy was in great form, he had loved the last few days of change and was raring to go.
To watch the horses’ parade on the course before the start, I went up into the stands and I must have been just one of tens of thousands of spectators. Looking down at Chris and Dexy, I saw Chris look up and he saw me, it must have been like seeing a needle in a haystack, I gave him the thumbs up and he returned it. I thought boy, what an omen this must be surely he will run well now?
Dexy was up in the first dozen jumping very well, giving Chris a great ride. He was just behind the leaders over the water with a circuit to go, in a great position, loving it. I gestured to Rupert, his owner, that we are all happy, confident and anything is possible now. I even dreamt we could win. But he was pulled up by Chris 4 fences out…he didn’t stay the 4 mile 2 ½ furlong distance. Dexy did so well, he was fine after the race, we were very proud of him indeed.
So, it was a great weekend, with fun had by all despite the circumstances and will never be forgotten. Great memories.