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LONG RIDE HOME FOR AN UNFALLEN HERO
Posted 1 April 2001
This article appeared in The Telegraph, 8 April 2001.
It was a Grand National that race-goers will talk of for years to come: the race of 2001. In a tangled mass of flailing limbs and a spray of sodden turf, a loose horse veered across the Canal Turn, tumbling four of the already depleted field and leaving only three of the original 40 starters to vie for glory. Then, to whoops and gasps of astonishment, Beau, a much fancied favourite, buckled at the knees and toppled.
For the second time in history only two horses - Red Marauder and Smarty - were left to thrash their way around the second circuit in a neck-and-neck challenge. Two other jockeys remounted to finish the race. As he passed the winners' post, Richard Guest on Red Marauder raised his arms triumphantly in victory before planting a kiss on his mount's sweat-soaked forelock.
"I've never run in worse ground," Guest panted as he dismounted. "We were really lucky to get away with it. I was in two minds whether we should have gone out there. He nearly fell five times, but he wouldn't go down."
Norman Mason, the winner's owner, was jubilant: He said: "It was absolutely fantastic. I was in tears. I have never felt such emotion in my life, apart from my wife giving birth." With last month's Cheltenham Festival called off because of foot and mouth, race-goers had feared that the heavy rain would put paid to the Grand National, too.
About 650 million people around the world tuned in to watch the race on television and an estimated £80 million in bets made it the biggest gamble on a single sporting event.
Although all 38 fallen horses survived, animal rights' activists described the scenes yesterday as a national disgrace. Yvonne Taylor, of Animal Aid, called last night for the race to be abolished. She said:
"It is an intrinsically cruel race. We calculate that 247 horses were raced to their deaths in National Hunt racing last year.
"If you just look at the conditions and the state the horses were in, this race should never have been run. It was absolutely appalling. How can anyone relish watching this carnage?"