Esha Ness and the Story of the Grand National that never was
I consider myself a bit of a horse racing expert, having spent most of my life watching and writing about horse racing. I have been gradually perfecting the art of analysing races and (at times painfully) realising that having the required discipline is key whenever it comes to betting on horses – this is above having fun.
That being said, I’ve traditionally never really been particularly successful when it comes down to the Grand National, as there are so many more variables involved than there would be in any ‘normal’ race. For instance, the 40 horses on the track make it far easier for your selection to be interfered with or encounter some form of trouble in-running (lady luck is more significant) and the trip of nearly 4 and a half miles, over such unforgiving fences, make the form studying difficult, as you cannot easily compare like with like.
The race is a considerable challenge for the horse, jockey and the punter alike. So, when my friends and family ask me who I think is going to win the race each year, I’m usually quite reluctant to nail my colours to any mast.
However, way back in 1993 (when I was fairly young!) I was pretty confident that I’d found a horse that, in my opinion, ticked all of the relevant checkboxes. Even better, mystifyingly priced up at between 50/1 – 66/1, he had been ignored by pretty much all of the racing experts, the bookies and even most punters. My £5 each way that year would be placed on the Jenny Pitman trained gelding, Esha Ness. Take a look at what each way means in Grand National.
As it transpired the horse won pretty easily, in what was one of the fastest times recorded in the long history of the race, but that was only a tiny part of the story…
There was initially a delay to the races commencement, as animal rights activists protested on the Aintree course. Once things did get underway, the starting tape got caught amongst a few of the horses, so a false start was declared and the contenders were immediately recalled back by a frantic red flag waving official. But these events were only minor blips compared to the tumultuous calamity that was to follow.
At the second attempt to get the race started, the entire field were asked to return once more, as amongst other things, the same tape somehow managed to get caught around one of the jockey’s neck.
The problem was that this time, amongst the melee, only 9 of the riders (from the 39 that were participating) observed the false start and were pulled up at (or slightly beyond) the starting line.
The rest of the field carried on oblivious to the further flags that were being waved in their direction during the ‘race’ itself. It could be that the jockeys thought the flags were related to the protests that had taken place earlier and therefore were some kind of hoax, so they simply ignored them.
As Esha Ness pulled clear when jumping the final fence (6 other horses also completed the course in full behind him), and approached the final elbow, there was still part of me thinking , ‘have I won?’ and spending the windfall in my head.
Simultaneously to this, the logical side of my brain was telling me in no uncertain terms that I hadn’t, how could they raise the red flag and then declare my selection as the winner anyway?
Shortly afterwards, the race was predictably declared void (for the first time that this had occurred since World War II) and although those who didn’t choose to start that day were asked if they wanted a rerun, this never came into fruition and the 1993 record will always have a line through it.
Following a full investigation, process improvements were put in place that would mitigate the chances of the same farcical events occurring in future.
Although Esha Ness would never go down in the history books as a National winner (in fact the poor guy would never win another race from that day onwards), his exploits would probably make him as famous as many of those who triumphed , if not more so. He would become a popular option with pub trivia quiz question compilers around the world.
As for my own Grand National fortunes, I wouldn’t say that they’ve improved dramatically since the one that got away all of those years ago, but it hasn’t stopped me from trying!