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The Race That Never Was


Read the story 30 years ago through the words of nine-time Irish Champion National Hunt jockey Charlie Swan.  A day that shocked the racing world.

The 1993 Grand National was described by Peter O’Sullevan, the doyen of horse racing commentary as ‘The race that never was’.   With a global audience in excess of 300 million and the packed stands at Aintree anticipating the next instalment of the world’s greatest steeplechase, the race suffered two false starts and descended into chaos.

39 horses went to post on Saturday 3 April at 3.50pm although owing to demonstrations by animal rights protesters the starter Keith Brown wasn’t able to call them to the tape until 3.58pm. Favourite for the race was the 1992 winner, the giant Party Politics ridden by Carl Llewellyn. However, the mayhem at the tape meant that 9 of the field did not start the race which was later declared void.

One of those jockeys amongst the 30 who headed off to the first fence on that wet blustery day at Liverpool was Charlie Swan, riding the Irish chaser Cahervillahow (25/1), trained by Mouse Morris and owned by Mrs Miles Valentine.  The 9 year old brown gelding was named after his American owner’s house in Ireland.

On the morning of the race what did you think were your chances in the race?

I thought if he jumped round he had a good chance, but I actually didn’t think he would jump round. 

I always wanted to win the race. It’s every jockeys dream to ride the winner of the National even before the Gold Cup.  I had a good record of getting round at Aintree.  It was my 4th ride in the Grand National.

What are your personal memories arriving on the day and of the two false starts?

I remember coming into the races that day there were a lot of protesters outside the course and down at the start there were people waving flags.

I lined up in the middle both times in Mrs Valentine’s pink colours with darker pink hearts.

First start

Yes, I saw the first red flag being waved up the course and knew it was a false start. I cantered along to the first fence to let my horse have a look at it. Cahervillahow wasn’t too bad after that, he was a relaxed sort of horse.

Second start

When we jumped off the second time I didn’t see the second flag. Everybody around me went and I’d been told that, if I won, the owner was going to look after me well, so I kept going!

I wasn’t aware that the tape had been wrapped around Richard Dunwoody’s body (Wont Be Gone Long) until afterwards.

Could you hear anything on the loudspeaker or voices from the crowd telling you to stop racing?

You don’t really hear the crowds when you are concentrating so much. 

Did it affect how you rode in the race and how was Cahervillahow handling Aintree’s fences on the first circuit?

No.  It was a fast run race. I think it was the second fastest Grand National ever run, after Mr Frisk (1990), at the time. The ground was quick (Good to Firm), and we did go a good gallop.  Cahervillahow jumped way better than I thought he would.  I was told to keep him handy and he was always prominent.

When you went past the stands after completing the first circuit did any of the other jockey’s chat to you about whether or not to proceed?

There was a little doubt in our minds when we got to the Chair as people tried to wave us down, but we had seen a few protestors around at the start.  We weren’t 100% sure they weren’t protestors again.

There were bits of talk in the ride, but it was hard to hear because of the strong wind.  We had gone that far. We weren’t sure, so when we weren’t stopped by now everybody wasn’t sure, so we kept going.

There should have four or five people with a tape or something near the winning post stopping us to slow us all down but there wasn’t.

I kept going because I wasn’t sure. The ones that were going well kept going, the ones that weren’t pulled up.

Approaching the finish did you think you were going to win the world’s greatest steeplechase?

I thought when I jumped the last he still had a chance, but I was always being held by John White on Esha Ness.  He stayed all right but just wasn’t quite good enough on the day.  The conditions suited him.  He adapted well to the fences. He made one bad mistake at the Canal Turn 2nd time.

Esha Ness (50/1) trained by Jenny Pitman won by a length and half ahead of Cahervillahow with seven horses completing the course.


When did you realise that the race had been declared void and how were you officially informed?

When we pulled up, people said the race was void immediately afterwards.

How did you feel when you heard the news?

I was sick, deflated and very disappointed.  I had got round to finish second and now that was being taken away from me.


It was the closest Charlie ever got to win the National.  He had previously been 5th on his first ride on LastoftheBrownies (1990).

While Cahervillahow?

He was an unlucky horse, he got beat a short head in the Irish National (1991), was 2nd in the Ritz Club at Cheltenham (1991) when he whipped round at the start, was 2nd in the Thyestes Chase (1991) and was disqualified after finishing first in the Whitbread Gold Cup (1991)


With thanks to Stephen Wallis from The Paddock and The Pavilion podcast  for this wonderful article.