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Race Vies With Royal Wedding

Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page D02

In its 166-year history, London's Grand National steeplechase has faced tragedy, cheating, animal rights protests, farcical false starts and a bomb scare that forced evacuation of the course and postponement of the race.

Now the National has a royal wedding to contend with.

The marriage of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, to Camilla Parker Bowles was put back a day so it wouldn't clash with yesterday's funeral of Pope John Paul II. That means the wedding will be held today, the same day as the world's most famous steeplechase.

With the BBC committed to televising both the wedding and the National, the network persuaded race organizers to delay the start by 25 minutes so both events could be shown live.

A worldwide TV audience of 500 million is expected to watch the wedding, but that figure could be beaten by the National, which is the BBC's most-watched sports event and usually attracts 600 million viewers.

The race features a field of 40 taking on 30 tall fences in a grueling 4 1/2-mile chase around Aintree. Since World War II, 33 horses have died in the race.

-- From News Services

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