THE Grand National, the most famous steeplechase in the world, was declared void amid scenes of utter farce yesterday. The spectacle at Liverpool's famous Aintree racecourse, broadcast to Hongkong for the first time at the Happy Valley meeting last night, was the subject of two false starts and eventually declared a no contest in both racing jurisdictions. Reports estimated almost $890 million was bet, with about 350 million people watching the race that never was. The fiasco was caused by the starting tape becoming entangled in horses and riders, on the second occasion wrapping around one of the jockey's necks, forcing the starter to call another false start. But it went unnoticed by all but nine of the field, with the rest carrying on. Most of them either fell or were pulled up after one circuit when they realised something was wrong. The 150-year-old race was first held up by an animal rights demonstration on the course. Veteran British Broadcasting Corporation commentator Peter O'Sullevan said the no-contest was ''one of the greatest disasters in the history of the National''. Amid boos from the 55,000 fans, outsider Esha Ness, rid-den by John White, crossed the finish line first after the 7.2 kilometre race. ''I was among the first half dozen and I did not see any flag [declaring a false start],'' White said. ''We thought perhaps there were some protesters on the course waving us away.'' The Royal Hongkong Jockey Club's chief executive Major-General Guy Watkins was appalled by the lack of professionalism displayed at Aintree. He was unamused by the sight of a hapless starter attempting in vain to recall the field by waving a red flag like a beleaguered station master. ''How can they expect to stop a race over four-and-a-half miles [7,200 metres] with a starter waving a piddling little red flag. ''Unlike us, they didn't even appear to have a false-start man located further down the track. ''The whole thing was a complete shambles and we will definitely not be telecasting this race next season - no way.'' About 20,000 of the original 38,788 remained at Happy Valley to bet on the National. Their reaction was a mixture of incredulity and relief. Bemused at the spectacle of man and beast charging over 30 daunting fences, they then made their charge for the betting windows, eager to reclaim their cash. Regular racegoer Mr Jack Sutton, who has horses in training in France, said: ''I have seen some blunders in my time, but this has to be the biggest and best of all. Just what did the starter want? He should have let them go and be done with it. After all, they've got 41/2 miles to catch up.'' All Hongkong bets were declared void. Punters who did not claim a refund last night can do so at the off-course betting centres from Tuesday. English punters were promised they would get their money back too. The race starter, Captain Keith Brown, officiating in his last National, needed a police escort as he ran the gauntlet of an angry crowd back to the weighing room to explain the fiasco to the stewards. He was fortunate he did not run into Esha Ness' trainer, Jenny Pitman, who was reduced to tears. She had demanded to see the stewards and broke down as she called for the race to be stopped. ''You must stop this race!'' she shouted. ''What are you doing? My horse has already gone one circuit. I don't want to win the National like this!'' Aintree Clerk of the Course Rod Fabricius said: ''Under the rules of racing the race must be declared void. The starter signalled a false start, but the recall flag was not shown the second time. It was an error. ''Unless all the horses pulled up without completing a circuit the race had to be declared void. ''Undoubtedly the starter could have used a flag start after the gate fell first time, but at the present time the Aintree executive has no plans to run the 1993 Grand National as far as I am aware.'' But an official said later a decision whether the race can be re-run this year will be made within 48 hours. Aintree official Mr Peter Greenall said: ''There are a lot of issues to be taken into account, but cancelling the race appears the most obvious solution.''