SURELY it must have been stage-managed. The Boat Race and a Grand Prix could not possibly have upstaged the Grand National without outside interference.

Both were dead in the water, the subjects of ridicule rather than the extraordinary expectation which always precedes the National.

The Aintree horses and the Oxbridge oarsmen cover a similar number of furlongs, but while one was won by 12 lengths the other came down to 12 inches.

Now we can't wait for next year's Boat Race, and after the drama at Interlagos we're frothing at the mouth in anticipation of the next Grand Prix.

It could be, of course, that Michael Schumacher is giving his rivals a head start this season, intending to revive the Formula One corpse by creeping stealthily through the field to clinch his umpteenth successive title with victory by a nose in the final race.

More 150mph shunts would also help, although the sight of a bottle of bubbly on the podium where the stricken Fernando Alonso should have been seemed a little tasteless.

A dash of confusion is also good for heightening the drama, but I still don't know why a race which was halted in the 55th lap was awarded to the driver who was leading after the 53rd.

The Jordan team clearly thought that their man Fisichella had won as he was in front after 54 laps, but if McLaren-Mercedes are going to pose the biggest threat to the Ferrari monopoly it was probably a good idea to award victory to Kimi Raikkonen.

Meanwhile at Aintree, it was supposed to be the National when half a dozen class horses would battle it out in a thrilling finish on the perfect going.

Instead as usual it was a 16-1 shot finding previously untapped stamina which triumphed easily, while none of the six horses at the top of the betting got past the 22nd of the 30 fences.

IT came as something of a shock to hear that Sunderland were cutting their staff by 83 as I had no idea it took so many people to run a football club.

Some of the older football writers will tell you they used to get more stories out of the clubs before they started employing hordes of public relations people.

The same can doubtless be said of many modern businesses and it's not just the PR people who are given full-time jobs of dubious value.

All credit to Sunderland for realising their plight and acting upon it more quickly than others who have been plunged into administration.

But we still have to question the wisdom of those making the decisions when the team continue to plumb unprecedented depths under their third manager of the season.

If Mick McCarthy is the right man for the job now, why was he not the right man when Peter Reid was sacked?

Reid had to go, and just because he has suddenly overseen a 6-1 away win by Leeds doesn't alter that fact.

He has inherited some good players at Elland Road, certainly better than the ones on which he wasted mega-bucks in trying to revive Sunderland.

Whether they now continue to slide like Derby or bounce back like Leicester depends largely on the attitude of the players who are left.

McCarthy's motivational skills will play a part, but there's not much he can do with those who have a heart the size of a carraway seed.

THOSE boffins who have discovered that sports teams are fuelled by more testosterone when playing at home had better pray that Old Trafford generates gallons of the stuff when Real Madrid come calling.

It might help if David Beckham removed his Alice band because he was reduced to impotence at the Bernabeu on Tuesday by the wizardry of Zidane.

United got off lightly considering that they should have been left without a goalkeeper after yet another Barthez brainstorm. It also struck me that Zidane was more intent on taking the mickey than finding the net.

It was glaringly obvious why Fergie didn't want this tie, and when he says outrageous things like "the draw was fixed" we scribes should love him for continuing to create headlines.

For his next trick he might instruct Roy Keane to do a hatchet job on Zidane.

Even if Keane was sent off he could hardly be less influential than he was on Tuesday.

WHILE the protests against Augusta's all-male policy continue to detract from Tiger's bid for a US Masters hat-trick, it seems odd that women's marathons are not for females only.

I am a huge fan of Paula Radcliffe, but I don't agree with the decision to allow her to be surrounded by a phalanx of male pacemakers in this weekend's London Marathon.

It is designed purely as a record-breaking attempt and if there is any chance of a challenge to Paula it will detract from the race itself. Paula has proved she can stand on her own two feet and should continue to do so.