The Grand National Racecourse at Aintree

The Grand National

 

The Grand National – for many still the most famous horse race of them all and one that gets worldwide attention. Along with The Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot, it’s one of the most recognisable names in Horse Racing.

Aintree Racecourse on the outskirts of Liverpool hosts what remains the biggest challenge of the UK horseracing year. 30 fences, a shade over four miles and a maximum field of 40 runners who do battle for around nine minutes.

The race has produced drama, controversy and emotion the likes of which probably couldn’t have even been scripted.

 

Which horse has won the Grand National the Most?

The most famous Grand National winner of them all was Red Rum who remains the only horse ever to have won the race three times. ‘Rummy’, as he became known, won in 1973, 1974 and 1977 and if that wasn’t enough finished second in the 1975 and 1976 races.  He was trained by Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain – often on the beach nearby Aintree in Southport.

Red Rum’s first National success in 1973 produced perhaps the best finish of the race ever when Crisp looked home and dry having jumped the last fence 15 lengths clear but was overhauled by Red Rum in the closing stages who won going away at the line.

Over his career, Red Rum took part in 100 races and over the jumps never once fell. He also became a media celebrity and was often seen ‘opening’ betting shops and even appeared on BBC1 in the 1977 Sports Review Of The Year.

Red Rum died in 1995 aged 30 and was laid to rest by the winning post at Aintree which today is a popular visiting area on the course for racegoers.

Another hugely memorable winner was Aldaniti who was ridden by Bob Champion in 1981. Champion had recently recovered from cancer whilst Aldaniti was back himself after a career-threatening injury.  The fairy-tale success became the subject of the film ‘Champions’ in which Bob Champion was played by actor John Hurt.

Classic Grand National Sign

The History of the Grand National 

The Grand National was first run in 1839 with the first winner called Lottery, appropriately enough given some of the big-priced winners over the years.  There have been five 100/1 winners of the race – the most recent being Mon Mome in 2009.

The most famous outsider of all was Foinavon in 1967 who won the race after a massive pile up at the 23rd fence (which was later to be named the Foinavon) when 27 of the 28 runners still going came to grief leaving Foinavon to come home in his own time for a shock 100/1 success!
In 1987 the Grand National had to be abandoned following a bomb scare and evacuation at the course. It was run two days later on the Monday but behind closed doors.

And there was further drama in 1993 when the race was declared void due to a false start. Several of the jockeys didn’t realise there was a problem and completed the whole race. Esha Ness passed the post first but the race was quickly declared void and not re-run that year.

More recently there was no Grand National staged in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic.

With an increasing focus on animal welfare, several changes have been made to the Grand National – including a reduced field size and changes to the fences to make them safer.

The biggest field in the history of the race was in 1929 when 66 runners lined up but now the limit is 40 and the start has been moved further away from the stands to reduce the noise levels for the horses as they set off.

Some of the famous fences including Becher’s Brook and The Chair have been modified to make them safer but the race remains a stiff test for both horse and rider, especially when the ground is testing because of rain.

There are also more opportunities for horses to run over the National fences during the year. Gone are the days when it was only used once a year for the big race. The National fences are also now used in the Becher Chase and Grand Sefton Chase in December and the Foxhunters and Topham Chase which are also part of the Grand National three-day meeting.

Becher's Brook Aintree Grand National

Recent Grand Nationals

The 2023 race, sponsored by Randox, will be run on Saturday 15th April and covered live by both ITV Racing and Racing TV.  

The Grand National is a challenge to commentators with so many runners – so much so that duties are shared with up to four different commentators covering the race.

The race is the highlight of the ‘Grand National Festival’ which starts on Thursday 13th April. 

The meeting attracts an increasing number of Irish-trained horses who have a great record in the Grand National.  The last four winners of the race have been trained in Ireland. Tiger Roll won back-to-back runnings in 2018 and 2019. 

Irish-trained Minella Times won for jockey Rachael Blackmore in 2021 and she became the first female jockey to win the race. 

Noble Yeats sprang a 50/1 surprise for Ireland in 2022 when winning under amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen who promptly announced his immediate retirement after winning the big race.

 

Grand National Race Week

If you are planning on watching the race at the track tickets sell out quickly – especially for areas like the Queen Mother Stand which is a good vantage point for both viewing the race and the parade ring.  Tickets for this area cost £199 on Grand National Day and if budget is no problem prices can go as high as £1,095 per person for a full hospitality day. 

There are usually seven races on Grand National Saturday at Aintree with the big race run as the sixth race on the card at around 5pm.

The race is worth £1 million in prize money with over half of that going to the winning owner (£561,300 in 2023) and prizes down to 10th place.

Punters have many different methods of picking their horses. Sometimes literally out of a hat in popular Grand National office sweepstakes.

Those that prefer studying the form will take into account a whole host of factors. These include whether the horse has any previous experience over the unique National fences, their jumping ability in general and whether they have proven stamina over the marathon distance.

The Grand National is a handicap race which means each horse has to carry weight according to their ability to give every horse, in theory, an equal chance of winning. This means that the better quality horses will carry more weight. Only horses aged seven years or more can take part in the Grand National.

The ability to handle the ground is also a big factor. With the Grand National being run in April conditions are usually pretty quick out on the course but any downpours in the week of the race can change things dramatically it has been run on heavy ground before which is the most testing that racing ground can be described as.

The horse trainer is also a big factor. Irish-based Gordon Elliott has a good record in the race with three previous winners but one of the top UK trainers Nicky Henderson has yet to win it.
For a jockey, it can often be the race that gets away. Richard Johnson (now retired) rode in the Grand National 21 times but his best result was finishing second twice.

Grand National Sign at Aintree

Getting to the Grand National

As you can imagine Grand National Saturday makes for a very busy Liverpool and the best advice if travelling to the course is to leave to early. Not just to arrive on time but you are also allowed to walk around part of the course in the morning to get a close-up experience of some of the fences and that’s well worth doing.  

The Premier League are also conscious of how busy Liverpool is and they will often schedule Liverpool FC and Everton FC home games to not clash with the Grand National.

 

Staying and Eating at Aintree

There are a host of eating options at Aintree including hog roast, pizza, curry, carvery, burgers and fish and chips plus a mobile Costa coffee unit and numerous bars all around the racecourse.

There are good value accommodation options available in the centre of Liverpool (around two miles from course) including the Holiday Inn Express at the Royal Albert Dock (close to The Cavern Club for fans of The Beatles) and a Travelodge at Stonedale Park.

Good eating options in the evening include the Blue Anchor (famous for its great mixed grill) and a superb Turkish BBQ called Defne.

The other big tip for Grand National day is to get your bets on nice and early. The race is so competitive and prices are unlikely to change dramatically before the race.  As always you have the chance to take the current price on offer or starting price (SP). Don’t forget as well as backing horses to win, you also have the option of an each-way bet too which will ensure a return if your horse finishes placed.

There are always a big selection of special bets around the Grand National. These include how many horses you think will complete the course, how far the winning horse wins by, and whether a grey horse will win the race!

The Grand National is billed as the “World’s Greatest Chase” and one certainty is that not many people would disagree with that statement.