The Grand National
The Grand National is the UK’s most famous National Hunt race and probably the most famous steeplechase in the world. It is run at the Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool and the one race on which many people who rarely bet enjoy a flutter. So what is it about this iconic race that makes it so appealing? Here are some interesting facts about its special magic.
The first official Grand National was run in 1939 at the Aintree racecourse, though three similar steeplechases had been run before, the first of these in 1936 being the first steeplechase to be run in Liverpool. These early races had been more local events while the 1939 race benefitted from the opening of the railway and an official organising committee.
The early races were billed as the “Grand Liverpool Steeplechase” and the race was renamed in 1847 as “The Grand National Handicap Steeplechase”, still its official name today. Apart from during the First and Second World Wars and in 1993 when the race was cancelled, the race has been held every year.
The richest of all races
Today the Grand National is the richest of all horse races with a prize pool of £1 million. But it isn’t just the prize money that attracts so many entrants; it is also the prestige. The Grand National is probably the most coveted trophy of all; by jockey, by owner, and by trainer alike.
The toughest steeplechase in the world
Many consider the National to be the toughest of all steeplechases. With a field of 40, over four miles to run, two laps of Aintree, 30 jumps over 16 fences, many being particularly challenging, their claim is justified. Many horses and riders fall: the most runners ever to finish were 23, in 1984, and the fewest were two, in 1928. Today the fences might be a little less difficult than they used to be; but they still pose a huge challenge to both horse and rider.
The best horses and unpredictable results
The best thoroughbreds in the land, from the best stables, trained by the best trainers, and ridden by the best jockeys compete in the race. Yet the results are notoriously unpredictable. Often horses picked out randomly from a hat do better than those recommended by tipsters. It isn’t at all unusual for outsiders to finish well or even win. The 2009 race was won by Mon Mome by 12 lengths at odds of 100/1; the fifth 100/1 winner in the race’s history, and Auroras Encore, the winner of the 2013 National came in at 66/1. In fact the favourite has won only on 9 occasions and failed to finish in over half the races.
Grand National Legends
There is no shortage of Grand National legends. Probably the most famous of all is Red Rum who won the race in 1973, 1974 and 1977 and finished second in 1975 and 1975. His first win was the most spectacular; he came from 20 lengths behind the leader to grab victory. By the time he retired he had established celebrity status and made many public appearances. Until he was no longer able to do so he always led the Grand National parade. He lays buried close to the Aintree winning post.
Picking a winner
Picking a Grand National winner isn’t easy though there might be better ways of doing so than randomly sticking a pin in the racing card. An analysis of recent races shows that 88% of winners have a history of doing well in big fields. Also all recent winners had previously won races of at least three miles. It might not be much to go on, but at least it’s a start.