Aintree : Home Of The World's Most Famous Steeplechase
The marathon Aintree Grand National Festival headlines 3 days of jump racing at the Aintree Grand National Festival near Liverpool in April every year, culminating with a 40-runner steeplechase that is by far the single biggest race on the Jump Racing calendar and the UK’s biggest betting event. A British sporting institution, the whole country seems to grind to a standstill to watch this iconic race. Aintree Racecourse attracts over 150,000 race-goers for this race alone. Over 11 million viewers tune in to watch the race on TV. With prize-money of just under £1 million, and over half going to the winner, the Grand National is the longest, hardest, richest Jumps race on the UK racing calendar.
The Grand National Festival
No other horse racing festival can match the excitement at Aintree over 3 extraordinary days of the Festival. Days 1 and 2 of the 3-day festival – the Grand Opening Day and Ladies’ Day – provide the build for the big race on Day 3; the Aintree Grand National.
Since Lottery won the first National in 1839, winning it has been the ultimate ambition for owners, trainers and jockeys and is regarded as one of the most testing National Hunt chases in the world.
The ultimate test of horse and jockey, the Grand National is a National Hunt handicap steeplechase of 4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km) with 30 of the most testing fences in Jump Racing and 2 laps of the 2.25 mile National course and a long run in.
The race is open to horses over 7-years, previously placed in a recognised chase of 3 miles or more and rated 120 or more by the British Horseracing Authority. Horses carry a maximum weight 11 st 10 lb.
With up to 40 runners lining up for the Grand National each year, this 4.5 mile race is one of the biggest and most competitive events of the UK sporting calendar attracting everyone from regular racegoers to those having a ‘once-a-year’ flutter.
It is seen as a natural next target for horses that win or are placed at the previous season’s Cheltenham Festival, or being targeted at Punchestown in April.
The Grand National has had five sponsors since 1984. Drinks giants Martell + parent Seagram sponsored it for 20 years to 2004. John Smith’s took over for 9 years to 2013 and Crabbies for 2 years from 2014-2016. Since 2017 Randox Health have sponsored the race.
Historic Grand Nationals
In one of the most famous Grand Nationals of all time HM Queen Mother’s horse Devon Loch ridden by the late Dick Francis is yards from the finish line and about to win, when Devon inexplicably jumps up, as though he sees a fence, then falls to his stomach. ESB, the horse behind, swoops past Devon Loch, still scrambling to his feet, to win.
Here’s a quick guide to the key dates, horses, jockeys and sponsors that have made the Aintree Grand National one of the greatest horse races on the planet:
- 1839: Lottery wins the First Grand National at Aintree – Captain Becher fell!
- 1916-1918 + 1941-1945: Aintree closes due to World Wars I & II
- 1934: Golden Miller wins the Grand National & Cheltenham Gold Cup, setting a record
- 1956: Devon Loch collapses on the run-in after near certain victory
- 1967: 100/1 shot Foinavon wins after avoiding the pileup at fence 23
- 1973: Red Rum wins his first Grand National and equals Golden Miller’s record
- 1974: Red Rum wins the Grand National again for the 2nd time
- 1977: Red Rum wins his third Grand National in 1977
- 1990: Mr Frisk wins in 8 minutes 47.8 seconds – a course record
- 2004: Ginger McCain wins his 4th Grand National with Amberleigh House
- 2010: Tony McCoy finally wins the Grand National on Don’t Push It
Aintree Racetrack & Grand National Fences
First opened in 1829 as a flat racing course, jump racing at Aintree started in 1839, and the Grand National 10 years later. Aintree Racecourse is a Jockey Club owned National Hunt racetrack with 2 left-handed courses, the National and the Mildmay. The National course is a left-handed roughly triangular, flat track, with 16 BIG fences, the first 14 of which are jumped twice in the Grand National. The shorter, easier Mildmay Course, situated inside the National course oval, is intended as an introduction for new horses to the National course, with it’s smaller versions of National course fences. The Mildmay course is used for all the other races on the Grand National meeting racecard.
Grand National Course
Aintree’s famous National course fences are almost as well known as the Grand National run over them every April on the biggest most exciting day in UK racing.
With famous obstacles including The Chair, Becher’s Brook, Foinavon, Valentine’s, Canal Turn and the Water Jump, even the names strike fear in the most professional of jockeys. Many National course fences have a drop on the landing side.
Four other races run on the Grand National Course: the Topham Chase and the Fox Hunters’ Chase at the Grand National meeting + the Grand Sefton Handicap and Becher Chase at the November meeting.
In the interests of safety, following several horse fatalities and jockey injuries, significant changes were made to the construction of the Grand National fences before the 2013 running of the Grand National Steeplechase.
The starting tape position was also moved further from the crowd noise in an attempt to reduce excitement and speed coming to the first fence. The notorious steep drop after Bechers Brook has been levelled to reduce the drop and landing levels reduced on a further 3 fences.
Grand National Fences
Here is a quick guide to the most difficult and most well known fences that your horse will have to clear if you’ve got any chance to taking a few quid off the bookies.
Many of the fences on the course are household names. The Chair and the Water Jump, are jumped on the first circuit only. Each fence is made from a wooden frame and covered with the distinctive green spruce.
WESTHEAD is the first severe jump of the race. Standing 5 feet high it has a 6 foot deep ditch in front.
BECHER’S BROOK is one of the toughest jumps in national hunt racing. At 5ft high it appears straightforward on approach, but conceals a 6ft 9in drop over a stream on landing; almost 2ft lower than on take-off.
Jockeys must sit back in their saddles to counter-balance the steep drop at Bechers. Competitors surviving Becher’s then need to make a hard right turn. Over the years many horses have died here, so it was modified recently to reduce risk. Still 2 horses died at Becher’s in 2011.
CANAL TURN is an awkward fence. Riders must take a 90 degree turn on landing or risk a swim in the canal, forcing jockeys to risk jumping it on an angle to improve the chance of winning.
VALENTINE’S BROOK is the next major challenge with a 5ft high fence concealing a brook on the landing side.
THE BOOTH is one of the most hazardous jumps requiring horses to clear a 5ft 3in fence with a 6ft wide ditch in front.
THE CHAIR is situated by the main grandstand. At 5ft 3in with a 6ft ditch in front + a landing side 6in higher than take-off, the challenge is great. Jumped once.
THE WATER JUMP looks deceptively easy on approach at 2ft 9in but conceals a 6ft wide ditch on landing. Jumped once.
The run-in is long at 494 yards with a sharp turn midway; a huge challenge for tired horses who’ve already raced 4+ miles.
Many Grand National bets have been won & lost on the gruelling approach to the finishing post, which is what happened when Devon Loch collapsed on 19956 Grand National run-in!
Aintree Racecourse Enclosures & Grandstands
Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool is owned by the Jockey Club. Now a national institution, 30+ years of continuous sponsorship has secured the future of the Grand National and facilitated investment in track infrastructure. A spectacular new grandstand complex and modern ‘Festival Zone’, including a conference / event centre, equestrian centre, 9-hole golf course and a 30 bay floodlit driving range, help to make Aintree the finest venue in the region for conferences, parties and other events. A Festival Zone pass gives you access to racing, live music, food and drink, entertainment and Parade Ring viewing in a choice of enclosures and stands.
Tattersalls Enclosure is the largest enclosure at Aintree, with access to view the Parade Ring and Winner’s Enclosure and enjoy the café bars on Red Rum lawn. Ticket holders have access to the Irish Bar, live music in the Aintree Pavilion, tote betting + big screen viewing. Aintree Grand National mound provides viewing of the closing stages of each race.
WEST TIP SEATS
West Tip Seats are located within Tattersalls Enclosure; offering covered seating, terrific views of the last fence + access to a Private Bar and Tote facilities.
Open on Aintree Grand National Day only; steeplechase enclosure provides prime views of the early Grand National Course fences. Unreserved seating with a relaxed dress code offers a unique outdoor Grand National experience. While this enclosure has no access to the Parade Ring side of the course, it has its own bars, catering, betting facilities, big screen viewing and live entertainment.
PRINCESS ROYAL STAND
Princess Royal Stand situated between the Chair and the Water Jump, offers 2 choices; reserve a seat in the main grandstand or stand on the roof terrace which gives a terrific view of the of the racecourse and has its own private bar. The covered main grandstand offers excellent views of the final furlong of the Aintree Grand National and has a private bar.
QUEEN MOTHER STAND
Queen Mother Stand offers 2 choices; book a seat under cover in the Queen Mother grandstand or stand on the terraced roof. Located just past the winning line, the roof gives excellent views of the parade ring and racecourse. Big screen viewing is also available along with Tote facilities.
EARL OF DERBY & SEFTON STANDS
Earl of Derby & Sefton Stands are located either side of the parade ring with seating on 2 levels. Upper levels are the highest on the course and offer stunning views of the track. The terraces are in front of the stand and close to the action in the closing stages of the Aintree Grand National.
PLATINUM COUNTY LOUNGE
This exclusive lounge offers racegoers comfort & luxury at the Grand National. With reserved covered seats within the Stand overlooking the Water Jump and Winning Post, this is a prime location with VIP facilities including a private entrance, dedicated champagne bar, complimentary race-card, race-day hostess and souvenir badge. No official dress code; smart is preferable.
County Stand is a standing area high up overlooking the finishing line, with easy access to both the Parade Ring and Winners Enclosure. A popular stand with breath-taking views across the course and a big screen to view the race.
|Address||Aintree Racecourse, Ormskirk Road, Aintree, Liverpool, L9 5AS|
|Tel.||0151 523 2600|
|Rail||Nearest station is Aintree. Services every 15 minutes on racedays from Liverpool Lime Street.|
|Driving||Aintree Racecourse is located on the A59, one mile from the M57 and M58 and 6 miles north of Liverpool, which was awarded the title ‘European Capital of Culture’ in 2008.|