The Grand National is one of the most famous and popular horse races in the United Kingdom. It was first officially run in 1839 and is held at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool.
The Grand National is held in early April each year. It is a steeplechase, which means that it is run over fences. The course is a double circuit of 16 fences, the first 14 of which are jumped twice. The total length of the race is 4 miles and 856 yards (7,242 m). The best-known fence is the world-famous Becher’s Brook, where many horses have refused or fallen and unseated their riders. Its 6’9” drop makes this jump a formidable obstacle.
The first official Grand National race in 1839 was well-publicised and the recent completion of the railway meant that spectators could travel to the course easily. Earlier races between 1836 and 1838 have been left out of the record books because it was thought that they were not held over the Aintree course. Recent evidence shows that they probably were, but the debate still continues.
During the First World War, when the Aintree course was closed, the race was run at Gatwick in Surrey for three years. Again, these races are not always counted as official Nationals.
The race started as a race for amateur gentlemen riders, who were not supposed to receive payment, although the records show that a number of professionals were already competing from the start. It is now rare for amateurs to take part. The ban on women riders was lifted in 1977, although women have not been successful in the race to date, mainly because they are usually given rides only on horses with long odds. Woman trainers have had more success. Jenny Pitman was the first, with a winner in 1983.
The most successful horse in the history of the race was the legendary Red Rum who won three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also came second twice, in 1975 and 1876.
To find the most successful jockey, you have to go back to the Victorian era. George Stevens rode the winning mount five times between 1856 and 1870. The jockey who had the most rides in the race without ever winning was Jeff King, who raced 15 times between 1964 and 1980. Many famous jockeys have never won the National.
Three trainers have notched up four wins each over the history of the race, while two owners have had wins in three Nationals.
Grand National Shocks
Few races have as many incidents and legends associated with them as the Grand National does. Some of these are almost beyond belief.
In 1956, a horse owned by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Devon Loch, was in the lead on the final straight when he unaccountably leapt in the air and unseated his rider, Dick Francis. Her Majesty remarked, “Well, that’s racing.”
A major pile-up at the 23rd fence occurred in 1967, when a loose horse veered in front of many of the other runners. This allowed a 100/1 outsider to win: Foinavon, who avoided the incident by being well behind at that stage.
The jockey Bob Champion, who had been given only months to live in 1979 when suffering from cancer, won in 1981 on Aldaniti. A film, Champion, was later made about this remarkable tale.
The race was declared void in 1993 because of a false start. Thirty of the 39 riders did not hear the starter recalling them and continued to race. Although course officials waved red flags at them, some jockeys thought they were animal rights protesters and ignored them.
A bomb threat in 1997, supposedly from the IRA, caused the race to be delayed from Saturday to Monday. Since the police cleared and locked the course immediately, many spectators had to stay in Liverpool over the weekend before they could regain their cars.
In 2009, the 100/1 outsider Mon Mome won, the longest-priced winner since Foinavon won in 1967. Take a look her for betting on the Grand National