Heritage of the Grand National

Stuart Forster looks at the heritage of the Grand National, one of the pillars of Britain’s sporting calendar.

The Grand National has been a feature of Britain’s sporting calendar since February 1839. The horse race takes place at Aintree Racecourse, on the northeast fringe of Liverpool.

Now run over a course with a length of four miles, three-and-a-half furlongs – that’s around 7.14 kilometres if you think in metric terms – the race is renowned as being something of a lottery. Any of the runners, even rank outsiders, stand a chance of winning.

Lottery, coincidentally, was the name of the first horse to win the event, when the race was still known as the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase.

History and heritage of the Grand National

The jockeys have to ride their mounts over 30 fences in order to complete Aintree’s testing course. Over the 168 editions of the race held prior to 2016 many favourites have been unseated during their quest to reach the finishing post.

In 1928 only two of the 42 runners finished the race with Tipperary Tim, a 100-1 shot, romping home first. Perhaps to compensate for that attrition, a year later 66 horses started the race – the biggest field ever to run in the Grand National.

In contrast to 1928, a record 23 horses and riders completed the race of 1984, with Hello Dandy, ridden by Neale Doughty, winning the race.

Of course, the tickets of many sweepstake participants have been crumpled and tossed aside after horses have tumbled at Aintree’s famous obstacles.

The Chair is the tallest of the fences on the Aintree course, standing five feet two inches high. Becher’s Brook, named after jockey Captain Martin Becher, and Canal Turn are among the other fences, which are made from spruce grown in the Lake District.

A jockey riding a horse to the finish post.
A jockey riding a horse to the finish post.

Europe’s richest jumps race

The 2016 Crabbie’s Grand National had a purse of £1 million, making it Europe’s most valuable horse race over jumps. Aintree’s Grand National meeting and the Cheltenham Festival are traditionally regarded the high points of the National Hunt season.

It’s a handicap race and since 2009 the heaviest weight that can be carried is 11 stone 10 pounds (74.4kg). As part of efforts to improve the safety of the race, the minimum age for participating horses was raised to seven years old in 2011.

Horses galloping during a race.
Horses galloping during a race.

Grand National success stories

Only one horse has ever won the race three times. Red Rum ran to glory in the races of 1973, 1974 and 1977, becoming an equine national celebrity in the process. Three other horses have won back to back nationals.

George Stevens, meanwhile, is the most successful jockey in the history of the Grand National. Stevens won the race five times between 1856 and 1870. The latter mount was on The Colonel, one of the four horses to have won consecutive races.

Back in 1990 the suitably named Mr Frisk covered the course in a record eight minutes 47.8 seconds, more than six minutes quicker than Lottery, the winner of the inaugural race.

Perhaps new names will be written into the history books when the race is next run.

A symbol of Liverpool - The Liver Bird on top of the Liver Building.
A symbol of Liverpool – the Liver Bird on top of the Liver Building.

Getting to Aintree Racecourse

Trains run between the Liverpool Central and Aintree, whose station stands opposite the racecourse. Liverpool Central is a five-minute walk from Liverpool Lime Street station (where you can see a statue of Liverpudlian entertainer Ken Dodd on the concourse).

Further information

See the Visit Liverpool website for inspiration about things to do and see in the city.

For information on attractions in the surrounding countryside see the Visit Lancashire website.

Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.

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Liverpool's waterfront - the Liver Building stands on Pier Head.
A view of Liverpool’s waterfront. The Liver Building stands on Pier Head.

1 Comment

  • Alexander Hertug

    April 16, 2016 at 12:27 Reply

    Nice article. Very useful. I always enjoy looking at this kind of races from Aintree racecourse.

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