Aintree Grand National – A Guide To The World’s Greatest Steeplechase

Aintree Grand National - Past And Future

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Though supporters of the Melbourne Cup, Kentucky Derby, Epsom Derby and Cheltenham Gold Cup might object, there is little doubt that, purely as a spectacle, the Aintree Grand National is the world’s greatest horse race.

Run over 4m4f at the iconic track on the outskirts of Liverpool, the race has featured in Hollywood films and is pivotal to the fortunes of bookmakers as well as being a massive money-earner for businesses on Merseyside, many of which rely on the three-day Grand National Festival for their yearly income. It’s difficult not to underestimate the impact that the cancellation of the 2020 race had on the area.

Grand National History

The Grand National at Aintree has been a British sporting institution since 1839.
Lottery won the inaugural race and there was never a more aptly-named winner.

The subject of countless sweepstakes down the years and bets which must number in the billions, it’s a race in which most of the population wants an interest and most will back more than one runner.

In that first-ever race, the famous or infamous Captain Becher ended up in the brook which was to adopt his name (more on that later)

The racecourse was the brainchild of William Lynn. He part-owned and ran the nearby Waterloo Hotel and leased land in Aintree from William Molyneux, 2nd Earl of Sefton.

Lynn designed a course and built a grandstand and Lord Sefton laid the foundation stone on 7 February 1829.

It was originally known as the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase but it’s name was changed to the Aintree Grand National in 1839.

Amateur Dick Saunders, aged 48, was the oldest successful rider on Grittar in 1982. It was his first and only Grand National ride and he retired shortly after.
Bruce Hobbs, aged 17, was the youngest winning jockey in 1939, on Battleship, who was also the smallest horse ever to win.
Jenny Pitman was the trailblazer for women trainers as she captured the race for the first time with Corbiere in 1983 and again with Royal Athlete in 1995. Venetia Williams, Sue Smith and Lucinda Russell have since followed in in her footsteps.

Ironically, it was the demise of another popular steeplechase which opened the door for the Aintree Grand National to stake a claim to be the world’s greatest horse race.
The Great St. Albans Chase disappeared in 1838, just at the time the Grand National was gaining momentum. With the new-fangled railway recently arrived in Liverpool, the public suddenly had easy access to Aintree and the Grand National quickly too off as annual pilgrimage for sports fans, not just across Lancashire but from the Midlands and the South as well.
It was also around this time than Lynn handed over the running of the race to colleague Edward Topham and he He turned the chase into a handicap from a weight-for-age race in 1843 – just over a century later, the Topham family were to buy the course and one of the big races at the Grand National Festival is still named in their honour.

Grand National – Aintree’s Most Famous Fences

Becher’s Brook is synonymous with the Grand National.
The sixth fence on the first circuit, the obstacle was named after the unfortunate Captain Martin Becher who was unseated from his mount, Conrad, and fell into the ditch after the fences when leading in the first-ever Grand National in 1839.
It has a significant drop from take-off to landing side and is also on a left turn.
Valentine’s was named after a horse who is reputed to have jumped the fence hind legs first in 1840. It is 5ft high and 3ft wide with a 6ft open ditch on the take-off side.
The Chair is both the tallest and broadest fence on the Grand National course. It has a 6ft-wide ditch on the take-off side but is jumped only once. The water jump is the only other fence to be negotiated just the once.
The Canal Turn is made of hawthorn stakes covered in Norway spruce. It gets its name from the fact that there is a canal in front of the horses when they land. To avoid it, they must turn a full 90 degrees to the left when they touch down.
Foinavon is one of only two fences named after horses.
The fence is nothing special but it commemorates the point at which the 100/1 outsider profited from carnage among the leaders to steal a march and win the 1967 race.

Grand National Winners Last 50 Years

2019 Tiger Roll Davy Russell Gordon Elliott 4/1
2018 Tiger Roll Davy Russell Gordon Elliott 10/1
2017 One for Arthur Derek Fox Lucinda Russell 14/1
2016 Rule The World David Mullins Mouse Morris 33/1
2015 Many Clouds Leighton Aspell Oliver Sherwood 25/1
2014 Pineau De Re Leighton Aspell Dr R. Newland 25/1
2013 Auroras Encore Ryan Mania Sue Smith 66/1
2012 Neptune Collonges Daryl Jacob Paul Nicholls 33/1
2011 Ballabriggs Jason Maguire Donald McCain Jnr 14/1
2010 Don’t Push It A.P. McCoy Jonjo O’Neill 25/1
2009 Mon Mome Liam Treadwell Venetia Williams 100/1
2008 Comply or Die Timmy Murphy David Pipe 7/1
2007 Silver Birch Robbie Power Gordon Elliott 33/1
2006 Numbersixvalverde Niall Madden Martin Brassil 11/1
2005 Hedgehunter Ruby Walsh Willie Mullins 7/1
2004 Amberleigh House Graham Lee Donald McCain 16/1
2003 Monty’s Pass B.Geraghty Jimmy Mangan 16/1
2002 Bindaree Jim Culloty N.Twiston-Davies 20/1
2001 Red Marauder Richard Guest Norman Mason 33/1
2000 Papillon Ruby Walsh Ted Walsh 10/1
1999 Bobbyjo Paul Carberry T. Carberry 10/1
1998 Earth Summit Carl Llewellyn N Twiston-Davies 7/1
1997 Lord Gyllene Tony Dobbin S.Brookshaw 14/1
1996 Rough Quest Mick Fitzgerald Terry Casey 7/1
1995 Royal Athlete Jason Titley Jenny Pitman 14/1
1994 Miinnehoma R. Dunwoody Martin Pipe 16/1
1992 Party Politics Carl Llewellyn Nick Gaselee 14/1
1991 Seagram Nigel Hawke David Barons 12/1
1990 Mr Frisk M. Armytage Kim Bailey 16/1
1989 Little Polveir Jimmy Frost Toby Balding 28/1
1988 Rhyme n Reason Brendan Powell David Elsworth 10/1
1987 Maori Venture Steve Knight Andrew Turnell 28/1
1986 West Tip R. Dunwoody Michael Oliver 15/2
1985 Last Suspect Hywel Davies Tim Forster 50/1
1984 Hallo Dandy Neale Doughty Gordon Richards 13/1
1983 Corbiere Ben de Haan Jenny Pitman 13/1
1982 Grittar Dick Saunders Frank Gilman 7/1
1981 Aldaniti Bob Champion Josh Gifford 10/1
1980 Ben Nevis C.Fenwick Tim Forster 40/1
1979 Rubstic Maurice Barnes J. Leadbetter 25/1
1978 Lucius Bob Davies G.Richards 14/1
1977 Red Rum Tommy Stack Donald McCain 9/1
1976 Rag Trade John Burke Fred Rimmell 14/1
1975 L’Escargot T. Carberry Dan Moore 13/2
1974 Red Rum Brian Fletcher Donald McCain 11/1
1973 Red Rum Brian Fletcher Donald McCain 9/1
1972 Well To Do G. Thorner Tim Forster 14/1
1971 Specify John Cook John Sutcliffe 28/1
1970 Gay Trip Pat Taaffe Fred Rimmell 15/1

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Grand National Greats

There is only one place to start – RED RUM.
A freak of nature, the Grand National legend won three races on the Flat as befits his pedigree before being bought by Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain to go jumping.
Trained on Southport sands from the back of his handler’s car dealership, the Quorum gelding went on to run 100 times and win a record three Grand Nationals at Aintree as swell as a Scottish Grand National at Ayr. His achievements were all the more special given he suffered from bone disease in one of his hooves.
Still a celebrity even after retirement, Red Rum went on to reach the grand old age of 30 and is buried at Aintree racecourse.

MANIFESTO recorded the first of his two victories in 1897. He was to run eight times in the race up to the age of 16, also finishing third three times and fourth once.

In 1934, the great GOLDEN MILLER became the only horse ever to win the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season. He carried 12st 2lb at Aintree and won in a then-record time.

In 1956, DEVON LOCH and jockey Dick Francis, later to become a popular novelist, looked certain to give The Queen Mother victory in the big race when going clear on the run-in. Inexplicably, however, the horse suddenly belly-flopped on the ground yards from the winning post, allowing ESB to win. Some speculate he went to hurdle the water jump on the other side of the running rail – we’ll never know!

ALDANITI won the race in 1981 having been nursed back from career-threatening injury three times, But that was only half the story as he was ridden by cancer-survivor Bob Champion. The late John Hurt was later to play the jockey in a major feature film.

In 1997, LORD GYLLENE won the Grand National that nearly never was.
Postponed on the Saturday after bomb threats were received from the IRA. The police evacuated jockeys, trainers, owners, the media, local residents and 60,000 spectators before searching Aintree to no avail.
Showing unparalleled flexibility, the race was eventually run on the following Monday evening.

Just fours years earlier, ESHA NESS had won the race that never was.
All but nine jockey failed to see that a second false start had been signalled and ran some or all of the two circuits of Aintree. The race was declared void and not rerun.

TIGER ROLL could yet join Red Rum in becoming a three-times winner but hopes of a third straight victory in the Grand National were thwarted by the shutdown of racing in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gordon Elliott’s stayer has a similar profile to the Aintree legend being bred for the Flat but he’s won five times at the Cheltenham Festival as well as twice at Liverpool and his popularity and place in the record books is already assured.

Grand National Betting at Betfred

Grand National Trends

  • It is 80 years since a seven-year-old won the Grand National – this is not a race for young, inexperienced chasers
  • Since 1978, only two winners have carried more than 11st 5lb
  • Only one of the last 12 winners hadn’t won over more than 3m previously
  • All of the last 12 winners had run at least 10 times over fences previously

Early Betting for the 2021 Randox Health Grand National

Tiger Roll 25/1
Burrows Saint, Easysland, The Conditional, Any Second Now and Kildisart 33/1
Vinndication, Presenting Percy, Champagne Classic, Magic Of Light, Potters Corner and Kimberlite Candy 40/1
Ok Corral, Ballyoptic, Bristol De Mai, Definitly Red, Native River, Ravenhill, Milan Native, Discorama, Walk In The Mill, Copperhead and Le Breuil 50/1
(Odds correct at 15.45 GMT March 24, 2020)

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