Grand National Horse Race
The Grand National is a very famous horse race, held annually in Liverpool, England. It's a National Hunt steeplechase, arguably the toughest race of its kind in the world. The Grand National, often known simply as the National, is over four miles in distance with several very challenging jumps to navigate. The race is a major betting event, and many people that rarely gamble will place a bet or two on the National. It's something of an institution in Great Britain, but it also attracts huge worldwide audiences, often well in excess of 500 million. We provide more information on the Grand National below.
The Grand National takes place every year in April as part of a three-day meeting at Aintree Racecourse. The race distance is 4 miles and 4 furlongs (over 7,000 meters), and a horse must complete two circuits of the course and jump a total of 30 fences. A number of these fences are particularly challenging such as Becher's Brook, for example; and the race is often littered with fallers. The Grand National is the richest National Hunt race in Britain with a prize pool of around £1 million. The race is open to seven year olds and older that are rated at least 120 by the British Horseracing Authority.
History of the Grand National
There's some debate over when the first Grand National took place. Some believe it was in 1836, while others believe it to be 1839. Official race records show the first race as 1839, but it's believed that there were races in the three previous years run in the same format. Either way, it was not until 1839 that the race was considered a national event. Prior, the race clashed with the Great St. Albans Chase: a significant well-attended event that was discontinued in 1838. At the same time, rail links were installed in Liverpool, making travel to the racecourse much easier; and a formal committee was set up to organize and publicize the race.
As such, the 1839 race attracted a lot more attention and a bigger field of well-known horses. The Grand National continued to evolve, particularly when Edward Topham took charge. He was a prominent figure in horse racing at the time who took over the lease of the Aintree land in 1848. Many years later, the Topham family purchased the Aintree Racecourse outright before it was privately sold in the 1970s. The race has been held there every year since 1839, with the exception of the two World Wars. During the First World War, alternative races were held at the now defunct Gatwick Racecourse (these races weren't considered official Grand Nationals), and during the Second World War the race was cancelled.
Famous Winners of the Grand National
It could be argued that every winner of the Grand National is famous in its own right, but there are few that particularly stand out. The most famous of all, without question, is Red Rum. This horse won the race in 1973 and 1974, finished second in 1975 and 1976, and won again in 1977. He remains the only horse currently to have won the Grand National three times, and his victory in 1973 is considered to be one of the greatest of all time. Coming up to the last fence, Red Rum was in second place and some 15 lengths behind the leader. In an amazing display, he caught the leader, Crisp, and got ahead just before the finishing post to win by less than a length.
Tipperary Tim was another particularly famous winner in 1928. There were 42 runners in the race that year; but with two fences, all but three had fallen largely because of the terrible weather conditions and very heavy ground. Tipperary Tim was in third place, but two more fallers left him clear to end first past the post at odds of 100/1. One of the other horses (Billy Barton) had been remounted by his jockey to finish, and just two finishers was a record that remains to this day.
Another 100/1 winner was Foinavan in 1967. With the leaders coming up to the 23rd fence, Foinavan was well behind the pack and out of contention. However, a loose horse ran across the track and caused a major pile-up with many horses falling or unseating their jockeys. Foinavan was far enough back to avoid the mess and made it to the winning post in first position, despite a number of horses being remounted and taken to the finish. Some years later, the fence where it all happened was renamed the Foinavan fence.
Aldaniti is also a very well-known winner of the Grand National, although it's jockey, Bob Champion, who gained more fame from their win in 1981. Just two years previously, Champion had been diagnosed with cancer and was told he had just months to live. However, he recovered and took his ride in the 1981 National on Aldaniti, a horse that had suffered from medical problems himself. Nonetheless, the pair went on to win the race: fame and celebrity followed.
Notable Grand Nationals
There are many Grand Nationals that will be remembered and talked about for a very long time; but three will go down in history for, arguably, the wrong reasons. One of these is the 1956 Grand National, which will forever be known as the Devon Loch National. Devon Loch was a horse owned by the Queen Mother, and was leading the race by a good five lengths having cleared the final fence. However, the horse took an unexplained jump into the air before falling to the ground. The jockey, Dick Francis, attempted to finish the race but was unable to do so, and a horse named E.S.B. took the victory.
The second notable Grand National is, in fact, technically not a Grand National. In 1993, the starting tape had not risen properly and one jockey got caught in it. This signaled a false start, but the majority of the jockeys failed to notice. When stewards on the course tried to stop the race by waving red flags, a number of jockeys continued to race thinking they were protesters, as a number of protesters had invaded the track before the race. Esha Ness was the first horse to pass the post, and a further six horses finished. The race, however, was declared void and is now known as "the race that never was."
The 1997 Grand National is referred to as the Monday National. On the day of the race, bomb threats were made and police had to secure the racecourse. Race officials, spectators, and a number of local residents were all evacuated from the area, many of them with their transport left at the racecourse. The organizers managed to reschedule the race for Monday.
Betting on the 2017 Grand National
Betting on the Grand National is notoriously difficult as, quite literally, anything can happen during the race. However, the race attracts a huge betting interest, even from people who normally never bet on horse racing. If you want to bet on the 2017 Grand National, we recommend you do so online as this is a very convenient way to bet. Many of the top betting sites may have a number of special promotions during the Grand National, and it's well worth checking them out.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: January 2017
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