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The Grand National – A Complete Guide

The Grand National is an annual horse racing event. It is the biggest horse racing event globally as well as the most watched, with broadcasts in over 140 countries and approximately 600 million viewers each year. The race takes place at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool and more than 70,000 are invited to attend the event.

Forty runners and their jockeys compete in the Grand National over a course of 4 miles and 547 yards. It is arguably the most difficult event in the calendar year putting to test a horse’s stamina, ability and courage. The run-in is one of the longest in the world, with around 494 yards to cover.


There is much debate about when the first ever Grand National was hosted. However, it appears that most will agree it took place in 1839. In February 1839, a horse named Lottery, seated by jockey Jem Mason, became the first winner of the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase. Later on, the race would become known as the Grand National. The course was made up of a long stretch, a stone wall to jump over and two hurdles.

Five years later, Edward William Topham, a horseracing handicapper, introduced handicaps into the Grand National sporting events. This would see horses have to carry additional weight to balance out the races. In handicap horse racing, faster stallions would need to carry more weight and slower horses less weight. This would lead to more even races.

The first Grand National races took place at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. The horseracing course is a stretch of 4 miles and 2 and a half furlongs, which takes it to about 4 miles and 514 yards. For those who prefer metric, that is just over 6.9 kilometres. The Grand National also has 30 fences in it and the horses are required to complete two laps.

In 2017, the Grand National was the most watched sport in the UK and the biggest horse racing event worldwide. The grand prize of £1 million is awarded to the first-place finisher.

The 1970s were a popular time for the Grand National racing. Most notably for the emergence of Red Rum. The thoroughbred steeplechaser, Red Rum, lived for 30 years between 1965 and 1995, with a successful stint as Grand National winner a record-breaking three times. Red Rum won the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He was also runner-up in 1975 and 1976. The Grand National, which has been described as “the ultimate test to a horse’s courage” is the most difficult race worldwide. Red Rum overcame this to become the most successful horse of all time, renowned for his jumping ability having not fallen in 100 races. His first win in 1973 is considered to be one of the greatest races ever, where he made an astonishing comeback from 30 lengths behind the first stallion. He also set the record of fastest horse with 9 minutes and 1.9 seconds, which stood for 17 years. In 1990, however, Mr Frisk beat that record with only 8 minutes and 47.8 seconds to secure first place. This just proves how far horse racing has evolved, as the first ever winner, Lottery, won with 14 minutes and 53 seconds in 1839.

The Grand National Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool

Ever since the first race, the Grand National has been hosted at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. The course itself covers 4 miles 514 yards or 6.907 kilometres. It is the longest of any National Hunt race in the UK. There are a total of 16 fences and as noted, competitors must complete two laps. In addition, the run-in is one of the longest, with around 494 yards (452 metres) from the final fence to the finish line.

The Grand National was initially meant to be a cross-country steeplechase in 1839. Thus, racers were to make their way through the open countryside, with gates, hedges, ditches and even a canal meant to be the obstacles they had to overcome.

Aintree Racecourse consists of 16 fences, with 12 fences rebuilt in 2012 using flexible plastic material. The reason for this is that, should a horse fail to make the jump it is less painful than traditional wooden fences. All fences are at least 14 inches (36 cm) high, with a few of them still given historical names. The most notable ones are The Chair and the Water Jump – the final two fences before the finish line. Horses are meant to jump over all 16 fences on the first lap and 14 on the second and final lap. The two that are missed out are the final ones (The Chair and Water Jump), making the run-in for first place all the more exciting. The traditional fences in the Grand National include:

  • Fence 6 & 22 is Becher’s Brook, named after Captain Martin Becher. The fence is 5 feet high with the landing side 6 to 10 inches lower than the take-off side.
  • Fence 7 & 23 is Foinavon, named after the horse that won at outside odds 100/1. This is one of the smallest fences on the racetrack at 4 feet 6 inches.
  • Fence 8 & 24 is Canal Turn, noted for a sharp 90-degrees left-turn right after landing. It is 5 feet high.
  • Fence 9 & 25 is Valentine’s Brook, named after a horse called Valentine that jumped over the fence hind legs first in 1840. It is 5 feet high with a 5-foot 6-inch brook.
  • Between Fences 12 & 13 is Melling Road, a famous part of the course. It is located near Anchor Bridge.
  • Fence 15 is The Chair and it is 5 feet 2 inches high. The runners in the Grand National only jump this once, during the first lap. The reason why the fence is called The Chair is that in the early days, a judge sat at the fence. Nowadays, that practice has gone but the chair remains standing there.
  • Fence 16 is the Water Jump, and it is 2 feet 6 inches. Runners will only cross the Water Jump once in the race, on the first lap. In Grand National history, the Water Jump was the most popular of jumps, but The Chair has overtaken it in terms of popularity in recent years.


The Grand National has seen some incredible records set over the course of its rich history. Here are some of the most remarkable statistics from almost 200 years’ worth of competitions:

  • The horse with the greatest number of wins is Red Rum, having successfully won in 3 times in 1973, 1974 and 1977.
  • The leading jockey of all time is George Stevens, with 5 wins in 1856, 1863, 1864, 1869 and 1870. He achieved this feat with four different horses.
  • The fastest ever time was 8:47.80 set by Mr Frisk in the 1990 Grand National.
  • The slowest winning time was 14:53 by Lottery, at the first ever Grand National in 1839.
  • The oldest winning horse was Peter Simple in 1853, aged 15.
  • The youngest winning horses were Alcibiade in 1865, Regal in 1876, Austerlitz in 1877, Empress in 1880 and Lutteur III in 1909, all of them aged five.
  • The shortest odds winner was Poethlyn in 1919 with odds 11/4.
  • The longest odds winners ever were Tipperary Tim in 1928, Gregalach in 1929, Caughoo in 1947, Foinavon in 1967 and Mon Mome in 2009, all rated at 100/1 odds.
  • The oldest winning jockey ever was Dick Saunders in 1982, aged 48.
  • The youngest winning jockey ever was Bruce Hobbs in 1938, aged 17.

Betting on Grand National

If you want to try your luck betting on the 2022 Grand National, you can do so at Sports. There are a variety of candidates to bet on outright. In addition, you can also place wagers on the first, second and third place finishers. As always, it is worth taking the time to do some research before placing your bets, but as you can see from above, it is not unheard of for outsiders to win. Whichever horse you choose to punt on, please ensure that you are gambling responsibly at all times and never with money that you cannot afford to lose. If you feel you need some help with safer gambling then you will find numerous resources at

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