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Why is the Grand National the World’s Most Famous Horse Race?

The National Hunt season is epitomised by the Grand National handicap steeplechase, a race that has been taking place since 1839. With over 180 years of history behind it, the Grand National is now considered the most prestigious horserace in the world.

The race can be traced back to William Lynn. He began to construct a racecourse at Aintree in 1829 to include a grandstand. With the course constructed and better organisation, improved transport through the development of rail networks and greater publicity the race started to flourish as the most important in the racing calendar. The first recognised Grand National in 1839 was won by Lottery and ridden by jockey Jem Mason. Edward Topham took the reins of the event from William Lynn during the 1840’s making the chase a handicap in 1843. Topham eventually assigned the land lease over Aintree in 1848 and in 1949 the Topham family purchased Aintree outright. The venue for the Grand National was placed into doubt when the Topham family sold Aintree to the property developer Capital and Counties who then sold the course to another developer, Bill Davies in 1973. Finally, the concerns surrounding the course being redeveloped was brought to an end when the Jockey Club purchased the course in 1983.

Aintree - The Venue

Aintree is the home of the Grand National and greatly contributes to the success of the race whilst serving as a great leisure destination. Located in Cheshire Merseyside, the racecourse is approximately five miles from Liverpool City Centre and accessibility is excellent, with Aintree Railway Station, motorway links and a 20-minute drive time to John Lennon Airport.

Between 2004 to 2007 Aintree underwent a £35 million modernisation to make it one of the most prestigious racecourses race courses in the world. Two new grandstands were developed adjacent to the Queen Mother stand together with a new parade ring, visitor centre and winner enclosure. It means a massive crowd of 75,000 people can visit Aintree to watch the racing first hand in what creates a lively and boisterous atmosphere. Entry to the course can also be gained at reasonable prices with adult tickets starting at £23 on Grand National day.

When inside the venue, there are plenty of catering facilities and numerous dining and hospitality options with packages starting from £280. Private boxes with balconies are available to hire or visitors can soak up the atmosphere in the West Tip Seats, Festival Zone, Princess Royal Gallery, Earl of Derby Terrace or the Queen Mother Stand.

Walking tours of the race course are available to visitors to get that close up feeling of what the horses are put through during the race. During the event there is also plenty of live entertainment including bands and DJ’s.

The Grand National Event

While the focus is on the Grand National itself the three-day event also supports the build up to the most anticipated horse race on earth. This year the Grand National will take place over three days from Thursday 7 April until Saturday 9 April 2022 with each day featuring 7 race cards.

The ‘Opening Day’ celebrates the heroics of all NHS staff and the contribution they make to our welfare. Four of the races are grade one with the Aintree Hurdle run over 2m 4f being the feature race. Day two is one for the Ladies as fashion and style make Ladies Day one of the most popular days. Another four grade one races are run with the JLT Melling Steeple Chase headlining the day.

Finally, on ‘Grand National Day’ come three grade one races and the Grand National Steeple Chase. Run over four miles and two and a half furlongs a massive £1,000,000 is up for grabs in prize money, making it the most valuable jump race in Europe. The world’s best horses, jockeys and trainers congregate to try and win a slice of the pot from what is the most enduring and longest race of the National Hunt season. The sheer length of the race puts the horses and jockeys to their limits and there are also 30 fences to navigate. A total of 107 horses have been entered to run this year’s Grand National but a maximum of 40 will be allowed to start. With such a large field running over four miles and jumping 30 fences, the race creates an abundance of talking points. The jockeys need to steer the horses over the jumps without falling and manage the horse during the race to maintain enough stamina to run a strong finish. The race is so demanding on the horses that in 2012 it was deemed to be too dangerous and many of the fences were reconstructed.

With such a large field, number of fences and length of the course, it can make betting on the horses both fun, interesting and most of all unpredictable. The average winning odds are 20/1 and it is estimated £300 million is bet on the race each year with half the UK adult population having a flutter. Last year Minella Times won the race at odds of 11/1. The difficulty in selecting the winner can be exampled by the winner of the race in 2013 with Auroras Encore romping home at 100/1.

The race often brings the nation to a standstill with millions of people across the United Kingdom and worldwide placing a bet and sitting down to watch. Even those who don’t even have a passive interest tend to make a punt. Furthermore, the race is televised in the UK and abroad to over 140 nations and an estimated 600 million viewers will roar on their favourite horse.

The Course at Aintree

As mentioned, the distance is four miles and two and a half furlongs where the horses and riders jump 30 fences. It involves two laps of the Aintree race course with sixteen fences being jumped during the first lap and 14 fences on the second lap. The final two fences of the second lap are avoided as the horses are steered right to test their remaining stamina with a 494 yard (452m) run in that is the longest in any steeplechase.

Apart from the distance it is some of the 16 fences around the Grand National circuit that have become famous in this gruelling steeplechase. In 2012, 12 fences were redesigned and made of flexible plastic and topped with spruce, replacing the wooden core fences.

Some of these fences have been renamed to reflect the history of the race. For example, fence 6 and 22 is known as Becher’s Brook named after Captain Martin Becher who was demounted in the first recorded Grand National of 1839 while riding The Duke. It is said Becher took refuge in the small brook running along the landing side while the rest of the horses jumped over. The fence is 5 feet (1.52m) in height and on the landing side there is a drop of about 6 inches (15cm) to 10 inches (25cm) lower. Fence 8 and 24 is the famous Canal Turn with a height of 5ft (1.52m) that involves the horses having to make a sharp left hand turn immediately after landing. This fence used to have a ditch but was eventually filled and got its name as unseated horses would sometimes jump the fence and continue running straight into the Leeds and Liverpool canal.

The Grand National will take place on Saturday 9 April 2022 with the runners and riders under starters orders at 17:15pm. Well known horses running this year include Galvin, Any Second Now who finished third in 2021 and Minella Times who won the race last year and was ridden by Rachel Blackmore, the first female jockey ever to win the Grand National.

The Grand National is always an occasion to look forward and we hope you have enjoyed our guide to why it is the most famous horserace in the world. At we want you to enjoy your betting while maintaining a sensible approach. If you think you may have a problem with gambling then you can visit for help and support.

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