The Grand National Betting and Event Guide, 12th, 13th & 14th April 2018
Those that don’t know much about horse racing as a sport may genuinely not realise that there are two main types of racing: Flat Racing and Jump Racing. For the majority of those unfamiliar with racing they may well not even be aware that there is a Flat Racing season at all, largely because the only racing that they will have seen will be the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and the Grand National at Aintree. The race itself is often talked of as being the horse race for people that don’t like horse racing. People who rarely, if ever, place a bet will head to the bookies in April every year and have a flutter on the world’s greatest steeplechase. That is in no small part because of how thrilling the race is, with the large field and thirty fences that the horses need to negotiate meaning that it could genuinely be won by any of the competitors.
What those casual bettors may not realise, however, is that the Grand National itself is surrounded by several days of racing. Just as the Gold Cup takes place at the end of the Cheltenham Festival, so too does the Grand National occur towards the closing stages of a mini-festival all of its own. Events get underway on the Thursday, with Ladies Day held on the Friday before Grand National Day itself occurs on the Saturday. You might well have seen some of the action from Ladies Day in the past, with British tabloids seeming to enjoy taking photographs of working class women enjoying themselves with their friends. Grand National Weekend is very much a series of days aimed at the people, rather than the purse. On these pages we’ll tell you all about how the race came about in the first place, as well as how the weekend developed around it to make it one of the most looked forward to days in the National Hunt calendar.
How To Bet on the Grand National
Although this page gives you a comprehensive guide to the Grand National Festival, I know that many people here simply want to know what is the easiest and best value way to bet on the Grand National.
The brief guide here will help you decide what is the best method and bookmaker to bet on the Grand Nation with.
Betting Online vs Betting Shop
The easiest way to back a horse in the big race, or indeed any festival race, is to bet online, this gives you the following advantages:
- Take advantage of huge introductory sign up free bets, bonuses and other offers (a list of sites providing welcome offers for the Grand National is available on the home page).
- Pick and choose between a range of bookmakers based on who has the best prices for your horses. If you go to a betting shop you are much more limited in choice.
- Collect your winnings without having to go back to a bookmakers shop.
- Get more places each-way online compared to in betting shops.
- Ante-Post non-runner no bet with many online operators.
- Access to more enhanced value existing customer offers.
It could be argued that betting in a shop has the convenience that you can bet in cash. You can however also bet online in cash these days. You can do this through cash voucher systems such as PaySafeCard, widely accessible through many convenience stores or online.
Alternatively with bookmakers such as William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral, Betfred and other high street operators, you can sign up online, therefore receiving the additional benefits such as a welcome free bet, and deposit and withdraw in store using cash.
Probably the biggest advantage to betting in a shop is that you do not necessarily need identification, although you may be challenged and asked for ID if you look under the age of 18. When you bet online you must verify yourself to the operator, this is to ensure you are over the legal age and you live where you say you live. This is a legal requirement
Choosing An Online Bookmaker
It is easy to think you should just go with the betting site with the biggest welcome offer or most number of places for the Grand National. You might however want to consider a few other factors:
- Only bet with licensed betting sties (see our article gambling licensing and law). If you bet with unlicensed operators you have no guarantees under UK law should anything happen to your money.
- Does the bookie accept the payment method you want to use? All accept bank cards but should you wish to use a method such as PayPal, Skrill, Neteller, etc., you will need to see if they accept these in advance.
- Is the minimum deposit or bet amount correct for you? Minimum deposits can range from £5 to £20+ (depending on the method) and minimum bets can range from £0.10 to over £1.
- You may also want to check the minimum withdrawal amount if you want to bet low stakes.
- Is the welcome offer the right one for you. Don't just go for the biggest on paper, also consider the significant terms, do you need to rollover winnings (common with most bonuses), can you split the offer cash up (not common with free bets), what is the expiry time of the free funds, are there minimum or maximum odds odds requirements for the qualifying bet or promo money, etc.
- Do you want to continue betting with this bookie after the National? If so check what markets, offers and features they gave for other sports or games that you like.
How To Register and Deposit
Registering and depositing is very easy and can be done within a couple of minutes. To register you will need to give your name and address and choose a username and password. Ideally use the same address that your payment card is linked to, this can save time with age and address verification which can be done automatically in many cases (read more).
You may be asked to choose a currency, this will stay fixed so choose one that matches your payment method. You may also be asked to set some things, such as deposit limits on your account (if you want them), etc., all fairly easy stuff.
Sign up as far in advance of the Grand National race as possible. Many betting sites close down registrations close to the race itself to prevent their servers being overloaded. At this point they will then prioritise resources to their existing customer base to ensure they can place bets. If you wait too long to register you may find you are not able to.
Once registered you will need to choose a payment method to make a deposit. The easiest means is to use a bank card, these are the most widely accepted and don't have any bonus restrictions. Be careful however if using a credit card as these transactions are often classed as 'cash' rather than 'purchase' meaning you will likely be liable for additional charges by your bank.
Putting in your card details (or other payment details) is identical to the way you would do it for any online transaction. The transaction is also just as secure and the deposit is instant, meaning the money will be in your online account immediately to bet with.
If you are singing up to a introductory offer make sure you check any opt in boxes or enter any relevant codes on either registration or first deposit. Full details of how to claim these offers are detailed the free bets page.
Ante-Post vs On the Day Betting
There is a temptation to get your bets done and dusted in advance of the Grand National. It is worth however bearing in mind that ante-post bets, these are bets placed in advance of race day, are treated differently by bookies to on the day bets.
The disadvantage of betting ante-post is you may not get your money back if your horse doesn't run (unless it is explicitly stated that you will), which you will with bets placed on the day. You will also most likely not qualify for best odds guarantees or other offers such as extra places, etc.
The advantage to betting ante-post however is you can sometimes get better odds if you back a runner that becomes popular on the day. If a horse is withdrawn after coming under starters orders ante-post bets are not subject to Rule 4 either. This is very much a game of risk, go early and perhaps get a better price or wait until the day and get generally better terms.
Don't however wait too long to bet. This is the single biggest day of the year for betting companies and servers can become strained or overloaded the closer to the big race you get. If you wait until the very last minute you may find yourself out of luck.
Choosing a Horse
I'm not going to pretend to have some magic formula to picking Grand National winners. In reality this is one of the most random sporting events there is today and it can honestly be anyone's guess who will win. Don't be told that if you just bet on the number, name, or jockey colours that you won't win, because even those who know everything about horse racing have little advantage with this race.
With a field of nearly 40 horses running 4+ miles over 30 huge fences there is so much that can go wrong that quite literally any horse can win. If this were a prestigious flat race like the Epsom Derby then I could quite easily tell you three horses that are guaranteed to win the race between them. This though is a thoroughbred race with a handful of horses over a mile on a flat surface in the middle of summer. The Grand National is over four times as long and generally attracts bad weather and changeable conditions.
Of course the favourite has more chance of winning than an outsider, should nothing adverse happen in the race, however only 15% of Grand National races, or 3 in 20, have been won by favourites. If you backed just the favourite each year you would be severely out of pocket over time. It therefore makes sense to pick horses that would have a good chance of winning on an uneventful day but also have attractive odds to make the bet more valuable.
For this reason many tend to back a range of horses, some amongst the favourites and others long shots. This is a good way of balancing risk. You can read about some stories where 100/1 horses have won in the past further down this page.
Win or Each-Way?
Once you have found the horse you would like to back choose whether you would like to back the horse to win only or each-way. If you want to back the horse each way you are in effect placing two bets, one to win and one to place, this means your stake is doubled. Check the number of places offered to you (anything less than 5 you are not getting good value) and the odds you will get for a place (usually 1/5th winning odds but can get 1/4).
If you do bet each way and your horse wins you will be paid out on both bets. Let's take an example of a horse at 12/1 that wins and you placed a £10 each-way bet, costing £20 total, with 5 places at 1/4 odds. You will get paid £130 from the win bet (£120 winnings + £10 stake) and you will get another £50 from the place part of the bet. 12/1 divided by four is 4/1, multiplied by your £10 stake gives you £40 in winnings and your £10 stake back. Therefore in total from your £20 bet you will get £130 + £50 = £180.
Now this is less than the £240 you would get if you had just put £20 on a straight win, however should the horse finish in the top 5 places but not win you would still get paid £50 back if your bet is each-way. Which one of these you choose depends on the risk you want to take.
In general each-way bets are only worth it if the each-way part of the bet would cover your overall stake should the horse place. Taking an example of 1/4 odds each way again then a horse would need to be over 4/1 to at least cover your total stake, although this should cover most horses in the national.
Fixed Price or Starting Price?
All ante-post bets are taken at fixed price, however, if you are betting on the day you will need to decide whether to take the fixed price or starting price, often abbreviated to SP. Should you take the fixed price then these are the odds you will get whatever happens, if you take the SP then you will be given the odds at the time your horse comes under starters orders.
If you are betting with a bookmaker with best price guarantee on the day then it generally makes sense to take the fixed price as the guarantee means if the starting price is higher then they will match it anyway. This is win-win as if the starting price is lower you still get to keep the original fixed odds given to you at the time of bet placement.
Withdrawing Your Winnings
Usually an online bookmaker will pay out within minutes of a bet settling, with the Grand National however you need to be patient. The simple number of bets processed means it can take bookies a few hours to settle every wager placed. Best thing is to check back in the evening or the next day. If you are worried check your bet history, if the bet is still classed as "unsettled" then it just hasn't been processed yet.
If you withdraw for the first time and your account was not verified on registration then you may need to send in ID documents before any withdrawal can be made. This is very routine and should only delay any transaction by a day or two, but something to bear in mind.
When making a withdrawal there are also two timings to consider. The first is the amount of time your bank take to process a transaction, for a typical bank card for example this can be between 2-5 working days, however for an eWallet like PayPal payments are almost instant.
The second is the processing time of the site, which can vary a lot. Big companies such as Ladbrokes will process within a few hours usually, whereas some smaller sites can take up to a couple of days.
Grand National Festival Race Card & Day Guides
Despite the fact that Aintree is most famous for the Grand National, the main race is only one small part of the experience you’ll be able to have here. The meeting itself actually lasts for three days and gets underway on the Thursday. Here’s a guide to the races that you’ll be able to watch each day, plus a little bit of information about what to expect.
Celebrating the greatest steeplechase in the world, Day One of the Grand National Festival is dedicated to the United Kingdom’s greatest sporting heroes.
Around 35,000 people turn up on the first day of the meeting, which isn’t as many as on Day Three but is still perfectly respectable.
Grand National Thursday is one of the most popular days of jump racing outside of the Cheltenham Festival with no less than four grade one races along witb a grade two and a grade three race alongside.
Here’s a quick look at each of the races:
1.45pm (Race 1) The Merseyrail Manifesto Novices’ Steeple Chase
The meeting gets underway with this Grade 1 steeplechase for horses aged five and over. Taking place over two miles, three furlongs and four-hundred yards, it features sixteen fences. As the name suggests, it’s for novice chasers and was first ran in 2009, earning its promotion to a Grade 1 race in 2012.
2.20pm (Race 2) The Doom Bar Anniversary 4YO Juvenile Hurdle -
Another Grade 1 race, this is open to four-year-olds, as the name suggests. Run over two miles and one furlong, the horses will need to jump nine hurdles. Known as the Lancashire Hurdle in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a Grade 2 race until it gained its current classification in 2005. Horses running in this race have often ran in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival first.
2.50pm (Race 3) The Betway Bowl Steeple Chase
Open to horses aged five years of age or higher, this is a race that lasts for three miles one furlong and has nineteen jumps in it. Established in 1984, it was intended to be something of a consolation race for those horses that hadn’t been able to compete in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It earned its status as a Grade 1 race in 2010.
3.25pm (Race 4) The Betway Aintree Hurdle
Taking place over two miles and four furlongs, the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle was established back in 1976 and was originally longer and run on the final day of the meeting. It was shortened in 1988 and moved to Day One in 2013. Horses that ran in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham normally enter this race.
4.05pm (Race 5) The Randox Health Foxhunters’ Steeple Chase
Only three races over Grand National weekend makes use of the fences used in the Grand National itself, with the Foxhunters’ Steeple Chase being one of them. It takes place over two miles, five furlongs and nineteen yards and is open to amateur riders on horses aged six or older. It’s a Class 2 race that was originally run over the same distance as the main event.
4.40pm (Race 6) The Betway Red Rum Handicap Steeple Chase
Named after the Grand National’s most famous winner, this handicap chase is for five year olds and up. It lasts for one mile, seven furlongs and one-hundred and seventy-six yards. There are twelve jumps to be negotiated over the course of it and it was given Grade 3 status back in 2004.
5.15pm (Race 7) Goffs Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open NH Flat
The final race of the opening day of the weekend is an open National Hunt Flat Race that takes place over two miles and one furlong. Named after the winner of the 1951 Grand National, Nickel Coin, it was first run in 2005 and earned its Grade 2 status in 2016. It’s for fillies and mares aged four to six.
This is one of the most colourful and exciting days anywhere in racing, with ladies glamming up in the hopes of winning a prize as the best dressed at the racecourse and receiving a car or other crazy prize in return. Expect big hats, outrageous dresses and plenty of girls having fun for the day.
Known as Fabulous Friday, most of the press turn up to photograph the ladies, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the racing is secondary to what’s taking place off the course as around 45,000 people turn up expecting to see some top-class horses.
Here’s a look at each of the races on Day Two:
1.40pm (Race 1) The Alder Hey Handicap Hurdle
Open to horses aged four and up, the opening race of Day Two lasts for two miles and four furlongs. It was established in 1989 and aims to raise money for Alder Hey Children's Charity. The race was awarded Grade 3 status in 2014.
2.20pm (Race 2) The Crabbie’s Top Novices’ Hurdle
After a somewhat gentle introduction at the start of the day, things start to heat up when the second race comes about. It’s for novices aged four and over and takes place over two miles and one-hundred and ten yards. The horses will need to get over nine hurdles during this Grade 1 race, which was a status awarded to it in 2016.
Horses that run in this race will normally have taken part in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, though no horse has won both since Browne's Gazette back in 1984.
2.50pm (Race 3) The Betway Mildmay Novices’ Steeple Chase
Established in 1981 and lasting a distance of three miles and one furlong, winners of this race have been known to go on and win the Cheltenham Gold Cup the following year. It’s a Grade 1 race open to novices aged five and up. Horses running in this have often taken part in the RSA Chase earlier in the year and it achieved its Grade 1 status in 2014.
3.25pm (Race 4) The JLT Melling Steeple Chase
For horses aged five and older, this race lasts for two miles and four furlongs and has sixteen fences to negotiate. Named after the village of Melling that also lends its name to the road that horses have got to cross during the Grand National, the race was established in 1991 and has been a Grade 1 event since its inception. Expect to see horses that have also ran in one of the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Ryanair Chase during Cheltenham.
4.05pm (Race 5) The Randox Health Topham Steeple Chase
Arguably the premier race of the day, the Topham Chase was first run in 1949 and takes place over two miles, five furlongs and one-hundred and ten yards. Along with the Fox Hunters Chase and the Grand National itself, this is just one of three races that takes place over the fences used in the main event.
It’s for horses aged five and over and between 1989 and 2001 it was named to commemorate John Hughes, a clerk of the course who had passed away. Always Waining made race history in 2012 when he won it for the third year in a row, with only two other horses having won it more than once.
4.40pm (Race 6) The Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle
Established in 1988, this race lasts for three miles and one-hundred and ten yards. It features thirteen hurdles and it open to novices aged four and up. Originally called the White Satin Novices' Hurdle and classed as a Grade 2 race, its name changed in 1993 and it became a Grade 1 race two years later.
Horses that race in this one will often have been given a run out at the Cheltenham Festival’s Spa Novices' Hurdle the previous month.
5.15pm (Race 7) Weatherbys Champion Standard Open NH Flat
As with Day One, Day Two comes to a close courtesy of an Open National Hunt Flat Race. It’s for horses aged four to six years of age and the race lasts for two miles one furlong. Established in 1987 and given Grade status in 1995, horses that run in this race will sometimes have also ran in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
Believe it or not there’s actually no dress code for the Grand National Festival. You can’t wear fancy dress or sports clothing, but you could rock up in a pair of jeans and a polo top if you wanted to. Admittedly you’d look a little out of place, but it’s good to know that the choice is yours.
You’d be amazed at what some of the 75,000 guests that Aintree Racecourse can welcome will be wearing. It’s the largest racing venue other than Epsom, so it’s no surprise that you’ll meet people from all walks of life on the course’s busiest day of the year.
Here’s a look at the day’s racing, including the big one itself:
1.40pm (Race 1) Gaskells Handicap Hurdle
The final day of the Grand National Festival starts with a handicap hurdle that’s open to horses aged four and older. It takes place over three miles and one-hundred and ten yards, with thirteen hurdles during that time. It was established in 1985 and became a Grade 3 race in 2010. It’s had a number of names during its existence, include the Dominican Republic Handicap Hurdle in 2014 and it was dedicated to the Injured Jockeys Fund in 2015.
2:25pm (Race 2) Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle
Ran over a distance of two miles and four furlongs, this race is open to novices aged four and over that will have to make it over twelve hurdles before they reach the final straight. The race was first ran in 1977 and in 1988 the length of it was cut by a furlong to its current distance. Horses that have ran in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle often take part in this event, which was given Grade 2 status in 1991 and moved to Grade 1 in 2014.
3pm (Race 3) Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Steeple Chase
This race was first introduced to the Aintree Racecourse back in 1954 and has had numerous names since then. It was a Grade 2 event up until 1995, when it was given its current Grade 1 status. Horses that have previously taken part in the Arkle Challenge Trophy during the Cheltenham Festival are often put forward for the Maghull Novices' Chase, if you’re looking for some signs of who might win it. It’s for horses aged five and over, lasts for two miles and has twelve fences that need to be jumped.
3.40pm (Race 4) Betway Handicap Steeple Chase
First run in 1988 when Richard Dunwoody won it on the back of a horse named Rinus, the Handicap Chase lasts for three miles and one furlong. Originally a listed race, it was made a Grade 3 event ahead of the 2018 Grand National Festival. It’s for horses aged five and up and they’ll need to successfully navigate nineteen fences if they’re hoping to win.
4.20pm (Race 5) Ryanair Stayers' Hurdle
The registered name of this race is the Liverpool Hurdle, though it was known as the Long Distance Hurdle when it was established at Ascot in 1974. Originally ran over three miles, it was extended by one-hundred and ten yards when it moved to Aintree in 2004. It was made a Grade 1 race in 2010 and up until 2013 it was the opening race of the entire Grand National Festival. Open to horses aged four and up, contenders for this race have normally performed well in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham the month before.
5.15pm (Race 6) Randox Health Grand National Steeple Chase
There’s no question that this is the biggest race of the weekend, if not the entire National Hunt calendar. The Grand National is the premier steeple chase event in British horse racing. We’ve told you about the race’s history elsewhere on this page, so won’t go over the same ground here. Instead we’ll tell you about the facts of the race, including that it last for four miles and five-hundred and fourteen yards.
Horses need to be aged seven or older if they hope to compete in the race and they have to have a British Horse Racing Authority rating of 120 or greater. They’ll also need to have finished in the places of a recognised chase of over three miles in length. You’d be forgiven for thinking that that might limit the field somewhat, but in actual fact this features one of the most fiercely competitive fields in horse racing. The competitors will have to make their way over thirty fences across two laps of racing if they hope to win ‘the ultimate test of horse and rider’.
6.10pm (Race 7) Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle
The weekend is brought to a close with this Handicap Hurdle that takes place over two miles and one-hundred and three yards. It’s for horses aged four and up, with nine obstacles to get over before the race is run. There’s obviously a chance that this race will suffer a little bit from the sense of being after the Lord Mayor’s Show, which is why it’s for conditional jockeys and amateur riders. Even so, it’s a Class 2 race with a £50,000 prize pot, so don’t be surprised if there’s still a fair bit of interest in it from some on the course.
Aintree Racecourse Guide
It’s all well and good telling you about why people love the Grand National and a detailed history of the event, but what about the racecourse itself? After all, if you decided to buy tickets to head along there during Grand National Weekend or place a bet on a horse running in the main event then it’s not going to do you much good knowing which company sponsored the race in 1991.
Here I'll tell you about the facilities available at the racecourse as well as the actual course itself; complete with a nice breakdown of all of the different jumps.
Aintree Racecourse Layout
The Winners’ Enclosure is where you’ll want to head if you like rubbing shoulders with the best in the business. This is where the owners will go to greet their winning horse after its romped home to rapturous applause. It is just next to the Parade Ring, which is the spot to head to in order to get a glimpse of the horses before they head out for the race itself. If you’re the sort of punter that likes to look at a horse and see what kind of a mood it’s in then this is the spot for you.
There’s another spot that might interest you too, the The Red Rum Garden. This is where the Fashion Parade takes place on Ladies Day, to say nothing of a whole heap of other activities and moments of entertainment throughout the Grand National Festival. At the very least you should pop in and have a look at the statue dedicated to the memory of the race’s most famous winner.
Nothing will ever compare to the thrill of watching the racing, though, so it’s only right that we also give you some information of the various places you can locate yourself to do just that. The first is, of course, trackside. Standing up against the rails is the most visceral experience you can have at any racecourse, with the smell of turf in your nostrils and the sound of beating hoofs in your ears. If you manage to get yourself a spot near the finish line then you’ll be in one of the best specs in all of Merseyside, if not racing itself.
Tickets for the Steeplechase Enclosure are only available on Grand National Day and are where you’ll want to head if you’re looking for a more relaxed experience in general.
Lord Sefton Stand
The first place that you’ll want to consider buying tickets for is the Lord Sefton Stand. Split into three sections that includes the Lower Tier, the Upper Tier and the Terrace, you’ll find yourself next to the horse walk and and wash down area.
It’s close to the course so you’ll be able to see the action from the Grand National itself, plus your tickets will give you access to numerous other areas within Aintree Racecourse.
Earl of Derby Stand
This is the stand to opt for if you like to see what’s going on in all of the hotspots of the racecourse. You’ll be able to keep an eye on the various horses that enter the Winners’ Enclosure, for example, plus you’ll be able to watch the horses trot around the Parade Ring in order to get a sense of how they’re feeling. You’ll be able to see the course too, obviously, so you won’t miss any of the action.
Queen Mother Stand
Named after the Queen Mother, who was a horse racing enthusiast and lover of the Grand National, this stand offers a cracking view of the finishing post. You’ll also be able to see the Parade Ring and Winners’ Enclosure, so it’s the best of all worlds. Not the most modern stand at the racecourse but one of those with a view that will be the envy of most.
Princess Royal Stand
Speaking of stands that are modern, the Princess Royal Stand at Aintree Racecourse definitely ticks that box. Tickets for this stand are amongst the most exclusive in racing, thanks to the fact that you’ll get unbelievable views of the course if you’re in the right section. You’ll also be close to the finishing post and have decent views of the Parade Ring and Winners’ Enclosure. If you want the best of the best when it comes to your experience at Aintree then this is where you’ll be wanting to head.
Lord Daresbury Stand
The Roof section of the Lord Daresbury Stand offers you a bird’s eye view of the finishing post, meaning that you’ll know who’s won before everyone except the jockey. As with most of the other stands, you’ll be able to see the Winners’ Enclosure and the Parade Ring for all of the action before and after the race itself.
This is an area of the racecourse that doesn’t have the sense of glamour of some of the other sections we’ve talked about here, but you will get an excellent view of the home straight and the final few fences. Your tickets will give you access to the Tattersalls and all of the other sections of the grounds that we’ve already mentioned elsewhere, such as the Red Rum Garden.
Of course more than a few of you might be wondering about the hospitality options at Aintree Racecourse. If that’s the case then you’re in for a treat. Aside from the various different stands that have hospitality options of their own, there are also several other hospitality sections such as Topham’s and McCoy’s.
There’s almost no limit to the number of options available to you at Aintree if you’re hoping to splash the cash and impress your friends or business colleagues courtesy of the different areas of the course that can house you.
Grand National Fences
Without question, the most exciting thing about the Grand National are the various jumps that the horses have to take on if they’re hoping to win the race. Here’s a little look at each of them in turn, though do be aware that part of the course is repeated and some of the fences are jumped twice, which gives a total of thirty fences during the running:
Standing at four foot six inches, the first fence of the race is also jumped again on the second time around. It’s often approached by the horses at high speed the first time around, which has been known to cause a large number of falls. The record currently stands at twelve runners going down in 1951.
Jumped again as the eighteenth on the second time around, this stands at four foot and seven inches. The first two fences of the course actually used to be in a different position and the second was known as The Fan, named after a horse that refused to jump it for three consecutive years. When the fences were moved to their current position in 1888 the name was lost.
Fence 3 - Open Ditch
The fences grow in size as the race goes on, meaning that this is slightly taller than the first two at four foot ten inches. It features an open ditch and is considered to be the first real test of a horse’s credentials. If you’ve been following the pattern then you’ll know that this is also the nineteenth.
Also four foot ten inches tall, this fence, which doubles as the twentieth one the second go around, often causes horses to fall or riders to be unseated. Less testing than the third because it lacks the open ditch, this is still an obstacle that will ask questions of horses and their riders.
Things are about to get very exciting indeed on the Grand National course, so the build-up involves this fence that stands at five foot in height exactly. It’s a plain obstacle for very good reason, which is that it precedes the toughest and most famous fence at Aintree. This is also used as the twenty-first fence in the race.
Fence 6 - Becher’s Brook
The landing side is six to ten inches lower than the take-off side at Becher’s Brook, meaning that the five foot height of the fence doesn’t actually tell the full story. Named after Captain Martin Becher who used the brook as a shelter from the onrushing horses when he fell during the first ever Grand National, this is a fence that will test the ability of the jockey and often takes horses by surprise. They might be a little bit more aware of it the second time around, at which point it’s become the twenty-second.
Fence 7 - Foinavon
Named after the winner of the National in 1967, this is the fence where the mayhem occurred that year that allowed the 100/1 shot to gallop home for an unlikely victory. That was on their second lap of the course when it was the twenty-third jump, with the horses having already gotten over the four foot six obstacle when it was the seventh.
Fence 8 - The Canal Turn
After the jump the course pivots by ninety degrees in order to avoid the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. It stands at five foot in height, meaning it’s not the size of the jump that will test horses and jockeys so much as the manner in which they’ll need to turn sharply in order to avoid a watery end to their race. Also doubles as the twenty-fourth.
Fence 9 - Valentine’s
Becoming the twenty-fifth on the second time around, Valentine’s was previously known as Second Brook. It earned its current name after a horse named Valentine apparently jumped over it back legs first back in 1840. How much truth there is in that story remains debatable, given that the fence stands at five foot in height, but at one point there was a grandstand built alongside it. This was knocked down in the 1970s.
Horses get a bit of respite when Fence 10 comes along, though it still stands at five foot in height. It’s a plain obstacle though, guiding the horses alongside the canal. Becomes the twenty-sixth when the field does its second lap.
Fence 11 - Open Ditch
The ditch here is on the takeoff side of this fence that is also the twenty-seventh jump the horses will need to make. That makes things a little bit more interesting, especially give that the fence itself still stands at five foot in height.
Fence 12 - Ditch
This fence takes riders and their horses across the Melling Road and close to the Anchor Bridge. When the race was first run they would actually needed to jump some hedges to get onto the road and then back off it again. Nowadays there’s just a ditch on the landing side that will cause riders problems both when it’s the twelfth and when it becomes the twenty-eighth.
Also the twenty-ninth, this fence is a plain obstacle that stands at four foot seven inches. By this point on the first go around the racecourse the horses tend to have gotten into a good rhythm, meaning that it’s rarely the cause of falls. By the second go around there might be some tired legs but it’s still unlikely to be a disaster area.
The fourteenth is the last of the fences that are jumped twice, being the thirtieth on the second lap of the course. It’s only four foot six inches in height, making it the joint-second smallest in the race. The problem is that horses are often knackered by the time they get here on the final approach and on the first time around the jockeys are aware of the two fences that are coming up next…
Fence 15 - The Chair
One of the most intimidating fences in Jump Racing, The Chair is the only place on the Grand National course where a jockey has lost their life. That happened back in 1862 when Joe Wynne fell at a time when he was suffering the effects of consumption and died. It stands at five foot two inches in height, making it the tallest on the course.
A distance judge sat here in the Grand National’s first few years, which is where it gets its name from. If it wasn’t intimidating all on its own, it also has a six foot ditch before it and the landing side is six inches higher than the takeoff side.
Fence 16 - Water Jump
Only two jumps are just used once during the Grand National and they saved the best for the last jump on the first time around. This is the lowest fence at two foot six inches in height, but that doesn’t tell the full story. On the landing side there’s a ten foot ditch filled with water, meaning that horses have to got to put a really good jump in to avoid getting wet.
The Final Stretch
Not exactly a fence, the final stretch of this course is nevertheless deserving of a mention. It’s the last stage of the two and a half mile test of endurance that is the Grand National and lasts for just shy of five hundred yards.
Sunnyhillboy, Crisp and Devon Loch have all been in seemingly unassailable leads before hitting this section of the course and faltering when a victory seemed certain. Don’t presume your horse has won just because it’s in front after jumping the final fence!
Betting On The National - Why Do We Love It So Much?
When racing gets underway on the Thursday of Grand National weekend, few regular folk will be following things all that closely. The racing is still exciting and those who are used to betting on big horse races will be paying attention as it will be telling them plenty about the going and the sort of horses that are favouring the track ahead of the big race. Yet your average Joe won’t be at all interested, with their only thought being about getting a decent bet on the main event coming up on the Saturday. Why is that? When it comes to the Cheltenham Festival a lot of the people that will be betting on the Gold Cup will also be having a flutter on the likes of the Stayers Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase, so why isn’t that the case with the racing at Aintree?
For a real sense of why that is we have to travel back to 1967 and have a look at the victory of a horse named Foinavon. The gelding wasn’t a well fancied horse ahead of the race, earning a Starting Price of 100/1. As the horses travelled around the horse Foinavon showed why his odds were so long, too. He lagged so far behind the main body of horses that his owner, Cyril Watkins, will have felt as though his decision not to turn up for the event was entirely justified. Watkins, though, had no idea what was about to happen. Despite twenty-eight of the forty-four horses that started the race surviving through the first twenty-two fences, a horse named Popham Down, who had unseated its rider at the first, was moments away from causing mayhem.
Having happily kept up with the rest of the field all the way around the horse despite lacking a jockey, Popham Down decided that it didn’t like the look of the twenty-third fence on the circuit and instead veered off to the right rather dramatically. It smashed into Rutherfords and unseated its rider Johnny Leech, with an almighty pile-up ensuing. Norther, Rondetto, Princeful, Kirtle Lad and Leedsy all fell, with a chunk of the rest of the leading pack deciding not to jump the fence but instead to run backwards and forwards in front of it, so blocking the progress of the horses that came up behind them. There were even a number of horses that began running in the wrong direction, such was the mayhem that ensued. Practically all of the horses were caught up in it, with the only exception being one that lagged so far behind the others that its jockey had time to steer it clear of the danger zone.
That jockey was John Buckingham and the horse he was riding was Foinavon. He not only cleared the fence on the far side of all of the trouble but but by the time he’d reached the Canal Turn he’d built up something like a thirty length lead over the other horses that had either remounted or had a mother go at jumping the fence. Though a number of horses were able to give chase, including the race’s favourite Honey End, none could get close enough to put Buckingham under any real pressure and Foinavon held on to win quite comfortably. From a 100/1 rank outsider to the winner of the most famous steeplechase in the world, all thanks to a horse that had unseated its rider and a fence that others didn’t fancy jumping.
That’s why the Grand National is so popular with your average punter, knowing that there’s a real possibility that the difficulty of the fences and the size of the field could see a major outsider end up as the winner. The majority of bettors tend to pick a few different options for the Grand National, including a horse with short odds, a horse with medium odds and another with massive odds ‘just in case’. This is a race that has been referred to as ‘the ultimate test of horse and rider’, so it’s little wonder that it captures the imagination. It’s a race that lets people dream of taking away large winnings from a relatively small stake, so it’s little wonder that it’s long maintained its popularity with the public. For ten years from 2007 until 2017 the winners had starting prices of 33/1, 7/1, 100/1, 10/1, 14/1, 33/1, 66/1, 25/1, 25/1, 33/1, 14/1. In short, it’s a race that will often see the bookies take a kicking, which everyone but them is a fan of.
History Of The Grand National
The Grand National itself was run for the first time in 1836. It was founded by a man named William Lynn, the proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel who leased land from the Second Earl of Sefton in order to have somewhere to host a race. He actually laid out the course and erected a grandstand in 1929, with Lord Sefton laying the foundation stone in February of that year. The early races are disregarded by some people, however, owing to the fact that there is no definitive proof that they took place at Aintree. That’s the reason why you won’t see those races included in the official record books on the Grand National, though sport historians are coming to think that they should be more and more.
It was towards the end of the 1830s that the Aintree event began to gain more prestige. In part this was because another big race that had previously been run at the same time as it, the Great St. Albans Chase, was no longer run from 1838 onwards. There was also the fact that travel by rail was becoming more popular, with Liverpool Lime Street Station one of the largest in the world at the time. These two facts, combined with the establishment of a committee to publicise the event, meant that the 1839 running of the Grand National was the most popular ever. That’s also why 1939 is considered by many to be the first official running of the race, with the previous three neatly forgotten about.
Moving From a Weight-For-Age To A Handicap Race
The National had been a weight-for-age race for the first few years of its running, but by 1843 the failing health of William Lynn meant that he had began to lose interest in it and its running was taken over by Edward Topham. Topham was a well-respected handicapper and he decided to turn the race into a handicap instead, making it significantly more open as a contest. The race began to get more and more attention in the following years, even to the extent that it was still run during the First World War. Because the War Office had taken over Aintree, however, it was moved to an abandoned area neat to Gatwick Airport for three races from 1916 through to 1918.
The case of Foinavon that we mentioned before is part of the reason that the race has gained a romantic quality in popular culture, but it’s not the first time that a pile-up has occurred. In 1928 a horse named Tipperary Tim won the National after forty-one of the forty-two horses that started the race fell before its end. Once again the horse had odds of 100/1, with the major difference between the two years being that just two horses finished the race in 1928 - a record low number. It’s also just one of many thrilling and fascinating stories around the Grand National that other races simply cannot replicate. Another involves the race in 1956, during which a horse named Devon Loch, which was owned by the Queen and Queen Mother, had a seemingly unassailable lead after jumping the last, only to collapse and fail to finish the race at all.
If the 1800s was about the established of the Grand National as a race and the majority of the 1900s was about the crazy stories surrounding it then the history of the National in the 1970s was dominated by just one name - Red Rum. Initially bought in 1966 for 400 guineas, which is about £420 in today’s money, he was eventually sold to Ginger McCain for 6,000 guineas (around £6,300). McCain ran Red Rum on Southport Beach and noticed a suggestion of the horse being lame. In the past he’d seen carthorses reconditioned from being lame by running them in sea water, so he duly took Red Rum into the sea and ran him there. It was a success, with the horse then going on to be the most successful in Grand National history.
The success story began in 1973 when he was in second place behind a horse named Crisp, who had a fifteen length lead at the last. Crisp was carrying twenty-three pounds in handicap, so Red Rum was able to catch him heading towards the finish line. In the end Red Rum finished the course in a new record time and won the race by just three-quarters of a length. He won it again in 1974, finished second in 1975 and 1976 and then won it for a record third time in 1977. To date he is the only horse to win a hat-trick of Grand National titles, with only six other horses managing to win it on more than one occasion.
Bob Champion - Romance Of The Race
In 1979 the jockey Bob Champion was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Doctors gave him just months to live, but he defied the odds and continued to ride for the next couple of years, being given the horse Aldaniti to ride in the 1981 Grand National.
The pair had a poor start to the race, which was no real surprise considering that Aldaniti had only recently recovered from a leg injury. Yet they ended up winning the race by four-and-a-half lengths in what is considered to be one of the most romantic National victories of all time.
It was so admired throughout the world, in fact, that the story was made into a film starring John Hurt two years later. At the time of a writing, Champion is still alive and very much involved in the world of racing.
Despite the romance of Champion’s race on an unfancied horse, the Grand National had begun to lose some prestige in the eyes of many by the middle of the 1980s. This might in some ways have been tied to the fortunes of the city of Liverpool itself, with Margaret Thatcher’s government planning to leave it in a state of ‘managed decline’.
As a result of this it was decided that the race needed to take on some sponsorship, with the Canadian alcoholic distillery Seagram stepping up to do just that. It meant that the race could be both run and managed by the Jockey Club for the first time, ensuring that interest in its future was assured. They continued to sponsor the race until 1991, when the final race under that sponsorship name just happened to be won by a horse named Seagram.
The 1990s - A Decade Of Controversy
In 1992 a Seagram subsidiary named Martell took over sponsorship for seven years in a deal worth £4 million. For readers of a certain age the race will still be known in their heads as the Martell Grand National, in spite of the fact that it’s had countless sponsors since then. That is largely because it became such a well-loved race during that time, if for no other reason than a number of controversial events that occurred during the 1990s.
The first came about in 1993 when a jockey ended up becoming entangled in the starter’s tape and a false start was declared. The problem was that this wasn’t communicated successfully to the course officials and thirty of the thirty-nine horses the began the race continued running. Protesters had been on the course earlier in the day and so many jockeys, seeing the red flags being waved, assumed they were back. Esha Ness won the race and was one of even that ran the entire course, causing the result to be declared void.
In 1997 the Grand National was abandoned on the Saturday that it was supposed to be run on after the Provisional Irish Republican Army called in two coded bomb threats. Police secured the racecourse and evacuated the jockeys, owners and race-going public. The nature of the evacuation meant that cars, buses and coaches were locked inside the grounds and people had no way of getting home. Hotels throughout Liverpool were booked up and so residents of the city ended up throwing open their doors and giving those stranded somewhere else to stay. The race was re-run on the Monday after the weekend, with the organisers giving 20,000 people free admission.
The New Millennium
The Grand National has lost none of its prestige in recent years, with Ginger McCain returning to the field as a trainer in 2004 to see his selected horse Amberleigh House romp home to victory and add himself to a small list featuring just one other name, Fred Rimell, of trainers who have trained four National winners. It also reminded people of the excitement of the event, something that was solidified when John Smith’s became the sponsor of the Meeting in 2005.
The sponsorship in itself wasn’t much to shout about, but the following year they launched the John Smith's People's Race, allowing members of the public to take part in a flat race on the course on Grand National Day. Though it was discontinued in 2010, the race was an amusing sideshow that engaged more people in horse racing as a sport.
That word ‘romance’ came to be used once more in 2009 when Mon Mome became the first 100/1 winner of the event for forty-two years. He won by twelve lengths with a debut jockey on his back and his trainer, Venetia Williams, became the first woman since Jenny Pitman in 1995 to train a National winner. The following year the Grand National made history once again when it became the first horse race to be broadcast on television in high-definition. The alcoholic ginger beer producer Crabbie’s took over sponsorship in 2013 and the following year the competition had a purse of £1 million for the first time.
Fewer Deaths, Less Controversy
According to the British Horseracing Authority around four horses die for every one thousand that take place in steeplechase events. Between the turn of the millennium and 2010, four-hundred and thirty-nine horses ran in the National and six died, meaning that the figures for the Aintree race were significantly higher than elsewhere in the National Hunt’s courses. That has resulted in increased calls from animal rights groups to either abolish the race or else severely modify it. Aintree officials have never been opposed to that notion, working in conjunction with animal welfare organisations to ensure that the racecourse is as safe as possible whilst still maintaining the excitement of the event.
This has included modifications to some of the course’s most challenging fences. Becher’s Brook, for example, has long been considered to be one of the most fierce obstacles that horses encounter during the race. Changes have been carried out to see that incline side of the jump has been levelled out and the drop has been reduced. Welfare groups would like to see the size of the field reduced, but past races with smaller fields have still seen casualties, suggesting that may not make much difference.
Those that oppose the changes point to the fact that twelve horses died between 1970 and 1989, whilst seventeen died between 1990 and 2010 after a selection of modifications had been carried out. Even so, there have been no equine fatalities in the Grand National since 2012 at the time of writing.
Grand National Statistics, Trivia & Facts
Every famous race has its fair share of interesting stories. We’ve told you some as we’ve been going along, but here’s a little look at some of the ones we didn’t get to tell you about earlier:
- The ratio of favourites winning the race since it was first ran is 15%
- 63% of all horses that enter the race won’t complete it. In a field of 40 that’s about 25 horses
- Despite their reputation, only about 2.5% of horses fall at The Chair and The Water Jump combined
- Becher’s is the second most common fence for a horse to fall at, with the First taking the most over the years
- The fastest winning time is eight minutes and forty seven seconds. The slowest is fourteen minutes fifty three seconds
- The largest starting line-up ever was sixty six in 1929
- The most horses that have finished the race is twenty three in 1984
- The average age of the winner since 1990 is 9.9
- The average weight of the winner since 1990 is ten stone nine
- Only three grey horses have ever won the Grand National
- In 2013, £150 million was bet on the National
- Since 1990, the average odds of the winner have been 20/1
- An estimated six hundred million people watch the Grand National around the world. Around three hundred and fifty million watched the Champions League Final in 2016
- The closest finish came in 2012 when Neptune Collonges defied 11st 6lb to beat Sunyhillboy by a nose
- Charlotte Brew was the first female jockey to take part in the race in 1977. Katie Walsh is the most successful after finishing third in 2012
About Aintree & Liverpool
Aintree itself is merely village on the outskirts of Liverpool, about five and a half miles from the city centre. The name is believed to be of Saxon origin and means ‘tree standing alone’, which tells you plenty about the place itself. It’s a perfectly charming location, though there isn’t much to see or experience aside from the racecourse. That’s why most visitors will be interested to hear about the city of Liverpool as an alternate destination.
If Aintree is a quiet village when the horse racing isn’t taking place then the city of Liverpool is quite the opposite. Most famous as the home of the 1960s band The Beatles, Merseyside has so much more to boast about than that. You’ll see plenty of reminders of The Beatles around the city, of course, including the Cavern Club on Matthew Street in the city centre. There’s also a Beatles museum located at the Albert Dock and the Hard Day’s Night Hotel is a must for any enthusiast of the Fab Four.
The Grand National isn’t the only sporting event that takes place in Liverpool, of course. The city boasts the most successful English football club of all time in Liverpool FC, winner of eighteen league titles and five European Cups. Just across the park from their home Anfield is Goodison Park, the ground where Everton Football Club play their games. The Blues have picked up nine league titles in their history, as well as five FA Cups. Liverpool is the definition of a sporting city.
Liverpool’s waterfront has been designated a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. Head down to the River Mersey to see the Three Graces of the Cunard Building, the Port of Liverpool Building and the Liver Building. There are also two famous cathedrals in the city, with the Liverpool Cathedral being the fifth largest in the world. The city’s Chinatown is home to the oldest community of Chinese settlers in Europe and the Chinese arch that is located at its gateway is the tallest outside of mainland China. These are just some of the things that attract more than half a million tourists to the city every year.
How To Get To Aintree Racecourse
The final thing you’ll be interested to know about is how you would go about getting to Aintree Racecourse if you decided that tickets for the Grand National Festival were something you fancied acquiring.
If you want to drive to Aintree then you’ll be looking for the A59. The racecourse is just a mile from the M57 and M58, the motorways that link the M62 and M6. Follow the A59 as though you’re going into Liverpool city centre and as you get closer you’ll begin to spot directional signs for tourists.
Up to 1,800 cars can be housed at the racecourse; though that’s not a huge amount when around 75,000 people will turn up for the Grand National itself! You’ll need to book your parking space in advance if you’re hoping to be one of the lucky ones.
Aintree Train Station is directly opposite the racecourse and can be reached from one of the city’s main stations, Liverpool Central. If you’re heading into the city then the terminal you’ll be getting into is Liverpool Lime Street, which is about a five minute walk or so from Central Station.
Trains run every fifteen minutes or so from Central and take about the same amount of time to complete their journey.
If you want to get the bus to the racecourse but don’t know the Mersey Travel system all that well then your best bet will be to get into the city centre and then find out where you can catch the 300, 310 and 345 buses from. There is a main bus station at Queen Square and another at the shopping centre called Liverpool One.
The city of Liverpool is served by an airport named after one of its most famous sons - John Lennon. There’s a bus that will take you from Liverpool John Lennon Airport to Liverpool South Parkway Train Station, from where you can get a train into the city centre and then on to Aintree.
Leave yourself about an hour to make that journey. It’s twenty minutes from the airport to the racecourse if you’re in a car. It’s an hour in the car from Manchester Airport to Aintree, or you can get a train direct to Liverpool Lime Street.