by ANNIE DALE EVEN if you’re not a fan of racing, there’s no doubt that you have heard of the Grand National. It’s one of the most prestigious and iconic races in the racing calendar and thousands of people flock to Aintree Racecourse each year to witness the greatest race in the calendar.
Racehorses become legends at Aintree, with horses like Mon Mome, One For Arthur and in particular Red Rum, all having defied the odds to race home to glory in what is a special occasion in racing. But what is it that makes the Grand National so special? Let’s take a look.
Aintree Racecourse has built up a fearsome reputation over the years for being one of the toughest in the United Kingdom. Despite the race being reduced in distance, it is the longest race in the UK at four miles, two and a half furlongs; but what makes this race equally as fearsome are the fences on the course.
There are 16 steeplechase fences, each with their own intimidating qualities. The Chair stands as the biggest fence on the course at 5’2” and is infamous for being the only fence to have claimed a human life, when in 1862, jockey Joe Wynne fell and passed away from his injuries.
Becher’s Brook is another famous fence and gets its name from Captain Martin Becher, who fell at this fence in the first Grand National, taking shelter in the small brook in order to avoid being hit by the rest of the field.
In order to be successful on this famous course, horses need to have the speed, stamina and jumping ability.
Anyone can win
The great thing about this race in particular, is that literally any horse can win it. It doesn’t matter if you’re the 6/4 favourite or the 100/1 long shot, the course and conditions can swing the race in your favour if you’re fortunate enough.
There have been five occasions when the 100/1 outsider has gone on to win the race: Tipperary Tim in 1928, Gregalach in 1929, Caughoo in 1947, Foinavon in 1967 and most recently, Mon Mome in 2009.
Should the favourites make a mistake on the course, expect it to be punished. These mistakes can prove costly to most of the field, so don’t be surprised if a long shot capitalises on a pile-up.
Being a part of history
The course is renowned for hosting some of the greatest ever races, and this forms part of the allure of the Grand National. People flock from all over the country in the hope that the race they’re going to watch will go down in racing folklore.
Take Red Rum’s first and third victories. In 1973, Red Rum performed one of the greatest comebacks ever, having been some 30 lengths behind the leader Crisp. Even at the last fence, Crisp was 15 lengths clear of Red Rum, but Rummy managed to seize on a tiring Crisp and clinch victory by three-quarters of a length.
His 1977 victory, while less intense, was just as historic. Red Rum didn’t take the lead until the 22nd fence, however, he steadily increased his lead over the remainder of the course and finished 25 lengths clear of second-placed Churchtown Boy. This victory meant that Red Rum was the first ever horse to win three Grand Nationals, a record which stands to this day.