Race & Course Guide
Aintree has been the home of the Grand National since its first running in 1839, and although a version of the race took place in years prior to this, 1839 is the accepted date of the official commencement of The Grand National.
Since those early days the course and fences have undergone many changes. Most recently the wooden stakes at the core of the fences have been replaced with flexible plastic to reduce the risk of horses and jockeys getting injured. The starting line has also moved further away from the main stand as this helps the horses remain calmer in the moments before the off.
These changes haven't effected the essence of the race, which still remains the one of the toughest tests of horse and rider in the world. Forty horses line up at the starting tape and around 60% of the entrants will not complete the race, which is four and a half miles long and has 30 fences to jump.
Aintree is the home of the Grand National and apart from a couple of years during the first world war, the race has always taken place at the course, which is located just five miles from the centre of Liverpool. Well served by public transport and a train station, the course is modern and offers a wide range of facilities. The Grand National is just one of many race meetings that take place during the National Hunt season although not all meetings and races are run over the National course.
Getting to Aintree is very easy from all parts of the United Kingdom. Liverpool has excellent rail links, motorway access and is served by John Lennon Airport. Queues on the day of the Grand National can build up on the roads surrounding the course but this is to be expected for such a popular sporting occasion. Around 70,000 racing fans will watch the race live making it one of the biggest sporting events in the calendar.
The Grand National course is 4 miles and 4 furlongs long. The horses encounter 16 different fences with varying degrees of height and width. Riders must navigate two circuits of the course (missing out fences 15 & 16 on the second circuit) before turning for the home straight which is the longest run-in of any UK racecourse.
The Grand National is the longest race in the UK but it's the difficulty of the fences that provide the real challenge to horse and rider. Just a mention of the fences Becher's Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn make a jockey's blood run cold.
Often called the ‘Original Extreme Sport' steeplechase races originated in Ireland. Legend has it that the first race was between Cornelius O'Callaghan and Edmund Blake as they raced from Buttevant Church to St. Leger Church, or from steeple to steeple, hence the term steeplechase. Those original cross country races are now replicated on racecourses across England and Ireland. However, the Aintree course is arguably the toughest of all. Jockeys no longer have to jump a stone wall at Aintree or cross the ploughed field, but the water jumps, brooks and ditches still feature on many of its fences.
Few races can claim to have famous fences, maybe with the exception of the infamous ‘Taxis' fence in the Velká Pardubická, no other race can rival the Grand National for fearsome jumps.
Of the 16 fences which make up the National course six of the jumps have become famous in their own right. Becher's Brook, Valentines' Brook, The Chair, Canal Turn and Foinavon are names which are known throughout the world. These fences are woven into the very fabric of the Grand National race.
Becher's Brook is the the 6th and 22nd fence in the Grand National. Standing at 4ft 10 inches the fence has a fearsome reputation due to the fact that the landing side of the fence is 10 inches lower than the take off side. Jockeys have compared it to “jumping off the edge of the world.”
The fence takes its name from Captain Martin Becher, one of the Grand National pioneers and keen jockey. Becher fell at this fence and hid in the brook to avoid injury from the horses still jumping the fence
Valentine's Brook is fence 9 & 25 and is named after the horse who reputedly jumped the fence backwards in 1840. Although it's more likely the horse pirouetted which gave the appearance of him jumping hind legs first.
In many ways the fence is like Becher's Brook only less severe and it accounts for around 2% of all fallers in the race.
At 5ft 3in The Chair (fence 15) is the tallest fence in the Grand National. Horses must also clear a 6ft ditch on the takeoff side, with the landing side being 6in higher than the takeoff side.
Although most horses successfully navigate this fence it has claimed two jockeys lives. In 1862 Joseph Wynne was fatally injuried during the Grand National and in 1872 George Ede died at the fence, albeit in a different race.
The fence was originally known as the Monument Jump and it is one of only two fences which are navigated once by the riders, the other being the Water Jump.
One of the smaller fences in the race, Foinavon is named after the 100/1 shot who avoided a mass pile-up here in 1967 and went on to win the race. Officially fence 7 & 23, Foinavon is just 4ft 6in and apart from 1967 rarely does this fence trouble the jockeys. It accounts for just 2% of fallers.
The Canal Turn has been the scene of many a pile-ups over the years. Horses that refuse to jump this fence can interfere with other runners. Any jockey who decides to cut the corner also runs the risk of sliding out of the saddle.
Before the First World War it was not uncommon for loose horses to continue straight ahead after the jump and end up in the Leeds and Liverpool Canal!
Officially fence 8 & 24, it accounts for around 5% of race fallers and stands at 5ft.
Tickets for the Grand National are available to buy online at aintree.co.uk, prices range from £20 all the way up to £600 for corporate hospitality packages. You are advised to book early as the last two Grand National meetings have sold out completely. Tickets in popular parts of the course are snapped up months before the race is due to take place.
Visit the official Grand National racecourse website where you can buy tickets for the 2018 race.