The Grand National is considered one of the world’s greatest horse races. Held annually at England’s Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool, the Randox Grand National 2017 will be held on April 8. Originally run in 1839, this handicap steeplechase stretches for over four miles, with horses and jockeys jumping a variety of 30 fences, over two laps.
The Grand National is Europe’s most valuable jump race and by 2014 the prize fund had reached a staggering £1million. This prominent event is symbolic of British culture, with the race being popular with those who do not normally follow horse racing or bet on races. Steeped in history, with stories ranging from romantic to bizarre, the steeplechase has made headlines year after year and it continues to attract crowds and spectators to this exciting and often dramatic event.
It is estimated that around 600 million people tune in to watch the Grand National, from over 140 countries across the globe. Around 9 million viewers are from the UK. It has been broadcast on British television since 1960, and on the radio since 1927.
Known by many as the ‘ultimate test of horse and rider’, the Grand National course differs to that of other National Hunts in that it is over a longer distance and features much larger fences. Many of these, such as The Chair, Valentine’s, Becher’s Brook and the Canal Turn have become famous, due to their fear-inducing, challenging nature.
Here are some more interesting facts about this enthralling race:
- First race
The very first Grand National ran in 1839 and the winner was a horse named ‘Lottery’. His odds were 5-1. Jem Mason, the jockey, was known for his ‘exquisite’ style and dress sense. Lottery ended his days pulling carts in North London.
- Race founder
Publican of Liverpool’s Waterloo Hotel, William Lynn was responsible for founding the race, eventually creating the Waterloo Cup to help drum up business.
- Winning times
The winning time for the first Grand National was 14 minutes and 23 seconds. The fastest ever winning time was achieved in 1990 by Mr. Frisk, completing the course in 8 minutes, 48.7 seconds.
In 1939, Captain Martin Becher was known as one of the country’s best cross-country riders. While disputing his lead during the race, his horse Conrad, slammed on the brakes at the first ditch. Becher was launched into the filthy ditch and famously commented that ‘water tasted better with brandy’.
- Aintree racecourse
The Aintree racecourse is named after an ancient Viking settlement, where every tree was felled apart from one, giving the name ‘Ain Tree’.
- Number of competitors
In 1929, 66 horses started the race. This was the greatest number at any Grand National to date. Numbers are now capped at 40 and horses travel at an average speed of 30mph.
- First female
The first female jockey to race in the Grand National was Charlotte Brew on Barony Fort in 1977. She was given a 200/1 chance of winning. The horse finished its race at the 26th fence.
- Most successful female
Katie Walsh is the most successful female jockey at the Grand National. With odds of 8/1, she rode Seabass to third place in 2012.
- Famous fences
Famous fences include The Chair, which is a mighty 5ft 2in tall, and Becher’s Brook where the famous Captain Martin Becher took shelter after being thrown from his horse during the first ever race.
- Young and old horses
The oldest winner was Peter Simple in 1853 at the impressive age of 15. He was of course, the horse, not the jockey. The average age of winning horses is 9, with horses as young as 5 years old winning 5 times.
- Young and old jockeys
The oldest jockey to win the race was Dick Saunders in 1982, at the age of 47. The youngest winning jockey, Bruce Hobbs was just 17 years old when he took the title in 1938, on his horse Battleship. The oldest rider to complete the challenging course was Tim Durant at the age of 68 - he was a stunt rider for old ‘Westerns’.
- Completing the race
In 1928, 41 horses began the race, but only 2 finished. The winning jockey was an amateur called William Dutton, riding Tipperary Tim. A friend had called out to him before the race ‘Billy boy, you’ll only win if all the others fall!’. How fortunate for him that all the others fell that day!
- Red Rum
Red Rum holds the title for most successful horse, as three-time winner of the Grand National, taking the trophy in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also came second in 1975 and 1976. Red Rum was ceremoniously buried at the winning post.
- Unlikely but true
Remarkable but true - in 1855, Sam Darling fell from his horse and was knocked out. The following horse kicked him in the head and revived him.
- Racehorse names
Many racehorses take their name from their dam and sire. The most famous being Mared and Quorum’s young, Red Rum.
- Aintree consumption
Attendees at Aintree have the choice of 80 bars to purchase their drinks from, and race-goers will typically down 38,000 vodka shots, 250,000 pints and 5,000 cocktails during the three-day Grand National event. It is also expected they’ll consume 75,000 cups of coffee and tea and 3,500 lamb rumps.
- 170th Grand National
The Grand National 2017 will be the 170th race. Races were cancelled in 1993 due to a false start and during the First and Second World Wars.
- Current title holder
Last year’s race (2016) was won by Rule the World, ridden by David Mullins.
- What are the odds?
The shortest-priced horse to win the race was Poethlyn in 1919 at 11/4. Five outsiders at 100/1 have won the Grand National: in 1928 Tipperary Tim, in 1929 Gregalach, in 1947 Caughoo, in 1967 Foinavon and in 2009 Mon Mome took home the coveted prize.
- New sponsors Randox Health
In 2016, Randox Health took over the sponsorship of the event from Crabbie’s. 2017 will be the first ‘Randox’ Grand National Hunt with prize funds remaining at the £1 million mark. That was set by Crabbie’s in 2013, when they took over sponsorship from John Smith’s.
- Fence facts
Cores of the fences on the racecourse were rebuilt in 2012, and are now made from plastic which is flexible and more forgiving than the original wooden core fences. They are topped with around 36cm of Lake District spruce. All 16 fences are jumped on the first circuit, but on the second and final circuit, horses bear right onto a run-in for the winning post, avoiding the fences ‘The Chair’ and the ‘Water Jump’.
- Vets and animal welfare
Aintree officials constantly work in conjunction with organisations in animal welfare to improve veterinary facilities and reduce the severity of certain fences. Five vets are on course and mobile during the race to provide treatment for injured horses or those that fall at the fences. Additional vets are on hand in the surgery, finishing post and pull-up area.
- 150th race run on a Monday
In 1997, the officially titled ‘Martell Grand National’ became unofficially known as the ‘Monday Grand National’. The race was originally scheduled for the Saturday, but eventually ran on the Monday, due to an IRA bomb threat that resulted in an evacuation of the course. The 150th race was won by Lord Gyllene, ridden by Tony Dobbin at odds of 14/1. This race coincided with the 50th and final commentary from Sir Peter O’Sullevan for the BBC.
- Sir Tony McCoy
The jockey Sir Anthony (Tony or A.P.) McCoy is the most experienced rider in Grand National history. He competed in 20 races, the last in 2015, with his one and only win in 2010, on Don’t Push It. Later that year, the Northern Irish jockey was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and in 2016 he was awarded a knighthood.