The Grand National is a National Hunt horse race held annually at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England. First run in 1839, it is a handicap steeplechase over 4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km) with horses jumping 30 fences over two laps. It is the most valuable jump race in Europe, with a prize fund of £1 million in 2016.
The course over which the race is run features much larger fences than those found on conventional National Hunt tracks. Many of these, particularly Becher’s Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn, have become famous in their own right and, combined with the distance of the event, create what has been called “the ultimate test of horse and rider”.
The Grand National has been broadcast live on free-to-air terrestrial television in the United Kingdom since 1960. From then until 2012 it was broadcast by the BBC. Between 2013 and 2016 it was shown by Channel 4; the UK broadcasting rights transfer to ITV from 2017. An estimated 500 to 600 million people watch the Grand National in over 140 countries. It has also been broadcast on radio since 1927; BBC Radio held exclusive rights until 2013, however, Talksport also now holds radio commentary rights. The race is popular amongst many people who do not normally watch or bet on horse racing at other times of the year.
The most recent running of the race, in 2016, was won by Rule The World, ridden by jockey David Mullins for trainer Mouse Morris. The next Grand National is on 8 April 2017.
The Grand National was founded by William Lynn, a syndicate head and proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel, on land he leased in Aintree from William Molyneux, 2nd Earl of Sefton. Lynn set out a course, built a grandstand, and Lord Sefton laid the foundation stone on 7 February 1829. There is much debate regarding the first official Grand National; most leading published historians, including John Pinfold, now prefer the idea that the first running was in 1836 and was won by The Duke. This same horse won again in 1837, while Sir William was the winner in 1838. These races have long been disregarded because of the belief that they took place at Maghull and not Aintree. However, some historians have unearthed evidence in recent years that suggest those three races were run over the same course at Aintree and were regarded as having been Grand Nationals up until the mid-1860s. Contemporary newspaper reports place all the 1836-38 races at Aintree although the 1839 race is the first described as “national”. To date, though, calls for the Nationals of 1836–1838 to be restored to the record books have been unsuccessful. The Duke was ridden by Martin Becher. The fence Becher’s Brook is named after him and is where he fell in the next year’s race.
In 1838 and 1839 three significant events occurred to transform the Liverpool race from a small local affair to a national event. Firstly, the Great St. Albans Chase, which had clashed with the steeplechase at Aintree, was not renewed after 1838, leaving a major hole in the chasing calendar. Secondly, the railway arrived in Liverpool, enabling transport to the course by rail for the first time. Finally, a committee was formed to better organise the event. These factors led to a more highly publicised race in 1839 which attracted a larger field of top quality horses and riders, greater press coverage and an increased attendance on race day. Over time the first three runnings of the event were quickly forgotten to secure the 1839 race its place in history as the first official Grand National. It was won by rider Jem Mason on the aptly named, Lottery
By the 1840s, Lynn’s ill-health blunted his enthusiasm for Aintree. Edward Topham, a respected handicapper and prominent member of Lynn’s syndicate, began to exert greater influence over the National. He turned the chase into a handicap in 1843 after it had been a weight-for-age race for the first four years, and took over the land lease in 1848. One century later, the Topham family bought the course outright.
Later in the century the race was the setting of a thriller by the popular novelist Henry Hawley Smart.
For three years during the First World War, while Aintree Racecourse was taken over by the War Office, an alternative race was run at Gatwick Racecourse, a disused course on land now occupied by Gatwick Airport. The first of these races, in 1916, was called the Racecourse Association Steeplechase, and in 1917 and 1918 the race was called the War National Steeplechase. The races at Gatwick are not always recognised as “Grand Nationals” and their results are often omitted from winners’ lists.
On the day of the 1928 Grand National, before the race had begun, Tipperary Tim’s jockey William Dutton heard a friend call out to him: “Billy boy, you’ll only win if all the others fall down!” These words turned out to be true, as 41 of the 42 starters fell during the race. This year’s National was run during misty weather conditions with the going very heavy. As the field approached the Canal Turn on the first circuit, Easter Hero fell, causing a pile-up from which only seven horses emerged with seated jockeys. By the penultimate fence this number had reduced to three, with Great Span looking most likely to win ahead of Billy Barton and Tipperary Tim. Great Span’s saddle then slipped, leaving Billy Barton in the lead until he too then fell. Although Billy Barton’s jockey Tommy Cullinan managed to remount and complete the race, it was Tipperary Tim who came in first at outside odds of 100/1. With only two riders completing the course, this remains a record for the fewest number of finishers.
Although the Grand National was run as normal in 1940 and most other major horse races around the world were able to be held throughout the war, the commandeering of Aintree Racecourse for defence use in 1941 meant no Grand National could be held from 1941 to 1945.
During the 1950s the Grand National was dominated by Vincent O’Brien, who trained different winners of the race for three consecutive years between 1953 and 1955. Early Mist secured O’Brien’s first victory in 1953
United States Away NGUYEN 16 Jerseys
; Royal Tan won in 1954, and Quare Times completed the Irish trainer’s hat-trick in 1955.
Oh, that’s racing!
The running of the 1956 Grand National witnessed one of the chase’s most bizarre incidents. Devon Loch, owned by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, had cleared the final fence in leading position, five lengths clear of E.S.B. Forty yards from what seemed like certain victory, Devon Loch suddenly, and inexplicably, half-jumped into the air and collapsed in a belly-flop on the turf. Despite efforts by jockey Dick Francis, Devon Loch was unable to complete the race, leaving E.S.B. to cross the finishing line first. Responding to the commiserations of E.S.B.’s owner, the Queen Mother famously commented: “Oh, that’s racing!”
Had Devon Loch completed the race he may have set a new record for the fastest finishing time, which E.S.B. missed by only four-fifths of a second. Many explanations have been offered for Devon Loch’s behaviour on the run-in, but the incident remains inexplicable. In modern language, the phrase “to do a Devon Loch” is sometimes used to describe a last-minute failure to achieve an expected victory.
Rutherfords has been hampered, and so has Castle Falls; Rondetto has fallen, Princeful has fallen, Norther has fallen, Kirtle Lad has fallen, The Fossa has fallen, there’s a right pile-up… And now, with all this mayhem, Foinavon has gone off on his own! He’s about 50, 100 yards in front of everything else!
In the 1967 Grand National, most of the field were hampered or dismounted in a mêlée at the 23rd fence, allowing a rank-outsider, Foinavon, to become a surprise winner at odds of 100/1. A loose horse named Popham Down, who had unseated his rider at the first jump, suddenly veered across the leading group at the 23rd, causing them to either stop, refuse or unseat their riders. Racing journalist Lord Oaksey described the resulting pile-up by saying that Popham Down had “cut down the leaders like a row of thistles”. Some horses even started running in the wrong direction, back the way they had come. Foinavon, whose owner had such little faith in him that he had travelled to Worcester that day instead, had been lagging some 100 yards behind the leading pack, giving his jockey, John Buckingham, time to steer his mount wide of the havoc and make a clean jump of the fence on the outside. Although 17 jockeys remounted and some made up considerable ground, particularly Josh Gifford on 15/2 favourite Honey End, none had time to catch Foinavon before he crossed the finishing line. The 7th/23rd fence was officially named the ‘Foinavon fence’ in 1984.
The 1970s were mixed years for the Grand National. In 1973, eight years after Mrs. Mirabel Topham announced she was seeking a buyer, the racecourse was finally sold to property developer Bill Davies. Davies tripled the admission prices; consequently, the attendance at the 1975 race, won by L’Escargot, was the smallest in living memory. It was after this that bookmaker Ladbrokes made an offer, signing an agreement with Davies allowing them to manage the Grand National.
The crowd are willing him home now. The 12-year-old Red Rum, being preceded only by loose horses, being chased by Churchtown Boy… They’re coming to the elbow, just a furlong now between Red Rum and his third Grand National triumph! It’s hats off and a tremendous reception, you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool… and Red Rum wins the National!
During this period, Red Rum was breaking all records to become the most successful racehorse in Grand National history. Originally bought as a yearling in 1966 for 400 guineas (£420), he passed through various training yards before being bought for 6,000 guineas (£6,300) by Ginger McCain on behalf of Noel le Mare. Two days after the purchase while trotting the horse on Southport beach, McCain noticed that Red Rum appeared lame. The horse was suffering from pedal osteitis, an inflammatory bone disorder. McCain had witnessed many lame carthorses reconditioned by being galloped in sea-water. He successfully used this treatment on his newly acquired racehorse.
Red Rum became, and remains, the only horse to have won the Grand National three times, in 1973, 1974, and 1977. He also finished second in the two intervening years, 1975 and 1976. In 1973, he was in second place at the last fence, 15 lengths behind champion horse Crisp, who was carrying 23 lbs more. Red Rum made up the ground on the run-in and, two strides from the finishing post, he pipped the tiring Crisp to win by three-quarters of a length in what is arguably the most memorable Grand National of all time. Finishing in 9 minutes 1.9 seconds, Red Rum broke the record for fastest completion time of the National which had previously stood since 1934 by Golden Miller. His record was to stand for the next sixteen years.
Two years before the 1981 Grand National, jockey Bob Champion had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and given only months to live by doctors. But by 1981 he had recovered and was passed fit to ride in the Grand National. He rode Aldaniti, a horse deprived in its youth and which had only recently recovered from chronic leg problems. Despite a poor start, the pair went on to win four-and-a-half lengths ahead of the much-fancied Spartan Missile, ridden by amateur jockey and 54-year-old grandfather John Thorne. Champion and Aldaniti were instantly propelled to celebrity status, and within two years, their story had been re-created in the film Champions, starring John Hurt.
From 1984 to 1991, Seagram sponsored the Grand National. The Canadian distiller provided a solid foundation on which the race’s revival could be built, firstly enabling the course to be bought from Davies and to be run and managed by the Jockey Club. It is said that Ivan Straker, Seagram’s UK chairman, became interested in the potential opportunity after reading a passionate newspaper article written by journalist Lord Oaksey, who, in his riding days, had come within three-quarters of a length of winning the 1963 National. The last Seagram-sponsored Grand National was in 1991. Coincidentally, the race was won by a horse named Seagram. Martell, then a Seagram subsidiary, took over sponsorship of the Aintree meeting for an initial seven years from 1992, in a £4 million deal.
The result of the 1993 Grand National was declared void after what commentator Peter O’Sullevan called “the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National.” While under starter’s orders a series of incidents occurred which resulted in one jockey being tangled in the starting tape which had failed to rise correctly. A false start was declared, but lack of communication between course officials meant that 30 out of the 39 jockeys did not realise and began to race. Course officials tried to stop the runners by waving red flags, but many jockeys thought that they were protesters (some had invaded the course earlier) and so continued to race. Peter Scudamore only stopped because he saw his trainer, Martin Pipe, waving frantically at him. Seven horses ran the course in its entirety, forcing a void result. The first past the post of the horses that completed was Esha Ness (in the second-fastest time ever), ridden by John White and trained by Jenny Pitman.
The 1997 Grand National was postponed after two coded bomb threats were received from the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The course was secured by police who then evacuated jockeys, race personnel, and local residents along with 60,000 spectators. Cars and coaches were locked in the course grounds, leaving some 20,000 people without their vehicles over the weekend. With limited accommodation available in the city, local residents opened their doors and took in many of those stranded. This prompted tabloid headlines such as “We’ll fight them on the Becher’s“, in reference to Winston Churchill’s war-time speech. The race was run 48 hours later on the Monday, with the meeting organisers offering 20,000 tickets with free admission.
Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain returned to the Grand National in 2004, 31 years after Red Rum’s epic run-in defeat of Crisp to secure his first of three wins. McCain’s Amberleigh House came home first, ridden by Graham Lee, overtaking Clan Royal on the final straight. Hedgehunter, who would go on to win in 2005, fell at the last while leading. McCain had equalled George Dockeray and Fred Rimell’s record feat of training four Grand National winners.
In 2005 John Smith’s took over from Martell as main sponsors of the Grand National and many of the other races at the three-day Aintree meeting for the first time. In 2006 John Smith’s launched the John Smith’s People’s Race which gave ten members of the public the chance to ride in a flat race at Aintree on Grand National day. In total, thirty members of the public took part in the event before it was discontinued in 2010.
In 2009, Mon Mome became the longest-priced winner of the National for 42 years when he defied outside odds of 100/1 to win by 12 lengths. The victory was also the first for trainer Venetia Williams, the first female trainer to triumph since Jenny Pitman in 1995. The race was also the first National ride for Liam Treadwell.
In 2010 the National became the first horse race to be televised in high-definition in the UK.
In August 2013 Crabbie’s was announced as the new sponsor of the Grand National. The three-year deal between the alcoholic ginger beer producer and Aintree saw the race run for a record purse of £1 million in 2014.
In March 2016 it was announced that Randox Health are to take over from Crabbie’s as officials partners of Aintree’s three-day festival, the highlight of which is the Grand National. The 2016 National was the last sponsored by Crabbie’s.
The Grand National is run over the National Course at Aintree and consists of two laps of 16 fences, the first 14 of which are jumped twice. Horses completing the race cover a distance of 4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km), the longest of any National Hunt race in Britain. As part of a review of safety following the 2012 running of the event, from 2013 to 2015 the start was moved 90 yards (82 m) forward away from the crowds and grandstands, reducing the race distance by 110 yards (100 m) from the historical 4 miles 880 yards (7.242 km). The course is also notable for having one of the longest run-ins from the final fence of any steeplechase, at 494 yards (452 m).
The Grand National was designed as a cross-country steeplechase when it was first officially run in 1839. The runners started at a lane on the edge of the racecourse and raced away from the course out over open countryside towards the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The gates, hedges and ditches that they met along the way were flagged to provide them with the obstacles to be jumped along the way with posts and rails erected at the two points where the runners jumped a brook. The runners returned towards the racecourse by running along the edge of the canal before re-entering the course at the opposite end. The runners then ran the length of the racecourse before embarking on a second circuit before finishing in front of the stands. The majority of the race therefore took place not on the actual Aintree Racecourse but instead in the adjoining countryside. That countryside was incorporated into the modern course but commentators still often refer to it as “the country”.
There are 16 fences on the National Course topped with spruce from the Lake District. The cores of 12 fences were rebuilt in 2012 and they are now made of a flexible plastic material which is more forgiving compared to the traditional wooden cores. They are still topped with at least 14 inches (36 cm) of spruce for the horses to knock off. Some of the jumps carry names from the history of the race. All 16 are jumped on the first lap, but on the final lap the runners bear to the right onto the run-in for home, avoiding The Chair and the Water Jump. The following is a summary of all 16 fences on the course:
Height: 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 m)
Often met at great speed, which can lead to several falls, the highest being 12 runners in 1951. The drop on the landing side was reduced after the 2011 Grand National.
Height: 4 feet 7 inches (1.40 m)
Prior to 1888 the first two fences were located approximately halfway between the first to second and second to third jumps. The second became known as The Fan, after a mare who refused the obstacle three years in succession. The name fell out of favour with the relocation of the fences.
Height: 4 feet 10 inches (1.47 m); fronted by a 6 feet 0 inches (1.83 m) ditch
The first big test in the race as horses are still adapting to the obstacles.
Height: 4 feet 10 inches (1.47 m)
A testing obstacle that often leads to falls and unseated riders. In 2011 the 20th became the first fence in Grand National history to be bypassed on the final lap, following an equine fatality.
Height: 5 feet 0 inches (1.52 m)
A plain obstacle which precedes the most famous fence on the course. It was bypassed on the final lap for the first time in 2012 so that medics could treat a jockey who fell from his mount on the first lap and had broken a leg.
Height: 5 feet 0 inches (1.52 m), with the landing side 6 inches (15 cm) to 10 inches (25 cm) lower than the takeoff side
The drop at this fence often catches runners by surprise. Becher’s has always been a popular vantage point as it can present one of the most spectacular displays of jumping when the horse and rider meet the fence right. Jockeys must sit back in their saddles and use their body weight as ballast to counter the steep drop. It takes its name from Captain Martin Becher who fell there in the first Grand National and took shelter in the small brook running along the landing side of the fence while the remainder of the field thundered over. It is said that Becher later reflected: “Water tastes disgusting without the benefits of whisky.” It was bypassed in 2011 along with fence 20 on the final lap, after an equine casualty.
Height: 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 m)
One of the smallest on the course, it was named in 1984 after the 1967 winner who avoided a mêlée at the fence to go on and win the race at outside odds of 100/1.
Height: 5 feet 0 inches (1.52 m)
Noted for its sharp 90-degree left turn immediately after landing. 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 itself. There was once a ditch before the fence but this was filled in after a mêlée in the 1928 race. It was bypassed for the first time in 2015 on the final lap as vets arrived to treat a horse who fell on the first lap.
Height: 5 feet 0 inches (1.52 m) with a 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 m) brook
The fence was originally known as the Second Brook but was renamed after a horse named Valentine was reputed to have jumped the fence hind legs first in 1840. A grandstand was erected alongside the fence in the early part of the 20th century but fell into decline after the Second World War and was torn down in the 1970s.
Height: 5 feet 0 inches (1.52 m)
A plain obstacle that leads the runners alongside the canal towards two ditches.
Height: 5 feet 0 inches (1.52 m), with a 6 feet 0 inches (1.83 m) ditch on the takeoff side
Height: 5 feet 0 inches (1.52 m), with a 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 m) ditch on the landing side
The runners then cross the Melling Road near to the Anchor Bridge
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, a popular vantage point since the earliest days of the race. This also marks the point where the runners are said to be re-entering the “racecourse proper”. In the early days of the race it is thought there was an obstacle near this point known as the Table Jump, which may have resembled a bank similar to those still seen at Punchestown in Ireland. In the 1840s the Melling Road was also flanked by hedges and the runners had to jump into the road and then back out of it.
Height: 4 feet 7 inches (1.40 m)
A plain obstacle that comes at a point when the runners are usually in a good rhythm and thus rarely causes problems.
Height: 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 m)
The last fence on the final lap and which has often seen very tired horses fall. Despite some tired runners falling at the 30th and appearing injured, no horse deaths have occurred at the 30th fence to date.
On the first lap of the race, runners continue around the course to negotiate two fences which are only jumped once:
Height: 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m), preceded by a 6 ft (1.83 m) wide ditch
This fence is the site of the accident that claimed the only human life in the National’s history: in 1862, Joe Wynne fell here and died from his injuries, although a coroner’s inquest revealed that the rider was in a gravely weakened condition through consumption. This brought about the ditch on the take-off side of the fence in an effort to slow the horses on approach. The fence was the location where a distance judge sat in the earliest days of the race. On the second circuit he would record the finishing order from his position and declare any horse that had not passed him before the previous runner passed the finishing post as “distanced”, meaning a non-finisher. The practise was done away with in the 1850s but the monument where the chair stood is still there. The ground on the landing side is six inches higher than on the takeoff side, creating the opposite effect of the drop at Becher’s. The fence was originally known as the Monument Jump but The Chair came into more regular use in the 1930s. Today it is one of the most popular jumps on the course for spectators.
Height: 2 feet 6 inches (0.76 m)
Originally a stone wall in the very early Nationals. The Water Jump was one of the most popular jumps on the course, presenting a great jumping spectacle for those in the stands and was always a major feature in the newsreels’ coverage of the race. As the newsreels made way for television in the 1960s, so in turn did the Water Jump fall under the shadow of its neighbour, The Chair, in popularity as an obstacle.
On the final lap, after the 30th fence the remaining runners bear right, avoiding The Chair and Water Jump, to head onto a “run-in” to the finishing post. The run-in is not perfectly straight: an “elbow” requires jockeys to make a slight right before finding themselves truly on the home straight. It is on this run-in — one of the longest in the United Kingdom at 494 yards (452 m)— that many potential winners have had victory snatched away, such as Devon Loch in 1956, Crisp in 1973, What’s Up Boys in 2002 and Sunnyhillboy in 2012.
The following table lists the winners of the last ten Grand Nationals:
When the concept of the Grand National was first envisaged it was designed as a race for gentlemen riders, meaning men who were not paid to compete, and while this was written into the conditions of the early races many of the riders who weighed out for the 1839 race were professionals for hire. Throughout the Victorian era the line between the amateur and professional sportsman existed only in terms of the rider’s status, and the engagement of an amateur to ride in the race was rarely considered a handicap to a contender’s chances of winning. Many gentleman riders won the race prior to the First World War.
Although the number of amateurs remained high between the wars their ability to match their professional counterparts gradually receded. After the Second World War it became rare for any more than four or five amateurs to take part in any given year. The last amateur rider to win the race is Marcus Armytage, who (as of 2016) set the still-standing course record of 8:47.8, when winning on Mr Frisk in 1990. By the 21st century however, openings for amateur riders had become very rare with some years passing with no amateur riders at all taking part. Those that do in the modern era are most usually talented young riders who are often close to turning professional. In the past, such amateur riders would have been joined by army officers, such as David Campbell who won in 1896, and sporting aristocrats, farmers or local huntsmen and point to point riders, who usually opted to ride their own mounts. But all these genres of rider have faded out in the last quarter of a century with no riders of military rank or aristocratic title having taken a mount since 1982.
The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made it possible for female jockeys to enter the race. The first female jockey to enter the race was Charlotte Brew on the 200/1 outsider Barony Fort in the 1977 race. The first female jockey to complete the race was Geraldine Rees on Cheers in 1982. The 21st century has not seen a significant increase in female riders but it has seen them gain rides on mounts considered to have a genuine chance of winning. In 2005, Carrie Ford finished fifth on the 8/1 second-favourite Forest Gunner. In 2012, Katie Walsh achieved the best result yet for a female jockey, finishing third on the 8/1 joint-favourite Seabass. In 2015, Nina Carberry became the first female jockey to take a fifth ride in the Grand National, her best placing being seventh in 2010.
Professionals now hold dominance in the Grand National and better training, dietary habits and protective clothing has ensured that riders’ careers last much longer and offer more opportunities to ride in the race. Of the 34 riders who have enjoyed 13 or more rides in the race, 19 had their first ride in the 20th century and 11 had careers that continued into or started in the 21st century. Despite that, the record of 19 rides in the race was set by Tom Olliver back in 1859 and was not equalled until 2014 by A. P. McCoy. Longevity is no guarantee of success, however, as 13 of the 34 never tasted the glory of winning the race. McCoy is the only rider to successfully remove himself from the list after winning at the 15th attempt in 2010. Richard Johnson set a record of 20 failed attempts to win the race from 1997-2016, having finished second twice, but is still competing. The other 12 riders who never won or have not as yet won, having had more than 12 rides in the race are:
Peter Scudamore technically lined up for thirteen Grand Nationals without winning but the last of those was the void race of 1993, which meant that he officially competed in twelve Nationals.
Many other well-known jockeys have failed to win the Grand National. These include champion jockeys such as Terry Biddlecombe, John Francome, Josh Gifford, Stan Mellor, Jonjo O’Neill (who never finished the race) and Fred Rimell. Three jockeys who led over the last fence in the National but lost the race on the run-in ended up as television commentators: Lord Oaksey (on Carrickbeg in 1963), Norman Williamson (on Mely Moss in 2000), and Richard Pitman (on Crisp in 1973). Pitman’s son Mark also led over the last fence, only to be pipped at the post when riding Garrison Savannah in 1991.
For every 1,000 horses taking part in modern steeplechase races, the number of fatalities is just over four, according to the British Horseracing Authority; research by Anglia Ruskin University states the rate is six per 1,000 horses. However, deaths in the Grand National are higher than the average steeplechase, with six deaths per 439 horses between 2000 and 2010. Due to the high number of injuries and deaths suffered by participating horses, animal rights groups have campaigned to have the race modified or abolished.
Over the years, Aintree officials have worked in conjunction with animal welfare organisations to reduce the severity of some fences and to improve veterinary facilities. In 2008, a new veterinary surgery was constructed in the stable yard which has two large treatment boxes, an X-ray unit, video endoscopy, equine solarium, and sandpit facilities. Further changes in set-up and procedure allow vets to treat horses more rapidly and in better surroundings. Those requiring more specialist care can be transported by specialist horse ambulances, under police escort, to the nearby Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital at the University of Liverpool at Leahurst. A mobile on-course X-ray machine assists in the prompt diagnosis of leg injuries when horses are pulled up, and oxygen and water are available by the final fence and finishing post. Five vets remain mobile on the course during the running of the race and can initiate treatment of injured fallers at the fence. Additional vets are stationed at the pull-up area, finishing post, and in the surgery.
Some of the National’s most challenging fences have also been modified, while still preserving them as formidable obstacles. After the 1989 Grand National, in which two horses died in incidents at Becher’s Brook, Aintree began the most significant of its modifications to the course. The brook on the landing side of Becher’s was filled in and, after the 2011 race which also saw an equine fatality at the obstacle, the incline on the landing side was levelled out and the drop on was reduced by between 4 and 5 inches (10–13 cm) to slow the runners. Other fences have also been reduced in height over the years, and the entry requirements for the race have been made stricter. Screening at the Canal Turn now prevents horses being able to see the sharp left turn and encourages jockeys to spread out along the fence, rather than take the tight left-side route. Additionally, work has been carried out to smooth the core post infrastructure of the fences with protective padding to reduce impact upon contact, and the height of the toe-boards on all fences has been increased to 14 inches (36 cm). These orange-coloured boards are positioned at the base of each fence and provide a clear ground line to assist horses in determining the base of the fence.
Parts of the course were widened in 2009 to allow runners to bypass fences if required. This was utilised for the first time during the 2011 race as casualties at fences 4 and 6 (Becher’s Brook) resulted in marshals diverting the remaining contenders around those fences on the final lap.
Welfare groups have suggested a reduction in the size of the field (currently limited to a maximum of 40 horses) should be implemented. Opponents point to previous unhappy experience with smaller fields such as only 29 runners at the 1954 Grand National, only 31 runners in 1975, and a fatality each at the 1996 and 1999 Nationals despite smaller fields, and the possible ramifications in relation to the speed of such races in addition to recent course modifications (part of the “speed kills” argument).
Some within the horseracing community, including those with notable achievements in the Grand National such as Ginger McCain and Bob Champion, have argued that the lowering of fences and the narrowing of ditches, primarily designed to increase horse safety, has had the adverse effect by encouraging the runners to race faster. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Grand National saw a total of 12 horses die (half of which were at Becher’s Brook); in the next 20-year period from 1990 to 2010, when modifications to the course were most significant, there were 17 equine fatalities. The 2011 and 2012 races each yielded two deaths, including one each at Becher’s Brook. In 2013, when further changes were made to introduce a more flexible fence structure, there were no fatalities in the race itself although two horses died in run-up races over the same course. There have been no equine fatalities in the main Grand National race since 2012, however the animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports counts the number of horse deaths over the three-day meeting from the year 2000 to 2013 at 40.
In 2009, the race sponsors John Smith’s launched a poll to determine five personalities to be inducted into the inaugural Grand National Legends initiative. The winners were announced on the day of the 2010 Grand National and inscribed on commemorative plaques at Aintree. They were:
A panel of experts also selected three additional legends:
In 2011, nine additional legends were added:
John Smith’s also added five “people’s legends” who were introduced on Liverpool Day, the first day of the Grand National meeting. The five were:
A public vote announced at the 2012 Grand National saw five more additions to the Legends hall:
The selection panel also inducted three more competitors:
In the 70 races of the post-war era (excluding the void race in 1993), the favourite or joint-favourite have only won the race nine times (in 1950, 1960, 1973, 1982, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2008 and 2010), and have failed to complete the course in 37 Nationals.
Since its inception, 13 mares have won the race:
Three greys have won:
Since 1977, women have ridden in 20 Grand Nationals. Geraldine Rees became the first to complete the course, in 1982. In 2012 Katie Walsh became the first female jockey to earn a placed finish in the race, finishing third.
The 1900 winner Ambush II was owned by HRH Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII. In 1950 Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother had her first runner in the race in Monaveen, who finished fifth. Six years later she would witness her Devon Loch collapse on the run-in, just yards from a certain victory.
The favourite for the 1968 race, Different Class, was owned by actor Gregory Peck.
The 1963 winner Ayala and the 1976 winner Rag Trade were both part-owned by celebrity hairdresser Raymond Bessone.
1994 winner Miinnehoma was owned by comedian Freddie Starr.
What A Friend ran in 2011 and 2013 when part-owned by Alex Ferguson, the former manager of Manchester United.