Grand National & Aintree Festival 2020: Betting Tips, Stats & History

Aintree Racecourse Grandstands

The Grand National is widely regarded as one of the biggest and best races in the world. The race itself attracts a worldwide audience of over 600 million, which in itself is virtually unrivalled. But, the race is a part of a bigger meeting in the Grand National Festival, which is often overlooked due to scale of the single main event.

The venue for it all is Aintree Racecourse, which is in Liverpool, England. The meeting lasts over 3 days, starting on the Thursday and concluding on the Saturday, with the feature racing taking place on the final day. The National has been run since 1839 and is now a part of the British sporting calendar, attracting massive of horse racing fans and people who aren’t particularly interested in the sport alike.

Grand National Festival Betting Tips For 2019

After a cracking 2019 Cheltenham Festival and ahead of the new flat racing season, we have one of the greatest sporting events of the year: the Grand National. But look beyond the big race itself at Aintree and you will find a top class National Hunt meeting that is packed full of great races that will get the pulses racing and, hopefully, the wallets bulging!

Here we run through all the biggest races to watch and bet on during the three day Grand National Festival. So let’s get stuck in and prepare ourselves for what is all set up to be another fantastic jumps meeting.

Jump To: Day 1 Tips (Thursday) Day 2 Tips (Friday) Day 3 Tips (Saturday)

Jason Maguire on Ballabriggs at the Grand National
Henry Hemming, flickr

Day One – Thursday 4th April 2019
Grand National Thursday

Time Race Grade / Length Tip
13:45 Manifesto Novices’ Chase Grade 1 / 2m 4f Kalashnikov
14:20 Doom Bar Juvenile Hurdle Grade 1 / 2m 1f Pentland Hills
14:50 Betway Bowl Grade 1 / 3m 1f Clan Des Obeaux
15:25 Aintree Hurdle Grade 1 / 2m 4f Faugheen
16:05 Foxhunters’ Open Chase Class 2 / 2m 5f Ucello Conti
16:40 Red Rum Handicap Grade 3 / 2m Diego Du Charmil
17:15 Mares’ NHF Race Grade 2 / 2m 1f Miss Heritage

The Saturday at this ever-popular meeting will of course occupy the majority of the attention of the general public. But for racing purists the opening day provides just as much to savour. Featuring no fewer than four Grade 1 events, which look set to see the return to the track of a number of the Cheltenham contenders, Day 1 starts the Grand National Meeting with a bang.

Devenish Manifesto Novices’ Chase

It is straight into the Grade 1 action as a field of the most promising novice chasers in the business take to the track in our opener, with the Warren Greatrex-trained mare, Le Bague Au Roi currently heading the market. This one gave Cheltenham a miss, but earlier beat both Topofthegame and Santini at Kempton, and with those two finishing first and second in the RSA Chase, her form looks rock solid.

Glen Forsa and Kalashnikov did go to Cheltenham, but connections may well be wishing they hadn’t as things certainly didn’t go the way of either in this year’s Arkle; Glen Forsa unseating at the fourth and Kalashnikov getting a little further when unshipping his rider at the sixth. Glen Forsa in particular had looked a real chaser to follow this season, and both will be bidding for compensation stepping up in trip here.

Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle

This looks a real cracker, and a race which will go someway towards putting the best of this season’s novice hurdle form into some kind of order.

Joseph O’Brien’s Band Of Outlaws was so impressive in landing the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle that he is being touted as a potential handicap hurdle contender in some quarters. He heads the betting, but only narrowly from Nicky Henderson’s Triumph Hurdle hero, Pentland Hills. Fakir D’oudairies represents the Supreme Novice Hurdle form, having finished a solid fourth in the Cheltenham Festival opener. If there is to be a fly in the ointment it seems most likely to be the unbeaten Christopher Wood from the yard of Paul Nicholls.

Betway Bowl Chase

Race three may be short on numbers – with just the six set to go to post – but it certainly doesn’t lack in terms of quality. All six ran at the Cheltenham Festival, with four of the runners heading here following an effort in the Gold Cup itself.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Bristol De Mai fared best of those Gold Cup runners, having finished a gallant third, but it is the fifth placed Clan Des Obeaux who looks to be the popular one with the punters, with the shorter trip and flatter track here expected to suit.

A three-pronged Irish assault on the race is headed by the Willie Mullins runner, Kemboy. It all went wrong early at Cheltenham for this one as he unseated at the very first fence in the Gold Cup, but on the plus side he arrives fresher than many, and had previously looked mightily impressive when scorching away with the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

Betway Aintree Hurdle

The showpiece event of the week for the hurdlers up next. Two-time Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air took this back in 2017 and, having come down early in his bid for a Champion Hurdle hat-trick, returns for another crack at the prize. Undoubtedly the most talented runner in the line-up, will his heart in the mouth jumping hold up here?

Chief amongst the opposition are this year’s Champion Hurdle runner up, Melon, and Faugheen who showed there’s a bit of life in the old dog yet when finishing a solid third in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Even the rank outsiders perhaps shouldn’t be dismissed entirely, with Ch’tibello having landed the County Hurdle last time out, Summerville Boy claiming Supreme Novices’ Hurdle glory in 2018 and Verdana Blue lowering the colours of Buveur D’Air at Kempton over Christmas.

Day Two – Friday 5th April 2019
Ladies Day

Time Race Grade / Length Tip
13:45 Merseyrail Handicap Hurdle Grade 3 / 2m 4f Canardier
14:20 Top Novices’ Hurdle Grade 1 / 2m ½f Itchy Feet
14:50 Mildmay Novices’ Chase Grade 1 / 3m 1f Lostintranslation
15:25 JLT Melling Chase Grade 1 / 2m 4f Waiting Patiently
16:05 Topham Chase Grade 3 / 2m 5f Theatre Territory
16:40 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle Grade 1 / 3m ½f Champ
17:15 Weatherbys NHF Race Grade 2 / 2m 1f Santa Rossa

If there is one day at this meeting where the action off the track threatens to match that on it, it is Day Two’s, “Ladies Day”. With the Prosecco flowing as Liverpool’s finest come out in their droves, past experience tells us there may be more fallers in the stands than at the fences here. Turning back to the racing though, the Grade 1 fare continues apace in addition to a fine appetizer for the Grand National, with the excellent Topham Chase.

Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle

The opening Grade 1 event on Day 2 is effectively the Aintree equivalent of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The Willie Mullins-trained Supreme winner Klassical Dream looks set to head elsewhere, but the multiple Irish champion trainer does look set to send Aramon over. He shouldn’t be dismissed on ground which ought to suit him much better than when sixth at Cheltenham.

It is perhaps the home team who look to boast the strongest hand here though. Olly Murphy has always held Itchy Feet in high regard, and this admirable battler of a horse justified that opinion when third in the Supreme last time. He looks to have solid prospects of going two places better in what doesn’t look quite so hot a race. Nicky Henderson’s Precious Cargo looks a chasing star of the future, but is two from two over hurdles to date and rates another intriguing contender.

Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase

The banker for many punters on the second day will come in this 3m1f chase contest. Paul Nicholl’s giant of a horse Topofthegame picked a good time to land the first chase of his career when seeing off Santini and Delta Work in the RSA Chase last time out. Looking every inch a Gold Cup contender for next season, he bids to continue his progression with a win here and may well prove tough to beat.

With Santini looking to be done for the season and Le Bague Au Roi being aimed at the Manifesto Chase, the biggest challenge to the favourite may well come from Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation. As solid and consistent as they come, this one arrives on the back of a fine second to Defi Du Seuil in the JLT Novices’ Chase and looks highly likely to be suited by this step up in trip.

JLT Chase

A little of the gloss may have been taken off this race as the both the mighty Altior and impressive Cyrname now look set to head to Sandown instead, but there are still plenty of classy contenders left in the line-up.

Paul Nicholls’ Politologue won the race last season and returns to defend his crown on the back of what looked a career best effort when runner up in the Champion Chase last time out.

A neck behind Politologue here 12 months ago was the Willie Mullins runner Min, and he looks set to head up the opposition once gain. Having looked in fine fettle when landing back to back Grade 1’s over in Ireland, he then seemed to forget how to jump when well beaten in the Champion Chase last time out. The best horse in the race on ratings meanwhile is Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently who looks to bounce back having been slammed by Cyrname recently

Topham Chase

It’s not the classiest race on the Friday card, but for many this will be the most anticipated contest of the day, as the runners line up to tackle those famous Grand National fences.

We had a three-time winner of this between 2010 and 2012 in the form of Always Waning, and we may have another this year, with the Colin Tizzard trained 2017 and 2018 champ, Ultragold, prominent in the betting once again. A tilt at the big one on Saturday has been mentioned, but he is a must for the shortlist should connections opt for this race.

Theatre Territory who will likely be the mount of Aintree specialist Sam Waley-Cohen, the talented Janika from the yard of Nicky Henderson, and Call It Magic, who ran a really eye-catching race in the Becher Chase over these obstacles, are others who look likely to go well.

Day Three – Saturday 6th April 2018
Grand National Day

Time Race Grade / Length Tip
13:45 Gaskells Handicap Hurdle Grade 3 / 3m ½f Poker Play
14:25 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle Grade 1 / 2m 4f Angels Breath
15:00 Maghull Novices’ Chase Grade 1 / 2m Lalor
15:40 Ryanair Stayers Hurdle Grade 1 / 3m ½f Sam Spinner
16:20 Betway Handicap Chase Grade 3 / 3m 1f Kildisart
17:15 Grand National Grade 3 / 4m 2½f Vintage Clouds
18:20 Masons Handicap Hurdle Class 2 / 2m ½f Chief Justice

It’s unusual for a race card featuring three Grade 1 contests to be almost solely about a Grade 3 Handicap, but then not all Grade 3 Handicaps are the Grand National. The exploits over Becher’s Brook, The Chair, Foinavon and Valentines will of course grab the headlines, but there’s much more to the third and final day of this excellent meeting.

Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle

We have a Grade 1 triple-header in the build up to the greatest chase on planet earth, with the Novice Hurdler’s kicking off proceedings in this contest. With a number of those towards the head of the betting seeming more likely to head elsewhere – the likes of Champ and Emitom – we fancy the Olly Murphy runner Brewin’upastorm may well start favourite on the day, following a solid fourth in the Ballymore last time out.

Another for the shortlist is Nicky Henderson’s Angel’s Breath, who wasn’t far off being the most touted novice in training at the start of the season. He didn’t quite cut the mustard at two miles, but perhaps this step up in trip will see him in a better light. Of those at bigger prices, the Harry Fry runner Winston C appears to be improving at a rate of knots and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase

With many of this year’s Arkle contenders opting to step up in trip for the opening day’s Manifesto Novices’ Chase, this race has a wide open look to it. Lalor appeared top class when winning at this meeting last year, and was then close to brilliant when routing the opposition in the Arkle Trial at Cheltenham. He will likely be popular for Kayley Woollacott but has bombed out badly on his past two starts now.

Ornua and Knocknanuss will likely make a bold bid from the front and could go close if their jumping holds up, whilst Us And Them will surely get his nose in front sooner rather than later for Joseph O’Brien having finished second on each of his four most recent starts. A tough race to call overall.

Ryanair Stayers Hurdle

The week’s big event for the stamina laden hurdlers has added intrigue this year, as Gordon Elliott’s brilliant mare, Apple’s Jade, now has this as her only remaining entry of the week. Ten times a winner in Grade 1 company – including twice at this distance – her only previous start at the track resulted in a 41-length demolition job back in 2016. If she is over whatever was bothering her at Cheltenham, she looks sure to go well.

Heading the charge for the home team, and ready and waiting to expose any chinks in the favourite is the Jedd O’Keeffe runner, Sam Spinner. Following a spell in the doldrums this one bounced right back with a fine second in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last time out and will likely attempt to make all here.

Randox Health Grand National

Can he do it? That’s the question on everyone’s lips headed into the 2019 Grand National. Can Tiger Roll become the first horse since Red Rum to successfully defend his Grand National crown? Priced at just 7/2 with bet365, the verdict of the majority of punters seems to be that, yes he most certainly can. He does have a 9lb higher mark to contend with this year, but was sensational last time out at Cheltenham and it’s almost impossible to knock his credentials. As ever though, the potential rivals to the market leader are plentiful, in the race many owners, trainers, and jockeys covet above all others

Anibale Fly heads the weights, but following an excellent second place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup is still 6lbs well in on the handicap, and will be fancied by many to better his fourth placed finish from 2018. 2017 champ One For Arthur bids to rediscover his form at the scene of his finest hour, whilst Rathvinden, Lake View Lad and Vintage Clouds all ran eye-catching trials for the race last time out.

Looking further down the list, Gordon Elliott’s Jury Duty and the Mark Bradstock runner Step Back look to be coming in for decent support, and seem to be the names coming out of a few preview nights.

Whether you are backing the favourite to take his place amongst the true legends of the game, or are on one at bigger odds to tear up the script, the 2019 edition of this most famous of races looks all set to provide a vintage renewal.

The Race Format of the Grand National

View of Aintree Racecourse

The course has almost become a celebrity in its own right, with many punters recognising the name of fences and sections of the track that are being navigated at any one time. It’s a gruelling course that they have to run at over 4 miles 2 furlongs, making it the longest National Hunt race in the UK.

Whilst the length of the race is monstrous, even in steeplechasing terms, it’s the 30 times that horses are asked to jump over fences that really sorts the men from the boys. In total, there are actually only 16 fences, with the first 14 of these fences being jumped twice throughout the race.

An interesting fact about the race is that for many years it was run over 4 miles 856 yards, but from 2013 the start was actually moved forward 90 yards in order to keep the start away from the grandstand and thousands of punters. It was decided that this would make it easier to first of all calm the horses before the race, but also for the jockeys to hear instructions from the starters about when the race would start. On top of that, after the horses have jumped over the final fence, the run in to home is one of the longest in the game, measuring a massive 494 yards.

When the race first started in 1839 and even for many years after, to accommodate the size of the race and length of the track, the majority of the race wasn’t actually run on the main racecourse. Instead, they would have to navigate the cross-country style, with markers and posts signifying where they need to run. The canal that runs adjacent to the course was used a reference point for the track, before then re-entering the course for the final section.

Today, the cross-country section is now part of Aintree racecourse, but many of the old-school commentators and people within the industry still refer to sections of the course as “the country”.

Handicapping

Horse with Saddle

Handicapping has a major role in all horse racing, but probably more so in the Grand National than any other. The bottom line is that all horses must be at 10 stone or above. So, even if they were weighed in at 9st 5lb, they would still be given the extra weight to make the minimum.

It’s the role of the handicapper (in the case of the Grand National it is Phil Smith) to try and make the race as fair a fight as possible. This means that he needs to take into consideration a horses form, the ground, previous performances on that track and other factors. By doing this he then adds weight to certain horses to try and make it as even as possible. Whilst impossible, his goal is to make it so all horses cross the line at the same time, just to give you an idea of what he’s trying to achieve.

The race is limited to 40 entrants, but in reality, there are hundreds of horses that might have been put forward to race each year. The application process starts around 2 months prior to the start of the race in February. A process that’s called ‘scratching’ occurs in the weeks leading up, which basically means the organisers or even trainers decide to remove horses from the running.

As the race gets nearer, the handicapping committee will start to step in and look at a number of key factors shown in the table below.

Grand National Racehorse Entry Criteria

Criteria Details
Age Horses must be aged 7 or older
Form 3 or more recognised chase runs with a top 4 finish in a 3 mile+ chase
Rating Must be rated at 120 or higher by the British Horseracing Authority

These guidelines are mainly in place for the safety of the horses and to prevent novice horses from partaking in what is essentially the toughest race in the world. But, even if horses do meet these guidelines, there is still no guarantee that they will gain entry, with the handicapper having the final say in who will make the final 40.

You may also find that the race starts with fewer entrants than the 40 advertised. This is usually down to horses pulling out in the days or even hours before a race, usually down to injury or not suiting the current ground for the race.

The final declaration for the race will be held 2 days prior to the start of the race. This is why that in the days or weeks leading up to the race you may see betting markets with more than 40 horses to choose from as basically it hasn’t been finalised who will be running.

The Fences

Aintree Racecourse and Fence

Over the 175+ years that the Grand National has been running, there are many famous aspects to the race that people remember, but few are as iconic as their fences. There are very few races, if any, that non horseracing fans would be able to name famous horses, let alone famous fences, but that’s why the Grand National is so special.

From the 16 fences that they need to navigate and the 30 jumps in total that the horses need to make, there are no easy obstacles. The horses and jockeys need to be at their limits for each, which is why it’s one of the greatest achievements in sport to win this race. The only two fences that are jumped only once in the race is The Chair and the Water Jump.

Below is a table of all the fences and the order in which they are jumped:

The Grand National Fences – Key Information

Number Height Details
1 & 17 4ft 6in The first jump of the gruelling course. Whilst not a particularly large fence in the grand scheme of the National, the fact that 40 horses reach it within a few seconds of each other makes it one of the most exciting. Often bookies will run markets about how many fallers there will be here
2 & 18 3ft 6in One of the unnamed fences, this smaller jump gives rest bite for the horses
3 & 19 4ft 10in Westhead: The first of the ditches and a huge test for the horses with a 6ft drop on the other side
4 & 20 4ft 10in Ironically called a plain fence, for a long this time stood as the tallest on the course. A reduction of 2in was made in 2012 but it is still widely regarded as one of the toughest on the track
5 & 21 5ft One of the biggest on the course, also has a span 3ft 6in wide, making for a daunting jump
6 & 22 4ft 10in Becher’s Brook: There are few more famous fences in the horse racing world than Becher’s Brook. Under 5ft from the racing side the fence but a drop of 6ft 9in follows. There's also a water beck and the fact it’s on a left-hand turn all combine to make this one of the hardest jumps. Simply navigating this twice in the race is as tough a test as you will find
7 & 23 4ft 6in Foinavon: Made famous in 1967 when Foinavon became the only horse to make the jump, going on to win the race. This otherwise innocuous fence is one of the smallest on the track
8 & 24 5ft Canal Turn: Another brute of a fence with the horse having to navigate the canal directly after it by making an immediate 90 degree turn. A real make or break jump
9 & 25 5ft Valentine’s Brook: One of the highest fences on the course and coming in quick succession to Canal Turn. A tricky series of fences to navigate
10 & 26 5ft A straightforward if substantial fence
11 & 27 5ft Booth: The horses must clear a 6ft wide ditch prior to take off and also get over the high fence
12 & 28 5ft Another brute, similar to Booth, except this time the ditch is on the landing side totally blind to the horse
13 & 29 4ft 7in The penultimate fence on the final lap, actually fairly innocuous considering what’s gone on before. After almost 4 miles of racing though, it’s tough enough
14 & 30 4ft 6in Very similar layout and style to the previous fence
15 5ft 2in The Chair: The tallest jump on the course, horses clear a 6ft ditch, actually landing about 6 inches higher than take off, often throwing them a little
16 2ft 9 in The Water Jump: Runners go from the largest to the smallest fence. This obstacle is pretty straightforward for the horses but does include a 10ft water splash at the other side which measures 15cm deep

How to Pick a Horse: Essential Facts & Statistics

Newspaper on top of Laptop

Probably the horse most synonymous with the Grand National, and the only one to have won the race 3 times, is Red Rum. His last victory was back in 1977 and for a long time that was the last winner the horse's legendary trainer Ginger McCain had in the race.

But, in 2004 he was back, this time with 16/1 Amberleigh House. After what was a pretty chaotic race, Amberleigh House, ridden by Graham Lee, managed to overtake Clan Royal on the run in to win one of the most welcomed in Grand Nationals history. It allowed McCain to equal the record of most wins, with 4 to his name.

Most Successful Grand National Trainers

Wins Trainer Winners
4 Ginger McCain Red Rum (1973, 1974, 1977), Amberleigh House (2004)
4 Fred Rimell E.S.B. (1956), Nicolaus Silver (1961), Gay Trip (1970), Rag Trade (1976)
4 George Dockeray Lottery (1839), Jerry (1840), Gaylad (1842), Miss Mowbray (1852)
3 Gordon Elliot Silver Birch (2007), Tiger Roll (2018, 2019)
3 Tom Forster Well To Do (1972), Ben Nevis (1980), Last Suspect (1985)
3 Neville Crump Sheila's Cottage (1948), Teal (1952), Merryman II (1960)
3 Vincent O'Brien Early Mist (1953), Royal Tan (1954), Quare Times (1955)
3 Tom Coulthwaite Eremon (1907), Jenkinstown (1910), Grakle (1931)
3 Aubrey Hastings Ascetic's Silver (1906), Ally Sloper (1915), Master Robert (1924)
3 Willie Moore Why Not (1894), The Soarer (1896), Manifesto (1899)

Recent Winners

The 2009 Grand National would see a huge upset on the cards, with 100/1 outsider Mon Mome winning the race. The result would mean that the horse was the longest priced winner for 42 years, taking the race by 12 lengths in what were considered to be tough conditions.

Another shout out comes just a year later when, at the 15th time of asking, legendary jockey Tony McCoy finally got his first Grand National win on the back of Don’t Push It. It was the one race that McCoy had desperately wanted to win, but never been able to and the nation got behind him to see his 10/1 JF, trained by Jonjo O’Neill romp home.

Latest Grand National Winners

Year Winner Age SP Weight Trainer Jockey
2019 Tiger Roll 9 4/1F 11-05 Gordon Elliot Davy Russell
2018 Tiger Roll 8 10/1 10-09 Gordon Elliot Davy Russell
2017 One For Arthur 8 14/1 10-11 Lucinda Russell Derek Fox
2016 Rule The World 9 33/1 10-07 M F Morris David Mullins
2015 Many Clouds 8 25/1 11-09 Oliver Sherwood Leighton Aspell
2014 Pineau De Re 11 25/1 10-06 Dr Richard Newland Leighton Aspell
2013 Auroras Encore 11 66/1 10-03 Sue Smith Ryan Mania
2012 Neptune Collonges 11 33/1 11-06 Paul Nicholls Daryl Jacob
2011 Ballabriggs 10 14/1 11-00 Donald McCain Jason Maguire
2010 Don’t Push It 10 10/1JF 11-05 Jonjo O'Neill A P McCoy

Favourites

The 2018 Grand National was the 171st running of the famous race, of which only 27 times has the favourite or joint favourite come out on top. This is a fairly low number, but when you consider the reasons why, it does make sense.

The main thing to consider is that of the number of runners for the race. With 40 in the field it’s a bit of a minefield. Plus, given how tough the course is, just getting around is an achievement in itself.

The favourite for the race usually goes off at around 10/1, although they have been as low as 11/4 and as high as 20/1. In 2018 the favourite was Total Recall, starting at just 7/1. The shortest priced winner came back in 1919 when Poethlyn won the race at odds of just 11/4. These days it’s unlikely that we will ever see odds as short as this given the popularity and size of the race. The table below shows the favourites from the last 10 and their finishing positions:

Finishing Positions of Last 10 National Favourites

Year Horse SP Position
2019 Tiger Roll 4/1 First
2018 Total Recall 7/1 Pulled up
2017 Blaklion 8/1 Fourth
2016 The Last Samuai 8/1 (JF) Second
Many Clouds 8/1 (JF) Sixteenth (last to finish)
2015 Shutthefrontdoor 6/1 Fifth
2014 Double Seven 10/1 (JF) Third
Teaforthree 10/1 (JF) Unseated rider
2013 Seabass 11/2 Thirteenth
2012 Seabass 8/1 (JF) Third
Shakalakaboomboom 8/1 (JF) Ninth
2011 The Midnight Club 15/2 Sixth
2010 Don't Push It 10/1 (JF) First
Big Fella Thanks 10/1 (JF) Fourth

Long Shots

Due to the massive field size and competitive nature of the race, it’s not uncommon to see some real long priced winners of the race. The longest Starting Price that’s ever been recorded with the Grand National is that of 100/1, coming from 5 horses, which include Mon Mome, Foinavon, Caughoo, Greglach and Tipperary Tim. There have also been plenty of winners priced around the 66/1 and 50/1 mark. 

Chart Showing the Longest Priced Grand National Winners

Grey Horses

Horses Looking Out of Stable Windows

The hoodoo over the grey horse is one that has been running since the start of the Grand National. The first grey horse didn’t actually win the race until 1868, when The Lamb won some 29 years after the first running of National. It has to be mentioned that the horse also went on to repeat the victory 3 years later in 1871.

Only 2 other winners of the National have since been grey horses; Nicolaus Silver in 1961 and most recently Neptune Collognes in 2012.

Aintree's Three Day Festival

Aintree Racecourse Building

Whilst the Grand National definitely takes the limelight, the Aintree Festival, for which the Grand National is essentially a part of, has a high calibre of racing over its three days in its own right. Throughout all three days (Thursday to Saturday) there are 6 races to view each day, with a total of 10 Grade 1 races in that period.

Day 1 – Grand Opening Day

The Thursday plays apart to 4 of those Grade 1 races, with one of the most competitive line ups of the entire jump season. The highlight of the day comes in the form of the Aintree Hurdle, which has an impressive prize pool of £200,000 with £112,260 of that money going to the winner.

Some huge names in the horseracing industry have won it previously including Jezki, Oscar Whiskey, Al Eile, Morley Street and Daring Run, to name but a few. Since the race began in 1976 it’s been Ruby Walsh who’ the most successful jockey with 5 wins to his name and leading trainer that of Toby Balding, with 4 of those winners coming from Morley Street throughout the early nineties.

The other Grade 1 races on that day are the Betway Bowl, Anniversary Novices Hurdle and Manifesto Novices’ Chase.

Day 2 – Ladies Day

The most glamorous of the 3 days and one where people are encouraged to turn out in their Sunday best is that of Ladies Day. With three Grade 1 races to choose from, it’s the Melling Chase that catches the eye on the Friday, with a prize pool of £200,000 and the winner picking up £112,788 for their troubles.

Another race that has seen some of the best horses over hurdles to have won it, including the likes of Don Cossack, Albertas Run, Master Minded, Moscow Flyer and Viking Flagship. Barry Geraghty is the most successful jockey with 4 wins and leading trainer that of Nicky Henderson. 4 horses have won the race 2 times, including Viking Flagship, Direct Route, Native Upmanship, Moscow Flyer and Voy Por Ustedes.

The other Grade 1 races include the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle and the Midmay Novices’ Chase.

Day 3 – Grand National Day

The Grand National Day isn’t just the biggest day of the meeting, but one of the biggest days in horse racing. The main even is obviously the Grand National itself, pulling in over 600 million viewers worldwide. The race has a massive prize pool of £1,000,000, paying out £561,300 to the winner.

Aside from the main event, there are also 3 other Grade 1 races that day, with the pick of the bunch coming in the form of the Liverpool Hurdle. The race has a prize pool of £150,000 with £84,405 of that going to the winner. Since its first race in 1974, there have been some standout names that include Big Buck’s, Mighty Man, Thistlecrack, Sweet duke and Shell Burst.

Big Bucks has been the most successful horse, with 4 wins to his name, and the most successful jockey being that of Peter Scudamore, with 5 wins in total. Martin Pipe has 5 wins as trainer, from 1992 up to 2003.

Horse Welfare

Portrait of a Healthy Racehorse

For all the good the Grand National has done for the profile of horseracing, the race itself is actually one that is quite controversial and one that comes under a lot of fire from activists to make the sport safer for both jockeys and horses.

The race itself is a brutal test of strength, speed and stamina. Many campaigners think that it pushes the horses too hard and the risk to their health is increasing with each year. In the period between 2000 and 2010 6 horses have sadly passed away in the race, spreading more fuel on the fire for animal rights campaigners wanting even safer races or even the abolishment of one of the most iconic races in the world.

As a result, the BHA and Aintree racecourse have put measures in place to make the race safer. One of the key things is by reducing the size of the fences and also by making run offs for the horses should they either not want to jump or for the jockeys to safely retire from the race. Whilst modifications have always taken place throughout the years on many of the fences, it’s only been over the last few years where these measures have been stepped up to ensure horse safety.

Some of the fences have come under question more than others, with Becher’s Brook being one of the fences that campaigners have wanted removed after two deaths at the same fence in 2011 and 2012. But, people within the racing community and plenty of names held in high regard, such as Ginger McCain have argued that the altering of the course allows horses to run faster, thus making them more likely to fall.

Either way, the pressure that the race is under is something that needs to be addresses, and likely sooner rather than later. The death rate from the race is falling, with no reported deaths as a direct result of the race since 2012, highlighting that the changes are having a positive effect on the race and overall, the horses.

Grand National History

Picture of 1899 Grand National Winner Manifesto
Mason, Finch. Wikimedia Commons

As we’ve mentioned previously, the race dates back to the early 19th century and was founded by that of William Lynn. At the time, Lynn was a hotelier and with it had big plans to build a new racecourse in Aintree, which he completed in 1829.

The actual running of the race is still one that is widely debated today, mainly about where it was. There are some that claim the race was first held in Maghull and not Aintree.

By 1838 the race had started to really take off and Liverpool was a city that was buzzing on the back of its success. They were able to attract some of the biggest horses of the time and was often seen as a hot bed for the rich to purchase up and coming horses to add to their stables. The first official running of the Grand National came about in 1839 and has since been a staple at the Aintree racecourse.

The popularity of the race is one that is unprecedented in the industry. There is no other horse race in the world that attracts as many people from outside the sport as the Grand National does. The majority of the crowd will likely not watch or even bother with another race all year, but when the Grand National on, they are glued to their screens.

These days the history, the glamour and the money surrounding the race is an easy sell, but the early attraction wasn’t so clear, given that there were so many high-class races about. We think that it was likely seen as the ability to prosper for the underdogs against more established names. Over the 4m track and 30 hurdles they need to jump, literally anything can happen and pretty much everything has happened.

The numbers involved are quite staggering. Over 600 million people around the world will be tuning in and with it, over £250million worth of bets wagered across the UK alone. This makes it the biggest betting day of the year and can literally be make or break for some bookmakers’ entire season.

The prizemoney on offer in 2017 was that of £1,000,000, with £561,300 going to the winner. Interestingly, this is still some way behind the richest horse race in the world, that of the Dubai World Cup, hosting a massive £7.99million in prizemoney alone. But, it is the richest steeplechase in the world!

Vincent O’Brien

Irish Flag

Vincent O’Brien was one of the most iconic trainers in the Grand National’s history. He won the race 3 times in 3 consecutive years between 1953 and 1955. The most impressive thing was that the 3 wins all came on three different horses; Early Mist, Royal Tan and Quare Times.

But, the Irishman was more than just a Grand National hero, he had trained dozens of winners running around the world in a career spanning over 50 years within the industry. He was voted the greatest National hunt trainer of the 20th Century, but he was later voted the same award for the flat section as well. This highlighted not only the mans dominance, but also the success he’d seen over the years, winning pretty much major race in the UK, Ireland, France and even the US in the process.

Devon Loch

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
Richard Stone, Wikimedia Commons

Devon Loch is one of the most famous horses to have taken part in the Grand National, but for all the wrong reasons.

The horse was owned by prolific racing supporter Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and trained by Peter Cazalet.

Ridden by would-be crime novelist Dick Francis, Devon Lock was leading the 1956 Grand National when, for some reason just a few furlongs from home, the horse jumped into the air and landed flat on its belly, handing the race to E.S.B. and jockey Dave Dick.

The horse couldn't continue after the fall and was eventually passed by all 9 remaining finishers.

The cause of the phantom jump has been the topic of much speculation over the years with theories ranging from a shadow the track to the gelding suffering a minor heart attack.

One of the things that many people aren’t aware of is that Devon Loch was actually on course to set a new record time in the race, with winner E.S.B finishing just a few hundredths of a second outside of it.

Red Rum

Red Rum Close Sign in Liverpool

It’s hard to think of any other horse other than Red Rum when you think of the Grand National. A lot of horses will go down as legends of the sport for winning major titles, but no other horses has been able to win the hardest and most prestigious steeplechase in the world on 3 separate occasion, other than Red Rum.

The horse, trained by Ginger McCain, is a bit of a freak in that regard. His victories came in 1973, 1974 and 1977. Many people thought to win it back to back was an impressive feat, but to go away and come back 3 years after his second win and do it all again, is nothing short of miraculous.

Red Rum was initially bought for the meagre sum of £420 in 1966, but it was McCain who saw the potential and bought it for £6,300. But, just a few days after the purchase it was McCain who noticed that Red Rum was actually lame. He decided to try a then new technique of training the horse in sea water to combat this, which clearly worked like a charm.

Whilst McCain was able to pick up the plaudits at the time of the win, he wasn’t to see success in the National again until a surprise victory for Amberleigh House in the 2004 race. This would give the trainer his fourth win and put him tied at the top with the most ever wins in the Grand National.

The race that never was

Aintree Races
David Holt, flickr

In 1993 one of the most iconic events in Grand National history took place, and for all the wrong reasons. The race went off as a false start, but due to communication breakdown throughout the track and the fact that some riders were ignoring the frantically waved flags thinking they protestors, 30 out of the 39 ran the full race in its entirety.

As only 7 of the horses finished the race, it was deemed void. Although interestingly, the race time, by Esha Ness was the second fastest in history!

Tony McCoy and Don’t Push It

Tony McCoy is widely regarded as one of the best jump jockeys of his era. He’s won pretty much everything there is to win in the sport, becoming Champion Jockey 20 separate times…..in a row!

But, there had been one thing missing from his collection, and that was a Grand National winner. He’d ridden in 15 different races before he picked up his first win in 2010 on Don’t Push It. After the race McCoy described the win as relief and went on to win the 2010 Sports Personality of the Year award for his efforts. Since then he was knighted in 2016.

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