The Grand National is without a doubt the best known and most popular horse racing event in the world. An estimated 500 to 600 million people watch the Grand National in over 140 countries, it attracts over 154,000 racegoers over its three days, and under the sponsorship of John Smith’s, is Britain’s richest jump race by far with a total 2013 prize fund of £975,000.
The National as it’s often simply known is a handicap steeplechase run over 4 miles and 4 furlongs with horses jumping 30 fences over two circuits of the course but what makes the Grand National really stand out so much from other races are perhaps its three greatest features:
· The race is one of the most open there is – 40 runners with outsiders almost as likely to win as the favourite.
· It gets prime television coverage on a Saturday afternoon every April.
· Quite simply, it’s a great spectacle to watch with drama, skill, luck and emotions all clearly on show.
The Grand National is also one of the easiest horse races to get involved with as most work places, clubs, pubs, etc. hold their own sweepstakes on the result, so even people who would never normally bet on a horse race can easily join in. The advent of online betting has made it easier than ever to get directly involved.
The first Grand National was run in 1839 at Aintree, Liverpool and has been run regularly ever since (with only a short break during the first World War). The 2012 race provided a classic, nailbiting finish with Neptune Collonges just winning the on the line from Sunnyhillboy.
The runners for the race are not finally confirmed until close to the day but you can guarantee that the very best steeplechasers will be there with every one of them in with a chance – there have being four winners in Grand National History that have started at 100/1, the latest being Mon Mome in 2009.
The history of the National contains some memorable events.
Tipperary Tim, the first 100/1 winner in 1928. The 1928 National also holds the record for the fewest number of finishers, with only two riders completing the course but making outsider Tipperary Tim a household name.
In 1956 Devon Loch, owned by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, was leading the race by five lengths after the final fence but only forty yards from a clear victory Devon Loch, for no apparent reason, half-jumped into the air, collapsed onto the course and was unable to complete the race, gifting the win to E.S.B.
The most famous and successful horse to win at the National was of course Red Rum, uniquely winning the event no less than three times in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He lived on until the age of 30 when the general affection for this great horse helped him be honoured by burial at the Aintree finishing post.
Probably the most famous winning jockey in the Grand National was Bob Champion in 1981. He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and given only months to live by doctors but was passed fit to ride the Grand National on Aldaniti, a horse only recently recovered from leg problems. The underdog pair went on to win the race and celebrity status by four-and-a-half lengths. Their story was later turned into in the film Champions, starring John Hurt.