And they’re off! It’s the most famous horse race in the world, and the one that even your granny has a bit of bet on: the Grand National.
A handicap chase for four miles and 856 yards, its fences are as famous as the race itself: The Chair, Canal Turn and Becher’s Brook. This last is easily the most famous, and though it is only 4ft 10in tall, the drop on the other side is a fearsome 6ft 9in, which often catches out both horses and jockeys.
Becher’s is named after Captain Martin Becher who fell there in the very first National. He hid in the small stream at its base as the rest of the field jumped over him, and remarked later, ‘water tastes disgusting without the benefits of whisky.’
There have been many famous jockeys who have won, and failed to win the National. Those who have been successful include, A.P. McCoy, Richard Dunwoody and Bob Champion. While the list of unlucky losers, include, Richard Johnson – despite riding over 2000 winners – Richard Pitman and Peter Scudamore.
But the real heroes are the horses, and quite rightly their names are certainly better remembered than their jockeys. A roll-call includes, Don’t Push It, last year’s winner, Mon Mome that came in the year before at 100/1, Bobbyjo (that this editor backed in 1999), Aldaniti, West Tip and the most famous of all them all, three time Grand National winner, Red Rum.
Now, on a slightly different tack, breeding thoroughbred horses is a tricky business, and can’t just be left to chance. Discovery’s own Mike Rowe in Dirty Jobs, got hands on, to find out exactly what is involved. Watch this rather revealing clip to see Mike get up close and personal. (By the way this is not for more squeamish among you…)
Here’s a little bit of history about the Grand National. The Aintree course was founded and built by William Lynn, head and proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel, on land leased from the 2nd Earl of Sefton, William Molyneux. The foundation stone of the track was laid by the Earl on 7 February 1829.
The first official ‘Grand National’ was held in 1839, and was called the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase. It was won by Jem Mason riding, rather aptly – especially considering how many times I’ve had a win – Lottery and it was the 5/1 favourite.
Get ready for this year’s race, by going to the official site and having a look at the runners and riders.
And while we can’t encourage you to bet, here are a list of the odds as they stand at present.
The off is at 4.15. And my money is on… well I don’t want to give it away. Good luck!
Did you know...?
In 1928, 42 horses started and only two finished the course.
The oldest winning horse is Peter Simple, aged 15 (1853); the youngest winning horses were Alcibiade (1865), Regal (1876), Austerlitz (1877), Empress (1880), Lutteur III (1909), all aged 5.
Tom Olliver is the most experienced jockey in the National's history. He took part in a record 18 races - winning three.
17-year-old Bruce Hobbs is the youngest jockey to have ever won the race, winning on Battleship in 1938. Of approximately 18,000 horses bred each year by the British and Irish racing industries, only around 40% will race. Many of the uncommercial animals end up slaughtered for meat.
There are between 4000 and 5000 horses leaving the racing industry annually. Various UK charities including www.heroscharity.org/ and www.racehorsesanctuary.org strive to re-home and re-train as many of these retired race horses as possible.