Aintree Racecourse

Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, is synonymous with what is surely the most famous steeplechase in the world, the Grand National. Apart from brief  World War I interruptions, when a substitute event was run at the now defunct Gatwick Racecourse, and World War II (I see a theme developing here!), the Grand National has been run at Aintree every April since 1839.

Course Characteristics

The National Course

The National Course is two and a quarter miles around, with sixteen unique spruce fences per circuit. The Canal Turn, which is fence eight and twenty-four in the Grand National, marks the furthest point from the grandstands, where the racecourse meets the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

The Aintree Grand National is run over two complete circuits, although the Chair, the biggest fence on the National course at a height of 5ft 2in, and the Water Jump are omitted on the second circuit, leaving a total of thirty fences to be negotiated. The run-in is the longest in the country, at 494 yards, and kinks sharply the right to form the famous “Elbow”, which has featured in many memorable National commentaries down the years.

Aside from the National itself, several other races, including the Becher Chase, over 3 miles 2 furlongs, and the Grand Sefton Chase, the Topham Chase and the Fox Hunters’ Chase, all over 2 miles 5½ furlongs, are run on the National Course during the year at Aintree.

The Mildmay Course

The Mildmay Course, which runs inside the National Course, is a mile and a half around and features eight traditional birch fences, or six hurdles, per circuit. Although less famous than the National Course, the Mildmay Course is home to several prestigious races, including the Aintree Hurdle and the Melling Chase run during the three-day Grand National meeting.

The severity of the bends at the end of the back straight and the start of the home straight was reduced in 1989, but the principal characteristic of the Mildmay Course remains sharpness. The course tends to suit agile, nimble types, who like to lead or race close to the pace, rather than big, long-striding gallopers.

Track Facts

In the 1956 Grand National, Devon Loch, owned by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and ridden by Dick Francis, collapsed 40 yards from the winning post with the race at his mercy. To this day no-one really knows what happened to him.

The seventh and twenty-third fence in the Grand National nowadays bears the name of the 1967 winner, Foinavon, who avoided a pile-up caused by the riderless Popham on the second circuit and went on to win by 15 lengths at 100/1.

Red Rum, trained by Donald “Ginger” McCain, is the only horse to win the Grand National three times. He won in 1973, 1974 and 1977 and finished second in 1975 and 1976.

The 1993 Grand National, later dubbed “The National that never was”, was declared null and void after all but nine of the thirty-nine jockeys failed to see the advance flagman waving a red flag to indicate a false start. The race was “won” by Esha Ness, trained by Jenny Pitman and ridden by John White.

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