No horse race cuts through to the wider public quite like the Grand National. The marathon handicap is one of the biggest events of the British sporting calendar and will once again attract thousands of fans to Aintree Racecourse and attract millions of television viewers.
It is, however, just one race of the three day Grand National Festival which includes several Grade level and handicap races for racing fans to get their teeth stuck into.
Day One: Thursday
The Grand National Festival gets off to an incredibly strong start. Thursday’s card is packed with top class action and excellent opportunities for punters including four Grade 1s, a top class example of hunter chasing and a valuable handicap.
1:45 Manifesto Novices’ Chase
Grade 1, 2m4f
The Manifesto Novices’ Chase gets the Grand National Festival off to a high class start. It is a Grade 1 chase run over two and a half miles and some highly promising chasers are set to compete in this 12 runner affair. Connections of the likes of Kalashnikov and Bags Groove are hopeful that their charges can right the wrongs of a fairly frustrating season and start to really fulfil their promise but this really does look to be a head to head contest between the top two in the betting - Defi Du Seuil and Glen Forsa.
Glen Forsa headed to Cheltenahm in very good form following a highly impressive win at Sandown. Unfortunately, he made a surprising error when travelling well in the Arkle unseated his rider. Hopes remains high that he will be able to put that mistake behind him and return to an upward trajectory by beating Defi Du Seuil who was excellent when landing the JLT Novices’ Chase. It’s a tough ask as he’s stepping up in trip but Glen Forsa has the quality to be a top class chaser and can show why by winning the Manifesto Novices’ Chase at 9/2 with Coral.
2:20 Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle
Grade 1, 2m1f
A collection of the best prospects in National Hunt racing will compete in the Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle. Sir Erec will be a keenly felt loss to this field after he was tragically put down during the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. The celebrations of Pentland Hills’ connections were understandably muted that day but they could not help but be delighted with his win at 20/1.
You won’t get anything like that price for Pentland Hills’ assignment in the Anniversary Hurdle. He is the favourite for the race at a general 6/4. Racing fans will learn a great deal about Nicky Henderson’s charge at Aintree but it’s questionable whether that price reflects value with so many questions about every four-year-old in the race.
Perhaps a better option would be Fakir D’oudairies at 11/2 with Ladbrokes. He ran fairly well in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but was unable to serve it up to his elders in the Cheltenham opener. He should be all the better for that experience and can return to winning ways against his fellow juveniles.
2:50 Betway Bowl
Grade 1, 3m1f
The Betway Bowl received a welcome boost with the news that Bristol De Mai will be running in the Grade 1 contest rather than taking up the option of competing in the Grand National. Connections clearly didn’t feel that carrying top weight was a fair reflection of his ability to win the big one whilst the eight-year-old comes into the Betway Bowl on the back of one of his best performances.
Bristol De Mai showed that he is more than just a mudlark who wins at Haydock by finishing third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. There’s a debate to be had about whether that reflects more on his class or if it means that the chances of out and out stayers are improving in the Gold Cup, either way, Bristol De Mai is coming in for plenty of support in the betting for the Betway Bowl.
Clan Des Obeaux and Kemboy are the two main challengers to Bristol De Mai. The former looked to just run out of steam in the Gold Cup whilst the latter did not complete at Cheltenham. Both have more than enough quality to put their disappointments at Cheltenham behind them but preference goes to Bristol De Mai who may be hitting his peak and can utilise both his stamina and jumping quality to get this his class field beaten at 7/2 with Betfair.
3:25 Aintree Hurdle
Grade 1, 2m4f
The Aintree Hurdle is always one of the most exciting hurdle races of the year. At this point of the season we have already seen the best hurdlers compete in various different high class affairs so there is a large amount of recent form to go on ahead of the clash between Buveur d’Air, Benie Des Dieux, Melon and Faugheen.
The depth in quality of this race stretches far down the market with Verdana Blue (14/1) and Supasundae (16/1) both worthy of each way consideration. It is Buveur d’Air who is the clear favourite though at a best price of 11/10 with bet365 despite the fact that his attempts to win the Champion Hurdle for the third year in a row ended with a fall at the third hurdle. That was the second costly mistake this season after a fall in the Fighting Fight Hurdle. The number of mistakes he has made this season are a worry but Buveur d’Air remains the best hurdler around when he gets things right so is worthy of his position at the head of the market.
Other than his own jumping, the biggest threat to Buveur d’Air is Melon. He finally looked like the horse that connections have long believed him to be when finishing second to Espoir D’Allen in the Champion Hurdle. That was a very good performance indeed even taking into account the poor performances of the market principles. He’ll need even more improvement on his Aintree debut but is surely tempting even for an each way bet at 11/2 with BetVictor.
4:05 Foxhunters’ Steeple Chase
Class 2, 2m5f
The Foxhunters’ Steeple Chase is one of the feature races of the first day of the Grand National Festival. Hunter chasing is a special part of National Hunt racing and this race is right up there with the best examples of it along with the Foxhunters’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Although it is a big field event and open only to amateur jockeys which adds a further complication, the Foxhunters’ Steeple Chase has been a happy hunting ground for the most fancied horses with just three of the last 16 winners going off at a bigger price than 13/2.
Punters are advised to focus on the top portion of the market and may not have to look any further than the favourite. Road To Rome has had tremendous success in hunter chases this season but whether because of the aggressive tactics employed or the challenge of running 3m2½f at Cheltenham, he was unable to be a real threat last time out in the St James's Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup. The drop down in trip should suit this reliable nine-year-old very well as will the expected good to soft ground so don’t be put off backing the favourite at 9/2 with bet365.
Ladies' Day: Friday
Day two of the Grand National Festival is Ladies Day. Aintree and their sponsors award some highly desirable prizes for the most stylish racegoers on Friday but it is the generous prizes on offer with the racing that will occupy the minds of punters both at the track and watching on from home.
2:20 Top Novices’ Hurdle
Grade 1, 2m½f
Incoming form has proven to be very important in recent renewals of the Top Novices’ Hurdle. It is also a contest in which the winner is often drawn from the top few options in the market so connections of Precious Cargo will be feeling confident about their six-year-old’s chances of landing the healthy winning prize of £56,000.
Aramon and Itchy Feet are worthy of their lofty place in the market but they both struggled for their very best at Cheltenham. Precious Cargo, by contrast, skipped the Festival so should be raring to go on Friday. Nicky Henderson is not going to get over excited about Precious Cargo’s chances but there is every chance he’ll be the latest to use the Top Novices’ Hurdle as a springboard towards success as a chaser, so back him to win at 6/1 with Ladbrokes.
2:50 Mildmay Novices’ Chase
Grade 1, 3m1f
The Mildmay Novices’ Chase is among the most important races for high quality novice staying chasers. This 3m1f contest has produced several horses who have gone on to win massive staying chases including the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Topofthegame, who is favourite for Friday’s renewal, looks to have what it takes to kick on when graduating out of the novice division.
Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old bolstered his already growing reputation with an accomplished win in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last month. Helped by an excellent and patient ride from Harry Cobden, Topofthegame silenced the critics who suggested that he had an inability to win and is rightfully the favourite for the Mildmay. He is even getting some support in the ante post markets for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and could see his price cut with another big win at 11/10 with Betfair.
3:25 Melling Chase
Grade 1, 2m4f
After a hugely impressive win in the Ascot Chase it was a shame that Cyrname did not compete at the Cheltenham Festival. Racing fans would love him to make a comeback at Aintree but it is touch and go as to whether Cyrname will be in attendance so it is his stablemate, Politologue, who is the favourite for this one at a best price of 5/2 with BetVictor.
He was among those beaten by Cyrname at Ascot but was arguably better than ever when finishing under two lengths behind Altior in in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Nicholls clearly hopes that stepping Politologue back up to 2m4f will bring even further improvement and the market agrees. Road To Respect is the big danger to the favourite and Noel Meade’s eight-year-old has been backed into a general 11/2. It’s the favourite who remains the most likely winner though and 5/2 is a fair price.
4:05 Topham Chase
Grade 3, 2m5f
The Topham Chase is right up there with the best handicaps run during the Grand National Festival. Punters love the challenge of trying to unpick a race in which the vast majority of recent winners were sent off at a double figure price and with 30 runners set to go to post we have yet another competitive betting heat ahead.
Market leader, Janika, ticks many of the boxes required of a Topham Chase winner but the six-year-old is surely carrying too much weight at 11st 12lb. In fact, horses carrying over 10st 7lb have really struggled to finish strongly in this 2m5f contest.
Flying Angel is one who stands out in the betting given that he is set to carry a workable 10st 6lb on Friday. Aintree was actually the sight of Nigel Twiston-Davies’ eight-year-old’s most recent win, and although that was back in 2017 he has done a lot of good work in handicaps since then. That includes finishing fifth in the Ultima Handicap at Cheltenham over a trip that was longer than that at which he has been proven before, and with 10st 13lb on his back. Dropping back in trip and some more lenient handicapping could see Flying Angel get back in the winner’s circle but many punters will view an each way bet as the safer option at 25/1 with BetVictor.
Grand National Day: Saturday
Excitement for the Grand National will reach fever pitch during the third and final day of the festival at Aintree. The early races on the card contain some competitive and fascinating contests but it’s all about the big one with Tiger Roll being backed to go down in history by completing the double.
2:25 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle
Grade 1, 2m4f
Champ was given a very big billing ahead of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Connections feel bullish about the seven-year-old’s chances of becoming a chaser capable of competing at the very highest level and although he didn’t win at Cheltenham there was little wrong with his performance, he just found City Island too rugged in the closing stages.
The road to winning the best races is never straightforward and Nicky Henderson still very much believes in Champ. He will need to be at his best to get past Brewin’upastorm who heads the betting but Champ looks a very good price to do just that at 5/1 with Betfred.
3:40 Ryanair Stayers Hurdle
Grade 1, 3m½f
Also known as the Liverpool Hurdle, the Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle is a prestigious Grade 1 in which the field must jump 13 hurdles and run a distance of just over 3 miles. It has been won by some high quality staying hurdlers over the years and Gordon Elliott is using it as an attempt to restore some of Apple’s Jade’s damaged reputation. She was heavily supported for the Champion Hurdle but was once again well below her best at Cheltenham and given her issues at this time of year before it’s tough to support her at a generally available 2/1.
There is value to be had about another horse whose reputation took a bit of hammering last time out. Unowhatimeanharry was well below his best last time out at Cheltenham in January which was especially disappointing given that he won the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November. The vet’s report that he had been bleeding from the nose offered an excuse for Unowhatimeanharry who has been given plenty of time to recuperate and could therefore be a real contender at 12/1 with bet365.
5:15 Grand National
Grade 3, 4m2½f
This is the race that the whole Grand National Festival has been building up to. No race creates as much of a buzz as this and the build up for the 2019 renewal suggests it is shaping up to be a classic. The presence of Tiger Roll as the firmest Grand National favourite for some time has given the race a rather different feel to normal and whilst many punters will understandably bristle at a horse being available at a general price of 7/2, there is little doubt that Tiger Roll is the most likely winner of the Grand National.
Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old is a better horse than 12 months ago and despite coming into his defence on the back of consecutive wins in two very different sorts of races, has been dealt with relatively leniently by the handicapper. The only concern about Tiger Roll is the price but given the nature of the Grand National that can be somewhat mitigated by supplementing a bet on the favourite with an each way bet or two.
Rathvinden is the first horse to consider backing each way at 10/1 with bet365. The trends may show that Willie Mullins’ 11-year-old is a little old for the Grand National but he was as good as ever last time out when winning the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse where he looked as sharp and fluid over fences, as is required to win the Grand National.
Finally, Ramses De Teillee looks very good value at 25/1 with Betfred. The main problem David Pipe’s seven-year-old has is that he is too keen to race early on. In both the Welsh Grand National and the Grand National Trial at Haydock he was too tired to hang on for the win and had to settle for second. Those narrow defeats should stand him in good stead though as Pipe and David Noonan know they’ll need to keep him from going off too hard early doors. If they get the tactics right, Ramses De Teillee has a very good opportunity to get amongst the places.
About the Meeting
There are few horse races as well known across the world as the Grand National. It’s an institution of horse racing and British sport that still attracts tens of millions of viewers each and every year.
The Grand National is always incredibly oversubscribed but there are a huge number of top quality National Hunt horses who just aren’t bred to be competitive over anything like four miles. Thankfully, there are plenty of other options during the three day Grand National Festival, which culminates with the big race itself.
There is nothing else quite like the Grand National in all of horse racing. The Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot all have mass appeal but the amount of interest in the Grand National and the number of bets placed on the race each year is on another level.
Upon first glance, it may seem strange that the Grand National is the most popular betting race of the year despite being one of the trickiest races to predict. That, however, is the key element of its appeal. Those who make their picks through syndicates at work or because they like the name of a particular horse have almost as much chance of backing the winner of the Grand National as the most seasoned racing punter. We’ve seen short priced favourites, 100/1 shots and everything in between win the Grand National which helps to open it up far beyond the racing fraternity.
There are several reasons why the Grand National is so tough to predict. For a start, it’s run over a distance of 4 miles 514 yards. Then there are the 40 runners in the field, each of whom must successfully navigate 30 incredibly demanding fences. The qualifying criteria for the most lucrative handicap in racing (the prize fund now tops £1 million) include a minimum age of seven and a minimum official rating of 120.
Grand National Stats and Facts
Here are some stats and facts about the Grand National, and there is no end to the trivia for a race that was first run in 1839.
- Even 100/1 Shots Can Win – To date there have been five horses who have won the Grand National with a starting price of 100/1: Tipperary Tim in 1928, Gregalach in 1929, Caughoo in 1947, Foinavon in 1967 and Mon Mome in 2009.
- Age Is No Barrier – It was a long time ago, but way back in 1853 a 15 year old horse called Peter Simple won the Grand National. It was the second time the gelding had won the race, first victory having come in 1849.
- Grand National Lottery – Many people suggest that betting on the Grand National is akin to playing a lottery such is its unpredictable nature, so it is perhaps appropriate that the horse who won the very first Grand National in 1839 was called Lottery.
- Little vs Large – The lightest runner to win the Grand National was Freetrader in 1856 whose handicap was just nine stone, six pounds. Bobbyjo was the last horse to win carrying 10 stone or less (10 stone exactly for his 1999 victory). At the other end of the spectrum, four horses have won this stamina-sapping race while carrying a hefty load of 12 stone, seven pounds: Cloister (1893), Manifesto (1899), Jerry M (1912) and Poethlyn (1919). Incidentally, Poethlyn was also the shortest priced winner of the National with a starting price of just 11/4.
- Getting Frisky – The aptly named Mr Frisk posted the fastest winning time for the Grand National when he romped home in eight minutes and 47 seconds. This compares to the comparably sluggish winning time of the inaugural victor, Lottery, in 1839 who took just under 15 minutes to complete the race.
- Legendary Red Rum – Red Rum is the only horse to win the Grand National three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also finished in second place in 1975 and 1976 making him the undisputed king of the Grand National. His statue greets racegoers to Aintree and he is even buried at the winning post at the course. He is often cited as one of the main reasons the Grand National leapt to such public acclaim in the 1970s at a time at which its popularity was beginning to dwindle.
Grand National Festival – Best Of The Rest
The Grand National may be the star of the show but racing fans all have their favourite contests during the three days of the Grand National Festival at Aintree. There are more than 10 Grade 1s and several competitive handicaps to enjoy but the pick of the action away from the big race itself comes from the following races.
Whereas the Grand National is the last of the big races during the Grand National Festival, the Aintree Bowl takes place early on Friday’s Grand Opening Day. Run over 3 miles 1 furlong, this steeplechase is open to horses aged five and older.
The Aintree Bowl has long been viewed as a chance for horses who either failed to win or even really compete in the Cheltenham Gold Cup to win a big, well regarded race. It’s only grown in stature in recent years thanks to a promotion to Grade 1 level in 2010. The popularity of the Aintree Bowl has also been helped no end by wins from the likes of Cue Card, Silviniaco Conti and Desert Orchid, each of whom were loved by racing fans.
Silviniaco Conti’s win in 2015 made Paul Nicholls the first trainer to win the Aintree Bowl three times. It also made Silviniaco Conti the fourth horse to win the race twice; no horse had won it three times ahead of the 2019 renewal.
The form of horses who won the biggest races at the Cheltenham Festival is always a major storyline coming into the Grand National Festival. That’s especially true with the Aintree Hurdle. This Grade 1 contest is run over 2 miles 4 furlongs, some 3½ furlongs longer than the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. For that reason, the Aintree Hurdle is seen as a great test of Champion Hurdle winners and since the first running of the race in 1976 we’ve seen high class horses such as Buveur d’Air, Annie Power and Istabraq complete the double in the same season.
The extra distance of the Aintree Hurdle also attracts horses who would find the pace a little too sharp in the Champion Hurdle. There are three more hurdles to be navigated at Aintree (11 in total) so the best jumpers have more chance to utilise their advantage. It’s also a valuable race with the total prize fund reaching £400,000 in 2017.
The Melling Chase is another of the races at the Grand National Festival where form from Cheltenham is poured over. The leading contenders from both the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase regularly do battle in the Melling Chase which is a Grade 1 contest run over 2 miles 4 furlongs.
Named after the village of Melling which is very near to Aintree, the Melling Chase is a very well regarded prize and carried with it a total prize fund of £250,000 in 2018. It’s the highest profile race of Ladies Day, the second day of the meeting, and is often a very competitive betting market.
Five horses have won the Melling Chase twice since its inaugural running in 1991. Being a shorter distance chase it tends to be won either by horses who excel at this sort of trip (think Sprinter Sacre or Voy Por Ustedes) or who are working their way up to longer races like Don Cossack who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup one year after his Melling Chase success.
The Topham Chase is a Grade 3 contest run over 2 miles 5½ furlongs. The list of winners includes some quality horses but does lack a certain something compared to the other big races during the Grand National Festival. Despite that, it’s among the most popular races of the meeting.
The reason for that popularity is that the Topham Chase is one of just three races run over the same fences as the Grand National (including the Grand National itself). The trip is considerably shorter than the Grand National but the challenge provided by the fences makes this compelling viewing.
As you might expect, the best jumpers have a distinct advantage in the Topham Chase. For that reason experience has proven to be very important which is why older winners are common despite it being open to horses aged five and older. It’s also a fairly valuable race with around £70,000 being awarded to winning connections.
Other Races of Note
Any good National Hunt festival needs a solid cast of supporting races. That’s exactly what you get with the Grand National Festival thanks to a combination of well-regarded Grade level races and some unpredictable handicaps.
Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle
You’ll get no prizes for guessing that the Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle is open to novice hurdlers aged four. It’s the second race of the Grand National Festival and tends to provide great entertainment. The Grade 1 has also provided some very good winners including Apple’s Jade, Zarkandar and Al Eile.
Fox Hunters’ Chase
Along with the Grand National and the Topham Chase, the Fox Hunters’ Chase is one of just three races run over the Grand National fences. It was initially run over the same distance of the Grand National but has since been cut to 2 miles 5 furlongs. The Fox Hunters’ Chase is open to horses aged six and older and to amateur jockeys only.
Top Novices’ Hurdle
The Top Novices’ Hurdle is among the premier races for novice hurdlers of the year. Often attracting the leading horses from the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham but you have to go back to Browne’s Gazette in 1984 for the last winner of both races. This Grade 1 takes place over a distance of 2 miles 110 yards so tends to be run at quite a pace, often producing some exciting finishes.
Mildmay Novices’ Chase
The Mildmay Novices’ Chase is a Grade 1 contest that takes place on the course at Aintree of the same name. It’s run over 3 miles 1 furlong and is open to novice chasers aged five and older. There are 19 fences to be navigated in what is a fairly stiff test of jumping. That test is a major reason why many winners of the Mildmay go on to have even greater success.
Maghull Novices’ Chase
The Maghull Novices’ Chase is run over the minimum chasing distance of 2 miles. It takes place on the final day of the Grand National Festival and has been won by some excellent horses since first being run in 1954 such as Douvan and Sprinter Sacre. Paul Nicholls’ horses should be followed in the Maghull as he is comfortably the leading trainer with Diego Du Charmil securing his eighth win in 2018.
The Liverpool Hurdle may be a dramatically different race to the Grand National but as the race that immediately precedes the big one it plays the role of warm up to the crowds at Aintree. This Grade 1 is open to horses aged four and older but tends to be won by horses aged six and nine. The 3 miles ½ furlong trip is long for a hurdle so the Liverpool Hurdle is something of a race for specialists.
The history of the Grand National is almost unrivalled in horse racing. It was first held all the way back in 1839 and in that time the big race itself has created some of the sport’s most legendary figures.
Red Rum’s three Grand National wins made him one of the most beloved horses in all of racing whilst his trainer, Ginger McCain, will always be fondly remembered; Foinavon’s win in 1967 when he took advantage of the carnage in front of him and Devon Loch’s capitulation have gone down in legend; and Jenny Pitman will always be remembered as the first female trainer of a Grand National winner. They are each just a small part of the legend of this race which continues to grow every year.
Over the years the importance of the Grand National Festival has increased dramatically. It is still the Grand National itself that grabs the attention of the public at large but racing fans mark the Aintree Festival in their calendar as the calibre of horses and races seems to improve every year.
A Complete History of the Grand National Festival
In the world of horse racing there are certain events which truly transcend the sport, attracting the attention of even those sections of the general public who wouldn’t generally consider themselves to be racing fans. Such events feature on the front and back of the newspapers and they are few and far between.
The Cheltenham Festival does this to some degree, as does the Epsom Derby. Dwarfing them all though is the racing and betting titan that is the Aintree Grand National. Quite simply the most famous horse race in the world, bar none.
It’s not all about the big one at Aintree in April though, with the headline act benefitting from a full three days of supporting action, including no fewer than 11 Grade 1 events. Here we run through the chronology of this great race and the festival which has grown around it.
1836 – The First National?
Depending upon whose interpretation of the history books you consult, the year 1836 either does, or doesn’t, mark the very first edition of the Grand National. What is certain is that there was a marathon steeplechase which took place in the Merseyside area in this year. The dispute centres upon whether the race was held at Aintree or nearby Maghull.
The winner of this 1836 event was a runner by the name of The Duke, who then promptly confirmed his liking for the venue – whether that was Aintree or Maghull! – when following up in 1837.
1839 – It’s A Lottery: The First Recognised National
The general consensus amongst most historians is that the first Grand National proper was actually run at Aintree in 1839. Given the big field and large luck element historically associated with the National, the first winner could hardly have been more aptly named, going, as he did, by the name of Lottery!
The course as a whole differed markedly from the layout we know and love today, featuring a large ploughed field, natural brooks and a stone wall to be jumped. Try getting a stone wall past health and safety these days! There was however one obstacle in evidence which still exists – Becher’s Brook. It is in fact from that inaugural running of the race that this most famous of fences gained its name.
Coming down at the fence in that 1839 event, a horse by the name of Conrad deposited his jockey – one Captain Martin Becher – straight into the brook. Fearful of being trampled by the remainder of the field, the Captain hid in the brook until the danger had passed and etched his name into racing folklore.
1843 – Handicapping The Field
The next key step in the development of what was to become the biggest horse race in the world came in 1843. This was the year in which the conditions of the race moved from being a weight for age affair to a traditional handicap, with the weights being determined by the perceived ability of the runners.
The man behind this major shift was a certain Mr Edward William Topham. A prominent handicapper at the time, Mr Topham’s name now lives on through the Topham Chase which is held on the second day of this meeting.
1916-18 – The War Nationals
The First World War did interfere with the Grand National, but it didn’t manage to halt it completely. Aintree racecourse itself was out of action at the time, but the course at Gatwick – on the site that is now Gatwick airport – was remodelled to resemble the Merseyside venue and staged the race between 1916 and 1918.
1927 – All Ears For The National
It would be another 33 years until pictures of the Aintree spectacular were beamed into homes around the country, but 1927 marked the year when those not at the track were brought a little closer to the action via the first radio broadcast of the race.
1928 – They All Fall Down
“You’ll only win if all the others all fall down!”. They were the words of encouragement issued to jockey William Dutton on the day before the 1928 National. A sign of the level of confidence behind his mount Tipperary Tim. Sure enough the other 41 runners did indeed all fall down, as Tipperary Tim came home alone at odds of 100/1.
1941-45 – National Defence
The second World War marks the only significant break in the history of the Grand National. No race was held between the years of 1941 and 1945 due to the track being used in the country’s defensive effort.
1949 – First Edition Of The Topham Chase
Held over the Grand National fences but over the significantly shorter trip of 2m5f, this Grade 3 handicap contest is one of the big highlights of Day 2 at this meeting.
Interestingly, no Topham winner (as of 2019) has ever returned to Aintree to land the big one itself. The jump in distance is clearly a significant reason for that and in fact very few Topham horses even attempt the National.
1954 – Maghull Makes Its Debut
Of the 11 Grade 1s on offer at this meeting – only Cheltenham boasts more – the first to enter the fray was this two-mile event for the Novice Chasers. The race has been won by a number of real top-notch horses over the years – none better than 2012 champ Sprinter Sacre, the third highest rated chaser of all time according to Timeform.
1956 – Devon Disaster
Throughout her life The Queen Mother was perhaps the Royal who most loved her racing, particularly the National Hunt game. In 1956 her Royal Highness looked all set to land the biggest prize of them all, as Dick Francis drove her horse Devon Loch five lengths clear on the run to the line. Nothing could stop Devon Loch now. Could it?
It turns out that the horse had his own ideas as to exactly how he would enter racing folklore. Rather than simply win the race, the bay gelding instead opted to execute what can only be described as a belly flop 40 yards from the line. With Francis unable to recover the momentum, E.S.B. swept past for the win. Check out the footage, it really is quite remarkable.
1960 – A Global Audience
1960 marked the year when the Grand National made its TV debut. Now broadcast to an estimated 500-600 million viewers in over 140 different countries, the race is one of the most watched sporting events on the planet.
1960 – First Anniversary
The next Grade 1 to join the Aintree party also came in 1960, with the first ever edition of the 4-Y-O Anniversary Hurdle. Introduced as an event for the most promising hurdlers in the game, the race has certainly lived up to that billing, with previous winners, Katchit, Hors La Loi III and Binocular all going on to land the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
1967 – Foinavon
The 121st edition of the National in 1967 saw one of the most famous incidents in the race’s history. The 23rd fence may be the smallest on the course, but that didn’t prevent it from becoming the scene of utter chaos when the rider-less Popham Down veered right across the field in front of the fence, practically bringing every runner to a standstill. All bar a runner by the name of Foinavon that is…
A 100/1 outsider for the race, Foinavon was, perhaps predictably, a little way behind the field as the carnage developed. It all worked to his benefit though, as without breaking stride he managed to spot a gap and become the only runner to jump the fence at the first time of asking. By the time the other jockeys had regathered their mounts, Foinavon was away and gone, eventually coming home a 15-length winner. 17 years later in 1984 the fence was officially renamed in his honour.
1974 – Inaugural Liverpool Hurdle
The 1970s marked the decade when this meeting really began to grow, with the introduction of no fewer than four Grade 1 events. First up was this staying contest over 3m½f. One of the standout contests of the week, the race regularly attracts the main contenders from the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Big Buck’s dominated both contests for a prolonged period and won four Liverpool Hurdles in a row between 2009 and 2012.
1976 – Aintree Hurdle Makes Its Bow
In terms of class of winner at this meeting, this 2m4f event may well come top of the pile – at least when it comes to the hurdling division. Legends such as Night Nurse, Morley Street, Dawn Run and Istabraq all feature on the roll of honour, with Buveur d’Air and Annie Power winning in more recent years.
1976 – Top Addition To The Meeting
Run over the same distance, and attracting the same type of runner as the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Top Novice’s Hurdle is effectively Aintree’s version of the Cheltenham Festival opener. Upgraded to a Grade 1 in 2016, that year’s race was promptly landed by future dual Champion Hurdler, Buveur d’Air.
1977 – Red Rum Makes It Three
There are many Grand Nationals which live long in the memory, and bear repeated viewing, but there are surely none to have been relived quite so frequently as the 1977 edition.
Already having secured his place in both the nation’s heart and racing folklore with back to back successes in the 1973 and 1974 renewals of the Grand National, Red Rum then finished a gallant second in both 1975 and 1976. Returning at the grand old age of 12 in 1977, one of the most popular horses of all time turned back the clock to storm up the hill and become the first – and so far only – horse to win the big race three times. That may, of course, change in 2020, of which more later.
1977 – First Mersey Novices’ Hurdle
Those Novice Hurdlers who require a sterner test of stamina than that offered by the Top Novices’ Hurdle were also first catered for in the year of Red Rum’s historic success. Held over a 2m4f trip, the race counts the King George winner Wayward Lad, and Gold Cup king Best Mate amongst its previous winners.
1977 – Ladies First
1977 was a busy year for the Grand National meeting as it also marked the first time a female jockey took part in the feature race. The National was generally perceived to be such a physical test and so dangerous that in less enlightened times it was certainly thought to be no place for a woman!
Charlotte Brew was the person making history and Barony Fort was the horse. Sadly things didn’t go to plan and the duo didn’t finish the race. Brew returned in 1982 on board Martinstown but was unseated, yielding the same result.
1981 – Just Champion For Bob And Aldaniti
Possibly the most heart-warming story in the entire history of this great race came in 1981, in one of the greatest sporting tales of triumph over adversity. Always a promising chaser, Aldaniti’s career looked to be over in 1976 due to chronic leg issues, whilst jockey Bob Champion faced an altogether more serious battle when diagnosed with cancer in 1979.
That Champion and Aldaniti even lined up together at the start of the 1981 renewal was something of a miracle. The fact that they then went on to win the world’s greatest steeplechase was the stuff of Hollywood, and did in fact make it to the big screen with the release of the movie Champions in 1984.
1981 – Mildmay Enters The Fray
The Mildmay Novices Chase for the fledgling staying chasers has been graced by a number of future stars since its 1981 debut, including dual King George winner Silviniaco Conti and Gold Cup champ Native River.
1982 – Cheers!
This year Geraldine Rees and her mount Cheers made history, Rees becoming the first woman to finish the Grand National.
1983 – Jenny The First Lady Of Aintree
It took just under 150 years, but 1983 marked the year when a female trainer finally sent out the Grand National winner. Corbiere was the horse, and Jenny Pitman the trainer – and just to prove there was no fluke about it, Pitman repeated the feat in 1995 with Royal Athlete.
1984 – First Edition of The Aintree Bowl
The Grand National may be by some way the most famous chase contest at this meeting, but it isn’t the classiest. That honour belongs to this Grade 1 event held over 3m1f
Won by the legendary Desert Orchid in 1988, other greats such as Florida Pearl, Wayward Lad, Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card have entered the winner’s enclosure over the years. The race finally attained a deserved Grade 1 status in 2010 and offers well over £100,000 to winning connections.
1988 – Sefton Joins The Show
1988 saw a further expansion to the top-class Novice Hurdle programme at the meeting with the introduction of the Grade 1 Sefton Novices Hurdle. Held over 3m½f the event aims to provide a target for those inexperienced hurdlers who boast stamina as their forte.
1991 – Melling Chase Makes Debut
Named after the town of Melling – which also lends its name to the famous road which crosses the racecourse – this 2m4f Grade 1 Chase regularly attracts a high-class field featuring runners from both the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Blazing Walker blazed to glory in the inaugural running but since then we have seen a higher class of winner, with Moscow Flyer, Voy Por Ustedes, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre all claiming this one.
1993 – Esha Ness And The Race That Never Was
The most embarrassing moment in the history of the Grand National came in 1993 when – with the world watching – the officials failed to correctly enforce a false start, resulting in 30 of the 39 runners taking the first fence and carrying on regardless.
Reality dawned on the majority of the field eventually, but seven horses did go on to complete the full course – Esha Ness coming home in front in what would have been the second fastest time in Grand National history. Esha Ness’s name does not appear in the record books though, as the race was declared void.
1997 – Monday National
From the most farcical National in history to one of the most genuinely scary editions. Just under an hour before the official start time, two separate bomb threats were issued by the IRA stating there was an explosive device at the course. With the threat believed to be genuine there was little option but to evacuate 60,000 spectators from the track and postpone the race.
In an act of defiance the show still went on, albeit two days later on the Monday, with 20,000 turning up to watch Lord Gyllene romp to victory.
2009 – A New Manifesto
The most recent Grade 1 to be added to the festival is the 2m4f Manifesto Novices Chase. Named in honour of a two-time Grand National winner, the race was initially a Grade 2 affair before being upgraded to the top level in 2012.
2010 – 15th Time Lucky for AP
AP McCoy had won just about every big race going but for a long, long time, the Grand National evaded the man from County Antrim. Finally, in 2010, at the 15th attempt, the great jockey managed to taste Grand National success, riding Don’t Push It for JP McManus.
2012 – Walsh Makes the Podium but Wait for a Woman to Win Goes on
At the time of writing (ahead of the 2020 renewal) a woman is yet to ride a horse to Grand National victory. Katie Walsh, daughter of Ted and sister of Ruby, came closest in 2012 at her first attempt. She has ridden in the National five times now but has not bettered her try on board Seabass.
2012 – Big Buck’s Makes It Four
As far as achievements outside of the big race at this meeting go, the exploits of the Paul Nicholls star Big Buck’s are tough to beat. Widely recognised as the greatest staying hurdler in history, Big Buck’s won a record 18 consecutive races, including, as said, four editions of the Liverpool Hurdle between 2009 and 2012.
2014 – The £1million Race
As one of the most prestigious and well-known contests in the sport, the Grand National has never really scrimped when it comes to monetary reward. Having steadily increased over the years, 2014 marked the watershed moment when the total prize money on offer surpassed the £1million mark.
2019 – Tiger Triumphs Again
Tiger Roll had won the 2018 Grand National in fine style, Davy Russel giving the 10/1 shot a magnificent ride. That year they had won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase and when Tiger Roll made the 2019 edition of the Cheltenham roller coaster look like a procession, many fancied him strongly for a National repeat as well.
Sent off at odds of just 4/1, everyone knew Tiger Roll was a class act but few thought such short odds could be justified. Russel and this brilliant little horse proved otherwise, making it look all too easy once again. Tiger Roll became the first winning favourite since 2008 and the first horse since Red Rum back in 1974 to retain his crown. Will this son of Authorized be back for thirds in 2020? We certainly hope so!