The Grand National


The Grand National is one of the most important races in the UK horse racing calendar. Comprising 2 circuits of the course at Aintree, 30 jumps and up to 40 horses it is also one of the most demanding races that a jockey and their horse can participate in.

Not only that, the Grand National is also one of the highest paying races in the year. In 2009, there was £900,000 up for grabs in prize money for this one race alone! The race is also one of only two horse racing events that are protected from being broadcast on pay per view TV by the UK government, the other being the Derby.


There is debate as to when the first Grand National was held. Some say 1836, others say 1839 and the National Horse Racing museum calls it at 1837, either way though, it was a bloody long time ago! Since inception, the race has only paused for World War II, though it was re-located during World War I. It was nearly abandoned in 1997 when the IRA called in a bomb warning for the racecourse, didn’t stop the race though, and it was rescheduled for the following Monday.

You may be asking, “What about 1993?” Others will be asking, “1993? What happened?” You may already know, in which case, you can skip down a bit J. If you look through the past winners of the Grand National that there was no winner in 1993, however, it was not due to the race being abandoned, rather, an unfortunate fiasco involving a false start and some protestors.

As the story goes, there was a hold up at the start whilst some protestors were being dealt with at the first fence. Once the path was clear, the race was started, but one of the horses got caught in the starting tape, resulting in the horses being recalled to the starting line. When the race was started again, a different horse got caught, but the officials weren’t able to stop the horses.

The officials apparently tried to stop the horses, but because of the earlier kerfuffle with the protestors, the jockeys didn’t stop, thinking the officials were just another band of troublemakers. The problem was that with so many horses having made a lap of the circuit, a further re-start wasn’t possible and so the race was declared void.

As you’ve read, the nature of the race means that we could probably write essays on each year’s race, but we’re not going to! However, we can’t talk about the history of the Grand National without mentioning Red Rum. This was a horse that won the Grand National an amazing 3 times, and came second twice, all within a five year period from 1973 to 1977. This extraordinary achievement has won it a place in the history of the race, and even today, Red Rum’s accomplishments are still talked about whenever the Grand National is mentioned.

The Course

The Grand National is held each year at Aintree, and is 4 miles and 4 furlongs, or 4 ½ miles long, and is run over 2 laps of the outer perimeter of the racecourse. Each fence is jumped twice, with the exception of “The Chair” and “The Water Jump” which are only jumped on the first circuit of the track.

The jumps at the Grand National are notoriously difficult ones, even the smallest can cause difficulties, particularly since there are a large number of horses trying to clear them at one time. In 1967, there was a famous incident, when a melee (as they are referred to) occurred at fence 23. A horse that had unseated its rider earlier in the race, cut right across the pack, just before the fence.

This caused an almighty pile up, and Foinavon which was at the back somewhere managed to hold off and avoid the mess. By the time the rest of the pack managed to sort themselves out and give chase, Foinavon was so far ahead, that even though it was 100/1, it managed to hand on to win the race. The fence was since renamed Foinavon after this incident.

Another famous incident occurred in the early days of the Grand National, also resulting in the naming of a fence. A Captain Becher took part in the race of 1839, but his horse refused the fence and he was thrown over. In order to protect himself from the rest of the pack that were landing around him, he took to the shelter provided by the fence’s brook, and thus the fence is known as Becher’s Brook.

Previous winners

Year Winner Jockey Trainer Odds (SP) Going
2010 Don’t Push It Tony McCoy Jonjo O’Neill 10/1 Good
2009 Mon Mome Liam Treadwell Venetia Williams 100/1 Good to Soft
2008 Comply or Die Timmy Murphy David Pipe 7/1 Good
2007 Silver Birch Robbie Power Gordon Elliott 33/1 Good
2006 Numbersixvalverde Niall Madden Martin Brassil 11/1 Good to Soft
2005 Hedgehunter Ruby Walsh Willie Mullins 7/1 Good to Soft