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Aintree is on the outskirts of Liverpool, just one mile from the M57 and M58. Motorists should follow the A59 to Liverpool and the racecourse is clearly sign-posted on all race days. Rail passengers arriving at Liverpool Lime Street should make the short walk to Liverpool Central Station for trains direct to Aintree.
The Grand National Course is separate from the Mildmay Course and features the most famous fences in racing. Both courses are left handed and the Mildmay is flat and relatively sharp with birch fences.
The Grand National is run over two complete circuits of the two and a quarter mile triangular course. There are thirty fences in the race, each covered in green spruce. Becher’s Brook and The Chair are two of the toughest fences in steeplechasing, even allowing for the improved safety changes made in recent years.
Aintree Horse Racing History
Steeplechasing at Aintree can be traced back to 1836 with the first Grand National taking place three years’ later. The first running was won very appropriately by a horse called Lottery, ridden by Jem Mason. It is the richest steeplechase in Europe with prize money of £1million.
Edward Topham took over the land lease in 1848 and the family took over ownership of the course one hundred years later. The National was run at Gatwick Racecourse during the First World War between 1916 and 1918. There were no Grand Nationals between 1941 and 1945 due to the Second World War.
The race ran into financial difficulties in the early 1980’s and the sponsorship of Seagram from 1984 to 1991 helped to guarantee its future. It was very appropriate that the 1991 Grand National was won by a horse called Seagram.
Aintree Grand National
Aintree is famous for the three-day Grand National Festival in April. The meeting follows the Cheltenham Festival and often attracts horses that have excelled at Prestbury Park. The Grand National remains the biggest betting race in the calendar. The National course is also used for the Topham Trophy and the Foxhunters at the same meeting. There are also top class races over hurdles and fences on the Mildmay course.
The early November meeting features the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase over two and a half miles. There is also a good quality meeting in December with two races over the National fences. The Becher Chase is a recognised trial for the big race while the Grand Sefton Chase takes place on the same afternoon.
The Grand National is the clear highlight at Aintree and one of the most prestigious prizes in horse racing. There are ten Grade 1 races at the three-day Festival including the Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles. This race often attracts Champion Hurdle horses while Gold Cup horses compete for the Grade 1 Betway Bowl. The Melling Chase (two and a half miles) and the Liverpool Hurdle (three miles) also feature horses that ran well at Cheltenham.
The Old Roan Chase in October is the first significant race at Liverpool each season. The Grand Sefton Steeplechase is a handicap over two miles and five furlongs over the Grand National fences. The Becher Chase is over three and a quarter miles and often provides some Grand National clues.
Red Rum will forever be associated with the Aintree Grand National. Ginger McCain’s gelding is the only horse to have won the race three times with his victories coming in 1973, 1974 and 1977. Two of those races also feature at the top of the greatest ever Nationals, particularly his remarkable win over Crisp in 1973.
Red Rum was receiving 23lbs from Crisp and made up 15 lengths from the last fence. It was heart-breaking for supporters of the gallant runner-up but provided one of the National’s most enduring memories. “Rummy” was runner-up in 1975 and 1976, making his record third success even more remarkable. Emotions ran high as the Aintree legend powered to victory. Red Rum died in 1995 at the age of thirty and was buried adjacent to the Aintree winning post.
In 1981 Jockey Bob Champion famously defeated cancer to ride Aldaniti, himself recovering from a career-threatening injury. He beat Spartan Missile, the mount of 54-year-old amateur John Thorne. The race was turned into a film “Champions” which starred John Hurt.
Besides the glory, there have also been black days for the Grand National. The 1993 race was eventually declared void after a false start left one jockey tangled in the starting tape. Most of the 39 jockeys failed to acknowledge the false start and seven went on to complete the course. John White and Esha Ness “won” the race, only to discover that it had all been in vain.
Foinavon won at odds of 100-1 in 1967 following a dramatic pile-up at the 23rd fence. A riderless horse veered in front of the field, bringing most of them to a halt and causing total mayhem. John Buckingham and Foinavon had been labouring behind them and was able to steer a route through the chaos. The fence was subsequently renamed the Foinavon fence.
The 1997 Grand National was postponed due to bomb threats, causing an evacuation of the course. It was re-scheduled for the following Monday with Lord Gyllene earning his place in the history books. The most famous horse not to win the Grand National was Devon Loch in 1956, owned by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. He had galloped five lengths clear on the run-in under jockey Dick Francis, only to spook and land on all fours. This allowed E.S.B. to claim a fortuitous victory.
In 2001 Red Marauder won the race in desperate conditions, one of only four horses to complete the course. Other notable Grand National winners include Golden Miller (1934), L’Escargot (1975), Ben Nevis (1980), Corbiere (1983), Mr Frisk (1990), Don’t Push It (2010) and Neptune Collonges (2012). Don’t Push It provided Champion jockey Tony McCoy with a long awaited Grand National win after fifteen previous attempts. Neptune Collonges beat Sunnyhillboy by a nose with the well-backed Seabass five lengths away in third. Seabass was ridden by Katy Walsh who had looked set to become the first lady rider to win the race when leading at the second last fence.
Aintree Top Jockeys and Trainers
Followers of Colin Tizzard have enjoyed a near 30% strike rate in the past three seasons and a very healthy level stakes profit. Tom George also does well here over fences and his bumper horses are worthy of consideration.
Nicky Henderson is the trainer to follow over hurdles and in National Hunt flat races at Aintree. He has won over £500,000 in prize money over the same period, more than twice the total of his nearest rival. His strike rate is 24% and his hurdlers have also brought a level stakes profit.
Harry Cobden has a good record over fences at Aintree along with Robbie Power. Paul Townend has made the most of his opportunities over hurdles.