The Grand National
As the most famous steeplechase in the world, the Grand National requires little, or no, introduction. The advertised distance of the Aintree marathon may have been reduced to four miles and two-and-a-half furlongs – a furlong shorter than previously, following re-measurement of the National Course in 2016 – and the obstacles may have been ‘softened’ for safety purposes, but the race remains a formidable test of stamina and jumping ability. To win the Grand National horses must complete two circuits of the National Course, negotiate thirty obstacles, including the infamous Becher’s Brook, Canal Turn and The Chair, and retain enough stamina for the famously long, 494-yard run-in between the final fence and the winning post. In 2020 the Grand National was cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This put on ice the Gordon Elliot trained Tiger Roll’s attempt to win three Grand Nationals in a row.
Aintree Racecourse, the home of the Grand National, was created by William Lynn, the proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool, in 1829. Lynn originally leased the land at Aintree from William Molynuex, Second Earl of Sefton, with the intention of staging Flat racing. However, prompted by the success of an existing steeplechase, known as the Great St. Albans Steeplechase, Lynn staged a precursor to the Grand National, known as the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase, or simply the Liverpool Steeplechase, for the first time in 1836. Interestingly, the inaugural running was won by The Duke, ridden by Captain Martin Becher, who famously sheltered in the brook at the fence which now bears his name during the first ‘official’ Grand National in 1839.
Although still known by its original title, the 1839 renewal was won by the aptly-named Lottery, trained by George Dockeray and ridden by Jem Mason. Originally a conditions or weight-for-age race, in which all the participants carried twelve stone, the Grand National became a handicap, under the influence of Edward Topham – who later acquired the lease and became Clerk of the Course at Aintree – in 1843. Aside from the years 1916-1918, when a substitute race, known as the ‘Racecourse Association Steeplechase’ and subsequently as the ‘War National’, was run at Gatwick Racecourse, 1941-1945, when the race was abandoned, and 1993, when the race was declared void after thirty jockeys failed to realise a false start had been called, the Grand National has been staged as a handicap at Aintree ever since.