Horse racing has been a popular sport for centuries, but few events have captured the imagination of the public like the Grand National. This legendary steeplechase has a long and fascinating history, filled with exciting moments, heartbreak, and controversy. In this article, we’ll explore the story of the Grand National, from its origins to the present day.
The Grand National is a horse race that has been held annually at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England, since 1839. It is widely considered one of the most challenging and prestigious steeplechases in the world, with a grueling four-mile course featuring 30 jumps. The Grand National is also one of the most-watched sporting events in the UK, attracting millions of viewers each year.
The Origins of the Grand National
The Grand National was first run in 1839, when a group of local businessmen in Liverpool decided to create a new horse race to rival the popular Epsom Derby. The race was originally called the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, and it was run over a two-mile course with 18 jumps. The first winner was a horse named Lottery, ridden by jockey Jem Mason.
Over the next few decades, the race grew in popularity, with larger crowds and longer courses. In 1856, the race was renamed the Grand National, and it became an annual event. The course was extended to its current length of four miles in 1883, and the number of jumps increased to 30.
The Golden Age of the Grand National
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the Grand National reach new heights of popularity and excitement. The race became a national event, with crowds of over 100,000 people attending each year. The Golden Age of the Grand National was marked by a series of legendary horses and jockeys, including Manifesto, Red Rum, and George Stevens.
Manifesto was one of the greatest horses in Grand National history, winning the race twice in 1897 and 1899. He also finished second in two other runnings of the race. Red Rum was another iconic horse, winning the Grand National three times in 1973, 1974, and 1977. His jockey, Brian Fletcher, also became a household name.
The Modern Era of the Grand National
The Grand National continued to evolve throughout the 20th century, with new safety measures and changes to the course. In 1990, the infamous Becher’s Brook jump was modified to make it safer for horses and riders. The race also began to attract international competitors, with horses from Ireland, France, and other countries entering the field.
In recent years, the Grand National has become a major betting event, with millions of pounds wagered on the outcome each year. The race has also faced increased scrutiny from animal rights activists, who have called for the event to be banned due to concerns about horse welfare.
The Most Memorable Grand Nationals of All Time
Over the years, the Grand National has produced countless memorable moments and thrilling finishes. Some of the most unforgettable races include Red Rum’s historic three wins, the “Foinavon” race in 1967, and the “Devon Loch” race in 1956.
Here are some of our personal favourites…
The First Grand National – 1839
The first Grand National was held on February 26, 1839. It was won by a horse named Lottery, ridden by Jem Mason. The race was only two miles long, but it was a grueling test of endurance for both horse and rider. The inaugural event was so popular that it became an annual event.
The Red Rum Era – 1970s
Red Rum is arguably the most famous horse in Grand National history. He won the race three times in the 1970s, and his first victory in 1973 was especially memorable. Red Rum was carrying a record weight of 11st 8lb and came from behind to beat the favorite, Crisp, in a thrilling finish.
Foinavon’s Upset – 1967
The 1967 Grand National was won by a horse named Foinavon, who was a 100-1 outsider. The race is remembered for a pile-up at the 23rd fence that took out many of the favorites. Foinavon, who was so far behind that he was almost lapped, was able to avoid the chaos and go on to win the race.
Aldaniti’s Triumph – 1981
The 1981 Grand National is remembered for the incredible comeback of the horse Aldaniti. The horse had undergone two years of treatment for a career-threatening injury and had almost been put down. But he recovered and went on to win the Grand National, ridden by jockey Bob Champion, who had also overcome cancer.
The Void Race – 1993
The 1993 Grand National was declared void after a series of false starts and a chaotic race that saw many horses fall. The race was controversially called off, and all bets were refunded. It remains the only Grand National to be declared void in its history.
The Miracle of 41 – 1941
The 1941 Grand National was run during World War II, and only 41 horses entered the race due to travel restrictions. The race is remembered for the incredible feat of the winning horse, Sheila’s Cottage, who carried a record weight of 12st and won by a massive 100 yards.
Party Politics Wins – 1992
The 1992 Grand National was won by Party Politics, ridden by jockey Carl Llewellyn. The win was especially memorable as it was the first time a woman had trained the winning horse – Jenny Pitman.
Amberleigh House’s Late Surge – 2004
The 2004 Grand National was won by Amberleigh House, ridden by jockey Graham Lee. The horse was 12 years old, making him one of the oldest horses to win the race. He came from behind in the final stretch to win by three lengths in a thrilling finish.
Conclusion – The greatest race of all time
The Grand National is the biggest race on the UK horse racing calendar and for good reason, it’s steeped in history and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
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