AINTREE NATIONAL COURSE
GUIDE TO AINTREE & THE GRAND NATIONAL
The course, fences and history of the race…
Race & Course Guide
Aintree has been the home of the Grand National since it’s first running in 1839, and although a version of the race took place in years prior to this, 1839 is the accepted date of the official commencement of The Grand National.
Since those early days the course and fences have undergone many changes. Most recently the wooden stakes at the core of the fences have been replaced with flexible plastic to reduce the risk of horses and jockeys getting injured. The starting line has also moved further away from the main stand as this helps the horses remain calmer in the moments before the off.
These changes haven’t effected the essence of the race, which still remains the one of the toughest tests of horse and rider in the world. Forty horses line up at the starting tape and around 60% of the entrants will not complete the race, which is four and a half miles long and has thirty fence jumps.
Aintree is the home of the Grand National and apart from a couple of years during the first world war, the race has always taken place at the course, which is located just five miles from the centre of Liverpool. Well served by public transport and a train station, the course is modern and offers a wide range of facilities. The Grand National is just one of many race meetings that take place during the National Hunt season although not all meetings and races are run over the National course.
Getting to Aintree is very easy from all parts of the United Kingdom. Liverpool has excellent rail links, motorway access and is served by John Lennon Airport. Queues on the day of the Grand National can build up on the roads surrounding the course but this is to be expected for such a popular sporting occasion. Around 70,000 racing fans will watch the race live making it one of the biggest sporting events in the calendar.
The Grand National course is 4 miles and 4 furlongs long. The horses encounter 16 different fences with varying degrees of height and width. Riders must navigate two circuits of the course (missing out fences 15 & 16 on the second circuit) before turning for the home straight which is the longest run-in of any UK racecourse.
The Grand National is the longest race in the UK but it’s the difficulty for the fences that provide the real challenge to horse and rider. Just a mention of the fences Becher’s Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn make a jockey’s blood run cold.
Often called the ‘Original Extreme Sport’ steeplechase races originated in Ireland. Legend has it that the first race was between Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake as they raced from Buttevant Church to St. Leger Church, or from steeple to steeple, hence the term steeplechase. Those original cross country races are now replicated on racecourses across England and Ireland. However, the Aintree course is arguably the toughest of all. Jockeys no longer have to jump a stone wall at Aintree or cross the ploughed field, but the water jumps, brooks and ditches still feature on many of its fences.
Tickets for the Grand National are available to buy online at aintree.co.uk, prices range from £20 all the way up to £600 for corporate hospitality packages. You are advised to book early as the last two Grand National meetings have sold out completely. Tickets in popular parts of the course are snapped up months before the race is due to take place (9th April 2016).