The Grand National

The Grand National is probably the single most famous British horse race.

It is run on a Saturday each April at the Aintree racecourse, just outside Liverpool in the North West of England.

It is a true challenge for both horse and rider, it’s four and a half miles long (that’s four miles and four furlongs in racing parlance or 7.2 Km), around two circuits of the Aintree course, with some thirty fences being jumped.


Some of the fences have achieved near legendary status – ‘Bechers Brook’ and ‘The Chair’ – although they have been tamed somewhat in recent years to satisfy the demands of animal rights campaigners – fifty eight horses and one jockey have lost their lives to the race since 1836.

The race is open to horses six years and older. One horse ‘Red Rum’ famously won the race on three occasions in the 1970’s – in (1973, 1974, 1977) – he came second in 1975 and 76. ‘Rummie’ as he became known, was a national celebrity, on one occasion he switched on the lights at the famous Blackpool illuminations. After his death he was buried at Aintree and a statue commemorates him.

‘Tiger Roll’ won the race in 2018 and 2019. The 2020 running was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the horse Potters Corner ‘won’ a CGI simulation featuring the 40 most likely runners.

But to say that ‘The National’ is a horse race is only part of the story, it is very much a national institution, the one race a year when almost everybody has a small wager, be it office sweepstakes or a granny putting a pound on a horse because she likes the name.

And sometimes that’s as good as studying the form book, the favourite has only won on 24 occasions (since 1836) while outsiders with odds greater than 20/1 have won on no less than 40 occasions.  It’s been won by 100/1 outsiders on four occasions, including 2009.

Such a sporting spectacle has been the target of political protest, the 1997 race was abandoned after bomb threats were received, supposedly from the provisional IRA. The race was run on the Monday, with 20,000 free tickets being made available.

And of course the race has been immortalised in film, National Velvet (1944) starring a young Elizabeth Taylor and ‘Champions’ (1984) starring John Hurt as the jockey Bob Champion – who won the 1981 race on ‘Aldaniti’.

The 2020 race was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic but, on April 10th 2021, Rachael Blackmore created history by becoming the first female jockey to win the Grand National, triumphing on Minella Times. The 11-1 chance, trained by Henry de Bromhead, finished six-and-a-half lengths clear of stablemate Balko Des Flos (100-1), ridden by Aidan Coleman. The 2021 race was closed to the public.