The Grand National is an annual National Hunt horse racing event held at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. A three-day meet takes place from Thursday to Saturday, usually during early April, with Ladies’ Day on the Friday and the main Grand National race taking place on the Saturday afternoon.
Sources vary as to exactly when the first Grand National race was run. There are suggestions that earlier races at other courses may have been predecessors to the Grand National. The “official” line, however, taken by Aintree Racecourse, and Grand National organisers, is that the race was established in 1839, at the racecourse in Aintree.
There have been few reasons for the yearly event to be cancelled: during the First World War, the race was temporarily relocated to Gatwick Racecourse (which is no longer in existence), and so these are not considered “true” Grand National races; and, the period of 1941-1945 saw Aintree Racecourse commandeered for the war effort of the Second World War, meaning that no races could be run for the duration. In 1993, although a number of horses ran the full course and completed the race, the result was declared void following a false start which had not been communicated to the riders.
The 1997 race was a perfect example of British resolve and the generosity of the people of Liverpool; two bomb threats called in prior to the start of the race led to an evacuation of the course and surrounding area, while all vehicles inside the course were locked in. It being almost impossible to get a hotel room in Liverpool on Grand National Weekend, with them being booked up months in advance, and many racegoers unable to get to their cars or coaches in order to return home, local residents opened up their homes to jockeys and visitors alike, in order to make the best of a bad situation.
The Grand National is a controversial race. Although it is one of the highlights of the racing calendar, and a huge event for many people, there are many animal rights groups oppose the running of the race.
In this National Hunt Steeplechase, dozens of horses and riders at the Grand National must negotiate 16 fences, water obstacles and ditches. The obstacles vary in size, with the tallest of the fences, The Chair, measuring 5 feet 2 inches in height. With the size, number and variety of obstacles, as well as the vast number of runners, there are inevitably a number of horses who fall, lose their riders or are pulled up (stopped) by the jockey. However, the Grand National - the race itself, and the entire 3-day meet - has a much higher rate of fatalities than “average” horse races. Although steps have been taken to reduce the risk to horses, such as modification to the fences, and on-site vets and treatment being immediately available to all horses, there is increasing opposition to the running of the race.
This truly historical event is of great importance to the city of Liverpool and the horse racing calendar and community, but for how much longer will it continue?