Guest Author - Karyn Johnson
Aintree is one of the most famous and brutal horse racing tracks in the world, and every year, the Grand National takes place there, an event that started in the early 19th century.
Grand National is a steeplechase. In this type of race, the horses must clear many gates and hurdles along the track, rather than just running the course.
Aintree racecourse is located just outside of Liverpool. It is one of the world's most difficult courses, with thirty steeplechase fences. In the 1839, the Grand National took place there, and has continued since, only pausing for World Wars I and II.
Here are some interesting tidbits about this beloved steeplechase:
- The original Grand National began at Maghull racecourse in 1837. The course was demolished, however, and the race moved to Aintree in 1839. That year, a horse named Lottery finished first.
- The Grand National takes place every year in early April at Aintree. The race is four and a half miles, and the horses will jump all but two of the thirty steeplechase fences twice. Generally, about forty horses compete. Of these, usually ten are able to finish. There is one year (1928) when only two horses crossed the finish line. In 1984, twenty-three horses completed the course.
- Several of the fences at Aintree are nicknamed, usually after a horse or a jockey that had particular trouble with that fence. Such names are: Beecher's Brook, Foinavon Fence, and Valentine's Brook. The tallest gate, known as "The Chair," is five feet two inches, and is only jumped once.
- The Grand National was dramatized in the classic movie National Velvet, starring Elizabeth Taylor, which is based on the novel by Enid Bagnold. While National Velvet is a fictional account of the race, the film Champions is based on the events of the 1981 race.
- Despite the popularity of this event, the Grand National almost became extinct in the 1970s. In 1975, the race hit its lowest point in popularity ever, as Aintree changed owners and admission prices tripled. But after some lean years, the general public realized how much they loved this race, and vowed to keep it alive. It has been revitalized since, with the help of various corporate sponsors and through donations.
- Red Rum is perhaps the most famous horse to complete the race. He won three times: 1973, 1974, and 1977. He came in second in 1975 and 1976. "Rummy" became a national celebrity and was named BBC Sports Celebrity of the Year, the only animal to receive such an honor.
- The Grand National is a huge sporting event in Britain, however, it was delayed by 25 minutes in 2005 out of respect for the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
For more information on the race and its history, visit The Aintree Racecourse Official Website.