Grand National wide 3



Holly Phillips grabs the reins and jumps headfirst into why the steeplechase is one of the most entertaining days at the races.

What exactly is it?
The now corporately titled ‘Randox’ Grand National is one of the most prestigious horse races in the UK and, statistically, the world’s most famous steeplechase race. Held annually at Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside, the national hunt attracts upwards of 150,000 people through the gates, with global viewing figures hitting 600 million last time out.

Broadcast in over 140 countries, Aintree’s Grand National festival is a three-day showcase, with the main steeplechase taking the spotlight on the last day of the event, April 13.

It’s a ‘handicap’ horse race, meaning each horse carries a weight allocated by the handicapper. Better horses usually carry a heavier loads, giving an advantage to also-rans on race day.

What does the course look like?
This year, 34 horses will run two laps of the triangular course, covering four miles and two and a half furlongs (502.92 metres). Thoroughbreds jump 16 fences twice, and ‘The Chair’ once. Standing a smidge shorter than your average jockey at five-foot-two, the fence is two inches taller than the rest. And notoriously difficult to clear.

When haring down on the 474-yard run-in from the final fence. The longest flat finish in the country will see dreams either made or broken.


English Jockey Bob Champion rides Aldaniti to victory in the Grand National, 1981.


Where did it all start and how is it going?
The National Hunt horse race first clipped on its reigns in the early 1800s. The Duke took home the crown in 1836 racing in Maghull. Three years later the race appeared at Aintree. Lottery was the winner on that occasion, becoming the slowest on record, trotting in a time of 14 minutes and 53 seconds.

It was first known domestically as the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase. And later made into a handicap race in 1843, by English journalist and playwright, Edward William Topham.

Aintree suffered a tough post-war period, first opening its doors back to the paying public in 1946. Troubles first materialised during the Blitz with three bombs landing on the course – and later at the hands of Americans, as GIs took over the space to use as a transport camp.

Nowadays, the three-dayer has been rolled, grass cut, and is worth £60 million to the local economy.

Who holds all the records?
The most successful horse to run the Grand National is Red Rum. The Irish thoroughbred won the race three times in 1973, ‘74 and ‘77. His remains are buried at the Winning Post.

George Stevens won the race a record five times. His last came in 1870 with The Colonel, one year before his untimely passing when riding home to his cottage on Cleeve Hill in Gloucestershire.

Mr Frisk ran the course in the fastest time of eight minutes 47 seconds in 1990.

The closest-ever winner was Neptune Collonges, who won the race by a short nose from Sunnyhillboy in 2012.

The oldest winning horse was the creatively named Peter Simple, who was 15 years old in 1853.

Since 2012, only seven-year-olds and upwards can compete, but the youngest-ever winners were: Alcibiade in 1865, Regal in 1876, Austerlitz in 1877, Empress in 1880, and Lutteur III in 1909. All aged five.

And finally… The youngest ever jockey to win the race was Bruce Hobbs. The New Yorker won on Battleship, a son of Man o' War, in 1938 just three months after his 17th birthday.

Doing it for the Girls.
Horse racing has seen a recent rise in female jockeys, trainers and owners. One rider in particular, Rachel ‘Superglue’ Blackmore became the first jockette to win the Grand National in 2021 on Minella Times.

Later that year, Blackmore rode Honeysuckle to victory, becoming the first lassie to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in the process. Finishing with six winners across the weekend, she was (again) the first woman to lift the Ruby Walsh trophy.


It’s all smiles for Ireland’s Rachel Blackmore as she rides Minella Times to win the Grand National at Aintree in 2021.


The Irishwoman’s success didn’t stop there. In 2022, Blackmore rode Honeysuckle to another sweet success at Cheltenham. Followed by a win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, riding favourite, A Plus Tard, to a gaping 15-lengther.

And, and and… This win pocketed her another record, as she became the first female jockey to win the Gold Cup. Her first Grand National was won without a crowd, so, with the roar of the Mersey-side faithful behind her, maybe she’ll bag another this year.

Despite all that, the UK’s most successful female jump jockey is Bryony Frost. She is the daughter of the winner of the 1989 Grand National, Jimmy ‘Frosty’ Frost. And, won the George VI Chase on Boxing Day in 2020.

What’s up for grabs?
Aside from the sterling silver and gold Randox Grand National Trophy, and pride. Being one of the richest horse races in the world, prize money totals one million smackeroonies. The winner receives £561,300 and second place takes home £211,100. The race rewards up to 10th place. Should they all finish.

How can I follow the action?
If you’re looking to keep track of every fence jumped and corner turned, Talksport and the BBC broadcast the race in full.

How are they making it safer?
Concerns over animal welfare are obvious, but race organisers and The Jockey Club have taken serious steps to ensure the safety of horses is prioritised. If not guaranteed this time out.

The race has faced its first major revamp in 10 years, introducing 3D-printed plastic birch to each jump and removing drop landings.

Instead of 40 runners, there are only 34 this year – a significant reduction from 66 in the past. Additionally, the first fence is two furlongs closer to reduce the speed of arrival.

The 11th fence, ‘The Booth’, has been trimmed by two inches to lower risk. And the time of the race has been brought forward into the early afternoon. Thought to help reduce the chaotic atmosphere, with the hopes that attendees will have consumed less booze.

A standing start, pre-race veterinary checks, and removing handlers from the parade, are a few further measures put in place to help our four-legged equine friends.


Peter Carberry falls off his horse, Gabbys Cross, at Aintree in 2023.


Famous Fences
Becher’s Brook provides a challenging leap of faith, demonstrating that timing and concentration are key. With a left turn after jumping, it requires a level of precision to get on the right foot and land well. It’s jumped sixth and 22nd and consists of a six-foot-nine-inch drop on landing.

Named after Captain Martin Becher – a former soldier and a ground-breaking jockey who fell at the fence but hid in the brook as horses continued to fly above him – the camber this year will be made less severe in the moral cause of health and safety.  

The Chair is situated just in front of the grandstand, for everyone to see. As well as being the tallest jump, it is also the widest, with the ditch eating up six feet of grass. Originally known as the Monument Jump, it gained its new name when a seat was placed alongside the fence for a judge to sit on. The Chair is jumped 15th in the race. With a relatively straightforward landing, bravery is not wholly necessary, but calculation is key. 

Valentine’s Brook presents a similar, but less daunting version of Becher’s. Five feet tall, Valentine’s features a ditch equal in width. Initially known as ‘Second Brook’, the jump gained its moniker from a horse named after the festival of love. Coming to a standstill in 1840, Valentine reared up and corkscrewed over the fence, finishing third in the second official Grand National race. This fence is jumped ninth and 25th. 

Who’s In The Running This Year?
Corach Rambler 
Age: 10
Owner: The Ramblers
Trainer: Lucinda Russell
This Irish-bred thoroughbred won the race last year under Derek Fox and has a few more Ultima Handicap Chase wins under his reigns. Winning The Grand National ahead of his 2023 competitor, Vanillier, by a good couple of lengths, he secured trainer, Lucinda, her second Merseyside win. The favourite for last year. The favourite for this year. The Rambler keeping hold of its crown has got to be worth a fiver each way. If that’s your thing.

Age: 9
Owner: T J McDonald
Trainer: John ‘Shark’ Hanlon
This Irish Bay Gelding, who remarkably only cost his owner €850, has tallied wins, punching well above his weight as an expected also-ran. His record goes something like this: two major handicap chases (the bet365 Gold Cup, and the Galway Plate in 2022), followed by the American Grand National later that year. This bargain horse made ears prick up at the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase by winning his fourth huge race on Boxing Day 2023. A plucky outsider if there ever was one.


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