This weekend sees the world’s biggest steeplechase return to UK shores for the 176th time as the Crabbies Grand National takes centre stage at Aintree racecourse in Liverpool.
A gruelling 4m 3 ½f course and 30 mammoth obstacles stand between these hardened stayers and a share of the £1,000,000 prize pool.
With over 600 million people expected to tune in from 140 different countries, it’s a race that can truly be considered a maker of legends, but what is it that brings so many people flocking back year after year?
It’s a race steeped in history having first been run in 1839 when the appropriately named Lottery became the inaugural winner under the jockeyship of Jem Mason. Since then, thousands of hopefuls have taken to the hallowed turf in search of victory and only Abd-El-Kader (1850/51), The Colonel (1869/70), Reynoldstown (1935/36) and a certain bay gelding by the name of Red Rum (1973/74) have ever successfully defended their crown.
The latter is a household name, synonymous with the sport of horse racing throughout the world having won the Grand National an astonishing three times, picking up his third and final victory in 1977. A model of consistency, he finished second in 1975 and 1976 and can boast to have never fallen in 100 career races – a credit to his popular trainer, Ginger McCain, who incidentally won a fourth Grand National as a trainer in 28 years later with Amberleigh House.
While Red Rum combined outstanding jumping ability with unrelenting stamina, sometimes just making it round the track in one piece can be enough for victory. In 1967, the world witnessed one of the most dramatic moments in the history of horse racing. As the 28 remaining runners approached the 23rd fence, a loose horse careered across the front runners causing many of them to fall or stop altogether. The race came to a near standstill apart from one runner, 100/1 outsider Foinavon, who had been so far behind that his jockey had plenty of time to race wide and avoid the ensuing carnage. Although many riders remounted in an attempt to catch the tearaway opportunist, Foinavon romped home by 15 lengths in one of the great underdog stories of our time.
Luck will inevitably play a part in any Grand National with so many variables that need to fall in to place for any chance of success. There are those who lady luck seems to pass by when it comes to race day, one of which is the highly talented horseman, Richard Johnson. As a man who has won almost every accolade in racing throughout the years, he has now competed in the National 19 times without success, although finished as a runner-up for the second time last year on Balthazar King.
He returns this year on the same steed and arrives having won on his only appearance since last year’s valiant effort. The 2015 showpiece also represents the final Grand National for another racing legend, Tony McCoy, who finally broke his duck in this race at the 15th attempt in 2010. He’s likely to board Shutthefrontdoor in what would be a fairy tale end to an exceptional career. Last year’s winner, Pineau De Re, returns off the back of some below par runs this season, although his jockey from 2014, Leighton Aspell, takes the reigns of Many Cloud this time around.
Whether you enjoy a regular wager or prefer to save yourself for the big races, the Grand National 2015 is not to be missed and will undoubtedly bring its own share of drama and memories that will be talked about for years to come. Whatever system you use, whatever horse you end up backing, best of luck and we’ll be back next week for our continuing education into the world of sports betting!