This year’s Grand National, hosted by Aintree Racecourse, takes place from 12th to 14th April. Whether you’re attending for the first time or you’re a seasoned visitor, you’ll no doubt want to make sure you get the most out of your experience.
That’s why we’ve pulled together the ultimate guide for Grand National visitors – read on to find out how to make sure your time at the races is a memorable one.
Aintree Racecourse is in Aintree, Merseyside, which is easy to reach both by car and by public transport.
If travelling by car, it’s easily accessed via the M57 and M58 motorways, which connect with the M6 and M62. You’ll find the Racecourse well signposted as you get closer. Bear in mind, though, that car parking is limited for the Grand National and must be booked online in advance.
Those travelling by train will find Aintree Station conveniently located opposite the Racecourse. On race days, trains run every 15 minutes between Aintree and Liverpool Lime Street station.
Bus numbers 300, 311, 345, 350 and 351 travel between Aintree and Liverpool, while for visitors who plan to fly, Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport is a 20 minute drive away, and Manchester Airport just 45 minutes by car.
What Happens On Each Day?
Each of the three days of the Grand National features different events. The Thursday is the “curtain raiser” for the main event: a day that features four Grade One contests as well as other world-class racing, alongside a variety of live music and other entertainment.
The Friday is Ladies Day when, for many, the racing is less important than visitors competing in the style stakes. Expect fashionistas displaying all sorts of weird and wonderful creations, with a Style Award on offer for one lucky winner.
The Saturday plays host to the Grand National itself: the chance for 40 horses and their riders to compete in the two-lap handicap steeplechase which features 30 fences in the 4-mile, 514-yard race.
Tickets are available separately for the three days of the Grand National and can be bought online, in person at Aintree, or over the phone. Those wanting to attend have two main choices when it comes to tickets: a regular ticket, or a hospitality package.
Tickets for the Saturday start from £29 for a Steeplechase ticket, with other terraces and viewing galleries commanding higher prices.
Hospitality packages include extras such as three-course meals, drinks and afternoon tea – and understandably command higher prices. Standard packages range from around £239 to £699 per person, but packages can be customised to suit individual needs too.
A Guide To Aintree
Tickets can be booked in a range of different areas, depending on the experience you want. The Racecourse is home to a whole host of enclosures and stands with differing views of the course and varying facilities, while it’s also possible to watch the Grand National trackside and experience all the thrill of the action close up.
Head to the Parade Ring and you’ll be able to see all the horses and their riders parading before each race, which is also a great opportunity to check out their form before placing your bets.
The Winner’s Enclosure is where the owners of winning horses are reunited with their animals, and where you’ll see the trophies presented. And finally, every single ticket holder will have access to the Red Rum Garden, which is well worth a visit: here you’ll see a statue of three-time Grand National winner Red Rum, and on race days, it’s home to plenty of entertainment too. And if you’re visiting on Ladies Day, you’ll find it’s where the Ladies Day Style Award is presented.
While there is no official dress code for the Grand National, visitors have adopted certain unofficial rules over the years. Fancy dress and sportswear are, understandably, banned, and visitors tend to see the occasion as a chance to don their smartest outfits – often in bold, bright colours.
Hats are optional but common and are worn by men and women alike. Ladies Day is a different matter, where Aintree’s Style Code is inspired by Coco Chanel’s famous quote, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman”.
How To Bet
As well as being able to bet online through various betting sites, those visiting the Grand National have three choices when it comes to placing bets in person.
The Tote is like a lottery: rather than betting against bookmakers, all bets go into a single pool, and payouts vary depending on the total value of bets placed.
Bookmakers can normally be found by the rails or in front of the grandstand. If using bookmakers to place bets, it’s important to shop around: you’ll find that different bookmakers offer different odds on each race.
Finally, you’ll also find regular betting shops dotted around the racecourse in various locations. Here, betting works in the same way as at high street betting shops – and you’ll often also be able to bet on other events too.
There are two types of bet you’ll be able to place on the horse of your choice. A win-only bet will only pay out if your horse wins the race, while an each-way bet will pay if it comes in first, second, third or fourth.
You’ll more than likely hear this term used by both bookmakers and spectators at the Grand National. The Going refers to the condition of the course on the race day itself, and is classified as ‘Firm’, ‘Good’, ‘Good to Soft’, ‘Good to Firm’, ‘Soft’ or ‘Heavy’.
Course conditions are important, as different horses will favour different conditions. The state of the course can affect both running speed and jumping, meaning the odds for each horse will change depending on the conditions under which they race best.
Aintree is just five miles from Liverpool which, as a major city, is home to a wide variety of hotels, B&Bs and privately rented rooms and properties to suit all tastes and budgets. The region’s tourist board has its own website with details of local accommodation options as well as online booking – see more at visitliverpool.com.
You could also head in the opposite direction to the nearby neighbourhood seaside resort of Southport, or even one of the smaller (and closer) in-between villages such as Formby, Crosby or Ince Blundell.
Food and Drink
Grand National visitors are unable to bring their own food and drink into the racecourse, but there are plenty of restaurants, bars and other food concessions on-site to keep guests well fed and watered.
Those with hospitality tickets will have meals and drinks included in their ticket price, while those with standard tickets can choose from various fine dining restaurants, as well as street food stands serving up everything from burgers and fish and chips to noodles, hog roasts, pizzas and more.
The Moet et Chandon Champagne Bar serves wines, champagnes and deli sandwiches, while there’s also a seafood and champagne lounge, as well as branded coffee outlets and more.
Walking The Course
Grand National ticket holders can make even more of the occasion by walking the course. By downloading the Aintree app, visitors can walk around the course, accompanied by in-app details of the race’s heritage and history.
Alternatively, there are now buggy tours available too, which anyone can enjoy and which are particularly great for those who find walking the course a challenge. Buggies seat either eight or 10 people, and run on the morning of each day of the Grand National, starting at 10.10am, and running regularly until 12pm to give visitors time to get back on the grandstand side of the course before the racing begins.
There is no booking available and buggy tours are on a first come, first served basis, so it’s worth queuing early to avoid disappointment. Tours will take in most of the fences, and are accompanied by information and history about the course, the race and the fences.
Aintree racecourse has excellent facilities for disabled visitors, with provisions including disabled toilets at various points throughout the racecourse, as well as lowered service counters in many of its bars and restaurants. Every single stand offers induction loops for the hard of hearing, while other facilities include disabled car parking, widened doors, lifts, Braille signage and more. Visual, cognitive, motor and hearing impairments have all been considered by the Aintree racecourse team, and they’re happy to be contacted before the Grand National if visitors have any specific requirements they’d like to discuss.
A visit to the Grand National is a thrilling experience, whether you choose the most basic ticket or a full-blown hospitality experience. The excitement of the races, the thrill of placing a bet, the huge choice of food and drink options, the sight of so many stylishly dressed spectators make for an experience for all the senses. Whether you’re brand new to the occasion or have been attending for years, there’s always something new and exciting to discover, with no two years the same.