What is the Grand National?

Watched by an estimated worldwide television audience of 600 million, the Grand National is the most famous steeplechase in the world and, as such, requires little introduction. The first ‘official’ running of the Grand National took place at Aintree Racecourse, in Merseyside, North West England, in 1839. Modifications to the course, fences and race conditions mean that the modern incarnation of the celebrated steeplechase is a far cry from those pioneering days but, while the Grand National is a safer proposition than was once the case, it remains the ultimate test of endurance for horse and jockey.

Four-and-a-quarter miles and thirty, idiosyncratic fences – some of which have become famous, or infamous, in their own right – stand between any horse and Grand National glory. Winning the National once is no mean feat, but Red Rum, trained by Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain won an unprecedented three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977, and finished second in 1975 and 1976. More recently, Tiger Roll, trained by Gordon Elliott, won the National in 2018 and 2019 and was denied the opportunity to complete an equally unprecedented hat-trick when the race was cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Grand National is famously unpredictable and, in 172 runnings, has thrown up five winners at 100/1, four at 66/1, four at 50/1 and seven at 40/1. Perhaps the most famous outsider to win the Grand National was the 100/1 chance Foinavon who, in 1967, took advantage of a pile-up at the twenty-third fence – which now bears his name – to establish an unassailable lead.