Welcome to your complete guide to the Aintree Grand National - an indispensable aid to finding the winner of the world's most famous and prestigious horse race.
The 2015 Crabbie's Grand National takes place on Saturday 11th April and a total of 22 races will take place across the 2015 Crabbie's Grand National Festival, which starts with Grand Opening Day on Thursday 9th and is followed by Ladies Day on Friday 10th, before Saturday's Grand National Day. The races will be watched at Aintree Racecourse by over 150,000 racegoers across the three days, while an estimated worldwide audience of 600 million people will watch the Grand National live on television on the 11th.
The 2014 Grand National was won by Pineau De Re, who we had highlighted at odds of 33/1 as one of our Grand National tips. As is almost always the case, the contest had a fairy tale ending, as winning jockey Leighton Aspell had retired from race riding as a result of becoming increasing disillusioned with the sport, only to have a change of heart, which ultimately led to his crowning glory here.
This site contains everything you need to know about this magical race which is one of the highlights of the sporting year. Indeed the four-and-a-half mile marathon event captures the imagination of millions around the world, thanks to its ability to consistently produce thrilling finishes and heart-warming stories, as horse and rider try to conquer the mighty Aintree fences.The Grand National has made the likes of Red Rum, Aldaniti, Jenny Pitman and Ginger McCain household names, whilst fences such as Becher's Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn are equally familiar.
Indeed, given the race’s long history, it is no surprise that so many milestones have been reached and remarkable stories have unfolded. For example, no horse has run in the Grand National more times than Manifesto, who competed in eight renewals of the race between 1895 and 1904, winning twice, in 1897 and 1899, and finishing third on three other occasions.
The Aintree Grand National was first run in 1839 and Bruce Hobbs, aged 17, was the youngest winning jockey in 1938, on Battleship, the smallest horse ever to win.
Dick Saunders, aged 48, was the oldest successful rider on Grittar in 1982, his first and only Grand National ride - after which he announced his immediate retirement.
Jenny Pitman was the first woman to train a Grand National winner, capturing the race for the first time with Corbiere in 1983. She succeeded again with Royal Athlete in 1995 and finished second with Garrison Savannah in 1991. In 2009, Venetia Williams became the second woman to saddle a National winner, with Mon Mome (11 years after she had actually ridden in the race).
Plenty of the race’s most fascinating stories revolve around its fearsome obstacles. Did you know that the least number of horses to complete the race is two, in 1928: Tipperary Tim and Billy Barton (who remounted)? Likewise, in 2001, when Red Marauder beat Smarty, only four of the forty horses completed, with two of these having to be remounted.
With history in mind, we are advocates of learning lessons from the past when trying to find the winners of the future. For example, did you know that only Red Rum has managed to carry more than 11st 5lbs to victory since 1957?
Just as noteworthy is the fact that no seven-year-old has won for more than 70 years and we have to go back to 1915 to find the last successful six-year-old. In fact, since 1992, only six of the six and seven-year-olds to take their chance have even completed the course (including Saint Are last season). Experience, therefore, counts in the Grand National and 20 of the last 25 winners (including the last 9) were aged either 9, 10 or 11. In that period there have also been two eight-year-old and three twelve-year-old winners, although the last teenager to win the race was over 90 years ago (Sergeant Murphy in 1923) and none have made the frame since 1969 (Hello Bud was a gallant 7th in 2013 at the grand old age of 14).
For those wanting to see this magnificent event live, we have all of the information you’ll need to make the most of your visit to Aintree, including information on getting to the racecourse, ticket details, and a summary of all of the enclosures and facilities, many of which have been significantly upgraded in recent seasons.
As well as its fascinating past, Aintree’s unique course contributes to the mystique surrounding the event. The fence-building programme starts approximately three weeks before the Grand National meeting is run, with around 150 tonnes of spruce branches sourced and transported from forests in the Lake District. Each fence is made from a wooden frame and covered with the distinctive green spruce.
The Grand National course remains the ultimate test of horse and jockey. The race comprises two full circuits of a 2¼ mile (3,600 metres) racetrack, where challengers face some of the most testing fences in the world of jump racing including Becher’s Brook and The Chair, now two of the most well-known landmarks in the country.
When it was first run at Aintree in 1839, the race featured a solid brick wall as one of the obstacles, although that was abandoned after five years.
2013 saw of the fences re-designed for safety reasons and to aid animal welfare. While all 16 fences still look the same, the heart of four obstacles has been changed. The third and 11th fences, which are open ditches, have been built using natural birch as their cores, while the 13th and 14th (which are the last two fences second time round in the National) now have plastic birch. These have replaced the traditional rigid timber frames, which had foam padding along the leading edge, but were solid. The hope is that the alternative will be more forgiving.
Becher's Brook, the sixth fence on the first circuit, was named after Captain Martin Becher who was unseated from his mount, Conrad, and fell into the ditch when leading in the first ever Grand National in 1839. "Water tastes disgusting without the benefits of whisky" he reflected and the obstacle bore his name from that day.
The Grand National is also one of the rare major sporting events in which amateurs still can, and do, take on professionals.
This applies to both trainers and jockeys and in the 166 running's of the Grand National it has been won on no less than 41 occasions by a horse ridden by an amateur jockey, although it's been 24 years since Marcus Armytage won in record time on Mr Frisk in 1990.
This is hardly surprising as the sport has become ever more professional and the prize money, now £1 million for the first time under new sponsors Crabbie’s, has risen so dramatically that few trainers or owners will entrust potential winners to jockeys still perceived in some quarters as to be inexperienced or part-timers.
However, part of the Grand National's enduring charm is not the amateurs who succeeded, but those riders from the Corinthian ranks whose fruitless, and often hopeless, attempts to conqueror the fearsome fences that have added so much colour to the event. They have included: the Duque de Alberquerque, Tim Durant, Aidan O’Connell and Brod Munro-Wilson - a mix of playboys and men who worked as deep sea divers for six months a year and spent the other six trying to win the National. We may not see their like again, but the amateur’s long love affair with the Grand National is not over yet, proven by 2011 runner-up Oscar Time - who was ridden by amateur jockey and millionaire businessman, Sam Waley-Cohen. The same horse and jockey were also an admirable fourth last season.