National fever starts in Sussex
The Randox Health Grand National at Aintree won’t roll around until April 4 but there are plenty stops on the way to Aintree.
The Aintree Grand National is both the oldest and the longest of numerous staying handicap chases due to be run under that moniker in Britain and Ireland this year; each offering their own storied history.
The journey begins at Plumpton on Sunday January 5 and runs right the way through the calendar until the Welsh National at Chepstow on December 27, the traditional festive showpiece.
In between there will be stops along the way at Aintree and Ayr, Fakenham and Fairyhouse and many more. How well do you know your Grand National trail?
Sussex for starters
Plumpton racecourse in the heart of East Sussex with the stunning backdrop of the South Downs stages the first ‘national’ of the year; the Sussex Grand National at the end of the first week in January and run over a trip of 3m4½f.
There are further stops in January at Catterick for the North Yorkshire Grand National and at Wincanton, home of the Somerset National.
An opening trip to Scotland for Edinburgh National takes the party to Musselburgh on February 1 while Lingfield and Exeter host the Surrey and Devon Nationals also in the shortest month of the year.
The Cheltenham hangover
March is famous in racing parlance of course for the Cheltenham Festival but there are three more Nationals taking place as spring blossoms.
The Leinster National at Naas is a contest that Willie Mullins holds a strong grip on in recent times and takes place just ahead of the Cheltenham Festival on March 8.
Four days of frolics in the great amphitheatre in the Cotswolds is a heaven for any jumps fan but, when the Gold Cup has been handed out; any national hunt fan of substance knows that the next stop along the road is Uttoxeter and the gruelling Midlands National on the Saturday – a sort of mud-splattering Cheltenham hangover cure, if you like.
Inaugurated in 1969, the Midlands National is amongst the most gruelling of these tests with a 4m2f journey to glory.
There’s time for one more in March, the Ulster version at Downpatrick, before all eyes focus on Merseyside.
April is manna to Grand National folk
Saturday April 4 is this year’s Grand National date. More than ever before it is a date that awaits history.
Tiger Roll will seek to become the first horse ever to win the great race three years running. Assured of his place in the annals of Grand National history, the redoubtable little superstar would surely ascend above even the mighty Red Rum should he prevail once more around the famous Aintree course.
The month of April also brings with it the West Wales National at Ffos Las and the traditional Easter Monday Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse; as well Scotland’s showpiece Grand National at Ayr and the Highland version up at Perth.
An Irish Summer
The Norfolk National at Fakenham in early May signals a break for British tracks that won’t end until Sedgefield’s Durham National in mid-October but fear not, there’s no shortage of action on the Emerald Isle over the summer months.
Killarney, Ballinrobe, Roscommon, Kilbeggan, Listowel and Limerick all stage their Nationals through summer and into the autumn – with August the sole barren month on the calendar.
Look out for the McHale Mayo National at Ballinrobe in May, a near-sprint at 2m7f in comparison to some of the tests on offer.
March towards Chepstow
As the harsh winter sets in, the Grand National trail resumes at Sedgefield. November brings the Southern National at Fontwell and the London version at Sandown Park.
December’s stunning showpiece is of course the Welsh version at Chepstow, one of the Christmas racing highlights and it is joined by the Scottish Borders version at Kelso and the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day.
As 2020 begins in earnest, look out for your regular Grand National fix around the centrepiece at Aintree on April 4.