No race in the world compares with the drama, sense of history and achievement of winning the Grand National.
Whilst the 30 formidable fences have been modified and the course is now less than 4 and a half miles, the race still attracts a worldwide audience and victory is still the big dream for aspiring riders, trainers and owners.
The race was first officially run in 1839, although a variation of the race had taken place in previous years.
The Grand National was founded by William Lynn, a syndicate head and proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel, on land he leased in Aintree from William Molyneux, 2nd Earl of Sefton. Lynn established a course and built a grandstand, and Lord Sefton laid the foundation stone on 7 February 1829
There is much debate regarding the first official Grand National; most leading published historians, including John Pinfold, now prefer the idea that the first running was in 1836 and was won by The Duke, who followed up the next year. A horse called Sir William won in 1838 but it is believed that these races were run at Maghull rather than Aintree and consequently most historians do not count them as “true” Grand Nationals.
The Grand National took national prominence in the aftermath of a number of events that took place in 1838 and 1839.
Firstly, the Great St. Albans Chase, which had clashed with the steeplechase at Aintree, was not renewed after 1838, leaving a major hole in the chasing calendar.
The arrival of the railway in Liverpool meant that transport to the racecourse was possible and then a committee was formed to better organise the event.
A top class field assembled for the 1839 renewal and the race was won by a horse who’s name came to symbolize the nature of the race: Lottery.
By 1843 Edward Topham, a respected handicapper and prominent member of Lynn’s syndicate, had turned the chase into a handicap after it had been a weight-for-age race for the first four years, and took over the land lease in 1848.
The course has undergone countless changes over the years and in 2013 the race used a new fence build to help reduce the number of casualties – there were just 2 fallers. Other major changes in recent years have included levelling the ground on the landing side of Becher’s Brook – while the brook itself is now completely covered.
The start has also been moved further away from the masses in the grand stands, which has served the dual purpose of helping to calm the 40 runners and also reducing the distance from the start to the first fence – with a view to slowing the field down in the early stages of the race.
These moves have attracted controversy and criticism that the course is now too “soft”; however it remains to be seen how much impact the changes will have and that can only be gauged over time.
Of all the horses to win the Grand National, three should be highlighted above all others: Manifesto, Golden Miller and Red Rum.
Manifesto was born in 1888 and ran in the race a record 8 times, winning twice, finishing third on 3 occasions and fourth once. His last attempt took place in 1904 when he was 16 years of age and still managed to finish eighth!
The great Golden Miller became enshrined in history by virtue of his unprecedented five Cheltenham Gold Cup successes. However, he also won the Grand National of 1934, breaking the track record in the process – and becoming the only horse to win both races in the same season.
Red Rum will need little introduction to racing fans. In five attempts at the Grand National, he won the race an unprecedented 3 times and was second on his other two attempts. He also dead-heated at Aintree as a two year-old!
For a race with such a long history there are of course a million different stories and achievements. Some of the more memorable races to recount include the 1928 running when only two horses finished and Tipperary Tim won the race at 100/1.
Foinavon’s 1967 triumph is the stuff of legend as the race effectively came to a halt at the fence after Becher’s Brook, the smallest on the course. Horse after horse refused and Foinavon, tailed off, managed to creep through the melee and clear the obstacle and gallop on to victory – again at 100/1. The fence has ever since been known as the Foinavon Fence.
The 1973 renewal was perhaps the greatest ever race. The gallant Australian champion Crisp had travelled to England and shown enough class to win the Champion Chase over 2 miles at Cheltenham.
Under a huge weight burden, he lead and jumped spectacularly, building up a huge advantage of almost a fence. His exquisite jumping was never before or since matched as he made the big green obstacles seem like hurdles. However, cross the Anchor Bridge Road for the final time, his lead was visibly being cut into but a young horse with far less weight: Red Rum.
Agonisingly, as Crisp ran out of momentum, that long, tiring run from the elbow, suddenly became Mount Everest to Crisp and Richard Pitman, while Red Rum continued to close. Still almost too painful to watch, Red Rum passed Crisp in the final strides to get up and record the first of his 3 wins in the race.
The pair shattered the course record and given the context of what Red Rum achieved, Crisp arguably had an impossible task and ran the greatest ever Grand National race in defeat.
In 1975 L’Escargot won the race, beating Red Rum and completing the Gold Cup-Grand National double – although his Gold Cup victories had taken place at the start of the decade.
Bob Champion and Aldaniti overcame cancer and serious injury to record an emotional win in 1981, beating the gallant John Thorne aboard his wonderful hunter Spartan Missile.
Corbiere was a memorable hero in 1983 in soft ground, crowing Jenny Pitman the first woman to train a Grand National winner. A year later the race had 23 finishers, the most in its history, as Hallo Dandy beat the luckless Greasepaint, who was runner-up for the second consecutive year.
West Tip was a popular winner in 1986 and would run in 6 Grand Nationals in total, placing in 3 more renewals, while Maori Venture in 1987 gave popular owner, 92 year old Jim Joel a fantastic triumph.
Rhyme N’ Reason was another memorable winner in 1988 and two years later Mr Frisk was spring-heeled in setting the course record – which was never again broken, before the race was shortened in 2013.
In 1991 the sponsors Seagrams tasted victory with their horse Seagram, who denied Garrison Savannah the distinction of matching Golden Miller’s feat of winning the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same season in the final strides of a pulsating renewal.
Party Politics proved a popular winner in election year in 1992 but was denied back to back victories in 1993 when the combination of false starts and protestors saw the race voided. The following year’s race nearly didn’t take place either as heavy rain pounded Liverpool; however Miinehoma proved a brave winner as just 6 horses finished the course.
In 1997 a terrorist threat caused the racecourse to be abandoned just before the off and the Grand National was run for the first time on a Monday. Amid the kerfuffle, Lord Gyllene proved a most able winner of the race with some spectacular jumping on fast ground.
The following year conditions were completely opposite as Earth Summit summoned masses of stamina to record a memorable victory over the popular grey Suny Bay, who like Greasepaint before him, filled the runner-up spot in consecutive years.
After a hiatus of 24 years, Bobbyjo became the first Irish-trained winner of an era dominated by the Emerald Isle. Papillon, Monty’s Pass, Hedgehunter, Numbersixvalverde and Silver Birch all followed up between 2000 and 2007.
During that period Red Marauder won an epic race in 2001 when the mud flew and only 4 horses completed the course, with Blowing Wind and Papillon having remounted. The 2004 renewal went to Amberleigh House and provided Donald “Ginger” McCain with a fourth success in the race after his three victories with Red Rum.
Mon Mome sprung another 100/1 shock in 2009 and multiple Champion Jockey Tony McCoy finally claimed Grand National glory in 2010 aboard Don’t Push It, after 14 previous attempts. Ballabriggs kept the McCain name in the Grand National conscience in 2011 as Ginger’s son Donald won the race and Neptune Collonges became the first grey winner in 51 years in 2012.
The changes to the course and good ground resulted in fewer falls and a large number of finishers in 2013 – but the result was as unpredictable as ever, as 66/1 shot Aurora’s Encore earned victory for Sue Smith and Yorkshire.
In 2014 the race went to the Dr Richard Newland trained Pineau De Re, who had an unorthodox preparation as he ran third over hurdles at Kempton Park in his last race before the National. His jockey Leighton Aspell had retired from race riding for almost two years before making a comeback in 2009.
A year later, that man Aspell was back in the winners’ enclosure as the Oliver Sherwood trained Many Clouds impressed under a big weight to beat Saint Are in what proved a popular victory.
The 2016 Grand National produced an extraordinary winner in Rule The World.
Trained by Mouse Morris, the gelding had been a talented hurdler, but had fractured his pelvis.
After many runs over fences, he finally broke his chasing maiden in the Grand National!
In 2017, it was the turn of Scotland, as the Lucinda Russell-trained One For Arthur emulated Rubstic in 1979 by landing the biggest prize of them all.
The following year saw Irish domination, with Irish-trained horses filling the first four places.
In a thrilling finish, former Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll, also at the time a three-time Cheltenham Festival winner, narrowly beat Pleasant Company.
The Gordon Elliott gelding went on to add a fourth Cheltenham Festival success in 2019.
Official Grand National winners:
|1895||Wild Man From Borneo||7||10-11|
|1941–45 no race due to World War II|
|1972||Well to Do||9||10-01|
|1988||Rhyme ‘n’ Reason||9||11-00|
|1993 race void|
|2008||Comply or Die||9||10-09|
|2010||Don’t Push It||10||11-05|
|2014||Pineau De Re||11||10-06|
|2016||Rule The World||11||10-06|
|2017||One For Arthur||11||10-06|
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