In terms of prize money, the Grand National is the most valuable National Hunt horse race in the United Kingdom. Run over a distance of 4 miles 856 yards, covering 2 circuits of the Aintree National Racecourse, it was founded by William Philip Molyneux, who owned the land at Aintree in Liverpool, and while there is some matter of historical debate as to when the first Grand National Race was actually run, opinion has settled for 1836 although the years 1836-1838 do not appear in the record books because the races run in 1837 and 1838 were originally believed to have taken place elsewhere.
Several notable occurrences took place in 1839 that contributed to this race being seen in a more nationally important light. The Great Saint Alban’s Chase which had previously taken place on a date that clashed with the Aintree meeting, was not renewed after 1838 leaving a date in the horse racing calendar that needed to be filled. At that time the national railways arrived in Liverpool, making transportation and logistics that much easier to arrange and allowing travel to and from meetings across the country, and a committee was formed that year to better organize and promote racing at Aintree. With the advent of national attention and publicity, the race quickly attracted a larger field of quality horses and riders, and media attention encouraged larger numbers to attend. Therefore, 1839 became the first official Grand National.
Today this race is incredibly popular among those who might never otherwise place a bet on any other sporting event, and it has built up a reputation for excitement and danger that has been immortalized in the films ‘National Velvet’ and ‘Champions’. Legendary names go hand in hand with the history of the Grand National, none more so than Red Rum, the only horse ever to have won the race 3 times. Upon his death, the great beast was laid to rest beside the finishing post at Aintree.
There have been more than fifty equine fatalities in the history of the Grand National, four of them taking place in 1954, and each year it generates controversy as well as discussion. With it’s infamous series of severe fences that include Becher’s Brook and The Chair, this is a race that tests even the finest of jockeys and there are many famous riders for whom winning has proven elusive.