Since the inaugural running at Aintree racecourse way back in 1839, when Lottery had his name etched first on the exalted roll of honour, victory in the Grand National has been the pinnacle of ambition for owners, trainers and jockeys.
Actors, aristocrats, business people, comedians, coiffeurs, celebrities, moguls, politicians, pop stars, sporting heroes, kings, queens and princes have all tried for glory, but only a fortunate few have succeeded..
It is one of the biggest tests for racehorse and rider, who have to complete two circuits of the iconic Grand National course, with 30 fences to be jumped over four miles, two furlongs and about 74 yards.
Famous landmarks around the course are an integral part of the Grand National experience; with fences such as Becher’s Brook, the Canal Turn, Valentine’s Brook and The Chair so well known to the millions who watch the race at Aintree or on television each year.
Familiar phrases of commentators such as “crossing the Melling Road” are built into people’s subconscious, while there is the ‘Elbow’ to negotiate when the winning post is in sight. Many are the reversals of fortune on the long run from the final fence to the line as the last reserves of stamina ebb away and the chance of immortality is lost. Devon Loch’s inexplicable collapse in the 1956 National, a mere 50 yards from a famous victory for his owner, the Queen Mother, serves as a constant reminder that the race is often decided in the closing stages.
Equally, there is nothing quite like the sensation of heart-clutching, wriggling expectation as the 40-strong field for the National is persuaded into a fair line at the start, ahead of the dash to the first fence. Whether at Aintree or at home watching the ITV television coverage, a general hush falls while the starter calls the runners forward. A huge roar is heard as the most anticipated race begins.
The excitement tumbles and hurtles throughout the nine minutes of breathtaking action and often afterwards. Betting slips or thoughts, carefully clutched or pondered on, are not to be fully celebrated until the result has been officially announced. Replays are avidly studied to determine what happened where to each of the runners and riders.
Once-a-year punters come out in force on Grand National day, studying the list of runners to locate their selection from the office/shop sweepstake, or placing their wager on a horse with a name they like or one linked to a topical event. For instance, Party Politics was a popular choice when he won the great race in 1992 when the nation on the brink of a General Election. Sadly, no, there isn’t a runner with a Brexit-themed name this year!
At 5.15 pm on Saturday, the scheduled off-time for this year’s race, there will be few bookmakers willing to lay odds about what many in Britain, and plenty more throughout the world, will be doing for the subsequent quarter of an hour.
Millions and millions of people in Britain bet on the Grand National, making the race easily the biggest single turnover event each year, and the most anticipated.
Regular punters and the annually curious can take a financial interest in one of Britain’s 8,000 off-course betting shops, over the telephone, through the Internet, on their smartphone or at the course itself.
Not only is the great race compellingly demanding -- the feeling of even completing is one cherished by those involved -- but it is also very financially rewarding. Prize money of £1 million is again on offer for those who compete in the 172nd running of the race on Saturday, with the rewards stretching down to the tenth horse home. It is by far the highest amount of money that any chase can boast.
There are 150,000-plus racegoers at Aintree during the three days of the Grand National Festival, while the live British television audience numbers more than eight million, with more than 600 million worldwide seeing the action.
The Randox Health Grand National is indeed a national treasure, both enthralling and fascinating, and something to be cherished.
THIS article has been kindly supplied by Aintree Racecourse.
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