Horse racing is one of the oldest and most coveted sports in the world that came from humble beginnings and it wasn’t until the royals took an interest that it started to take off. Arabian stallions were bred with English mares and that set the foundation for the modern thoroughbred. You don’t have to be a horse racing aficionado or live at the gallops to appreciate horse racing. Every year the prize money gets bigger and bigger, more and more people watch and the whole country is captivated by one race in particular; The Grand National.
Danger beckons yet to daring,
And the colours wait for wearing,
While Fame proffers gifts for sharing
And Dame Fortune plans the falls.
Lo! the spirit of endeavour
Burns in England's heart for ever;
William Henry Ogilvie (1869 – 1963)
The Grand National is the biggest horse race in the country and has been held at Aintree Racecourse (or in the same area) since its move from nearby Maghull and it looked a little different back then. Opened in 1829 by local hotel owner William Lynn on land that he leased from the Earl of Sefton. In 1839 a race named “The Grand Liverpool Steeplechase” was advertised and the rules of the race were “four miles across country” – though starting and finishing on the established racecourse – and the conditions include the stipulation: “No rider to open a gate or ride through a gateway, or more than 100 yards along any road, footpath or driftway.” There were 29 obstacles, including a five-foot high stone wall and, about a mile from the stand at the far end of the circuit, a “strong paling, next a rough, high jagged hedge, and lastly a brook about six feet wide.”
The Grand National along with Grand National betscontinued to grow in popularity throughout the 19th century and by the 20th century it was at the top of the steeplechase tree. The Second World War threatened its dominance as the top race in the calendar along with the emergence of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Technically the gold Cup is now seen as the more elite of the two races but it doesn’t grip the entire nation like the Grand National does. People from all walks of life are all interested in the outcome of the Grand National like no other race and it’s called “The Race that Stops the Nation”. Not just limited to the UK though it has an estimated global television audience of around 600 million people (around 9 million in Britain) and it’s estimated that this year £650 million will be wagered on the outcome of a single race.
The racecourse itself has been redeveloped a number of times and began with a simple grandstand at the side of the track and an estimated capacity of around 1000. These days Aintree has massive stands, restaurants, bars and hospitality suites including 20-seater private boxes on the top storey to a capacious 600-seater dining hall on the first floor that bring the overall capacity for the venue to 75,000 happy race-goers.
The fortunes of the Grand National and Aintree go hand in hand and with the race being ever more popular than ever you would imagine that people will be arriving in their droves to the mecca of UK horseracing for years and years to come.