The Grand National is 183 years young. Staged at the Aintree Racecourse in the north-west of England, the National is a gruelling test of stamina and bravery for horses and jockeys alike. This National Hunt race is four miles and two-and-a-half furlongs long and it contains a prize purse of £750,000 – half of which is claimed by the owners of the lucky winner. With just a few weeks away until the 2022 Grand National, when the action hots up with enhanced odds and sweepstake kits are dished out across households and workplaces, it’s a good time to explore the history of this event and understand why it has a global audience of over 500 million spanning 140-plus nations.

The race was founded by a man named William Lynn, the owner of the Waterloo Hotel. Lynn used some of the land he leased to design a racecourse, complete with a grandstand for spectators. Historians debate amongst themselves when the first ‘official’ Grand National was held. John Pinfold believes the first formal race was held in 1836, which was won by The Duke, who would go on to make it back-to-back victories the following year. Since then, the race has endured through the generations, even among those who pay little interest in National Hunt horseracing during the rest of the season.

Free-to-air coverage helps keep it in the public spotlight

One of the main reasons that the Grand National has become engrained in British popular culture is its regular feature on free-to-air terrestrial television. It’s been broadcast across the BBC, as well as Channel 4 and, more recently, ITV. Providing terrestrial coverage has ensured that the casual punter can get involved, with no need to pay for subscriptions to access pay-per-view channels or such like.

The Grand National has also been broadcast live on radio since 1927. BBC Radio enjoyed exclusive broadcast rights until 2013. Since then, those rights have been shared equally between the BBC and talkSPORT.

Iconic fences for the ultimate test


The Grand National race consists of two laps of the Aintree Racecourse. There are 16 fences along the Aintree circuit, 14 of which are jumped twice. Some of the fences at Aintree are wholly unique, with some cavernous drops for jockeys and horses alike to handle.

Becher’s Brook is one of the most popular fences, with its steep drop providing a stiff test of a jockey’s technique. The Canal Turn is also notable for its 90-degree left turn upon landing. The Chair is the opposite kind of obstacle to Becher’s Brook, with the landing side some six inches above the take-off side. Meanwhile the final Water Jump must be cleared before embarking on the 494-yard run-in to the finishing post.

The potential for underdog winners

With so many variables in the Grand National, it’s no surprise that the pre-race favourites have been known not to finish the race let alone win. The 30 fences and the gruelling ground mean that the National is no stranger to huge upsets. There have been plenty of horses that have won this race at odds of 100/1 or greater.

In 1928, Tipperary Tim won at odds of 100/1 by virtue of being the only horse left standing. In 2009, French-bred horse Mon Mome strolled past the finishing post as a 100/1 winner, upstaging pre-race favourites Comply or Die and My Will by over 12 lengths. Aurora’s Encore also landed a bold bid to win the 2013 Grand National at 100/1, with jockey Ryan Mania winning the Grand National at his first attempt.

It’s the making of some horses that become sporting personalities

Some of the bravest Grand National winners have been taken to the hearts of the British public. Red Rum was the first horse to achieve an historic Grand National treble of victories. He won back-to-back races in 1973 and 1974, before winning again in 1977. Even in 1975 and 1976 he was narrowly pipped to the post as runner-up.

More recently, Tiger Roll has achieved similar notoriety with his back-to-back Grand National triumphs in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The pandemic thwarted his attempts to make it a hat-trick of successive wins. Since then, the event’s handicappers have given Tiger Roll too much weight for his owners to deem it safe to enter him again.

The Aintree setting befits the ‘People’s Race’

The likes of Cheltenham are revered in the horseracing world for their picture-perfect countryside locations. However, Aintree Racecourse is situated in a more residential environment. Its location is befitting of the event’s tag as the ‘People’s Race’, uniting sports fans in the same way football does. Aintree is in Merseyside, on the outskirts of Liverpool, making it easily accessible to many towns and cities across the north-west of England.

What can we expect from the 2022 Grand National?

This year’s Grand National looks like being wide open, with the pundits already making a case for multiple horses to win this year’s race. The most prominent name featured is Any Second Now, which finished third in the 2021 Grand National despite finding it difficult racing in such a large field. Any Second Now demonstrated it remains a horse with the stamina for the National after its recent win at Fairyhouse in Ireland.

The Gordon Elliott-trained Delta Work could also make a bold bid at Aintree. Delta Work is the stablemate of the now-retired Tiger Roll. Delta Work won the Cross Country Chase at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, pipping Tiger Roll in the home straight and denying his stablemate in his final competitive race. Despite carrying significant weight, Delta Work remains highly thought of in the betting circle.

In terms of British-trained contenders, the mare Snow Leopardess carries the biggest threat. Trained by Charlie Longsdon, she won the Becher Chase at Aintree in December 2021 to stake her claim for the National. No mare has won the National since Nickel Coin’s impressive win back in 1951. The statistics are stacked against her, given that no horse has ever won the Becher Chase and the Grand National in the same season.

Either way, it promises to be a fascinating race this year, with defending champion Minella Times and jockey Rachael Blackmore also returning to try and make it back-to-back titles.



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