Watching The World’s Greatest Steeplechase
Horse racing has never been a mainstream spectator sport in the same way that football is in this country, but there’s at least one day every year when the whole nation suddenly gets a taste for the sport: Grand National Day. Held in April at the Aintree racecourse near Liverpool, the Grand National inspires over a quarter of the UK’s adult population to have a flutter and back one of the 40 runners in the race.
Considered the most challenging steeplechase course, the Grand National first took place in 1839 and although 40 horses start, there’s no guarantee that all of them will finish the race at all. With a distance of four miles, three furlongs and 110 yards to cover, and many difficult jumps to negotiate during the two circuits of the course, no horse can be termed a ‘sure thing’. While most people place their bets on the day, there’s a lot to be said for studying the form for the horses running in Grand National 2017 early and getting an ante post bet on as you’ll get better odds. What this means is that if your pick happens to be the winner, your win will be much more significant than if you back the same horse on race day.
Last year’s winning horse, Rule The World, started the race at odds of 33-1.
— Sebastian Oakley (@IAmSebOakley) April 15, 2016
Watch at Home or Make a Day of it
The majority of us make do with sitting down to watch the big race on TV – last year over 10 million watched the Grand National on Channel 4. However, it’s also an event that draws about 150,000 people to attend in person and it can be a thrilling day out. The Aintree Festival actually runs over three days, this year from 6 – 8 April. The Grand Opening Day is on the Thursday, followed by Ladies’ Day or Fabulous Friday, and then Grand National Day on Saturday, the whole event culminating with the big race at 5.15pm.
Although a day at the races is a great thing to do with the kids, it’s probably best to do this in better weather at one of the summer meetings at a local racecourse. Taking place in April, the weather for the Aintree Festival can be spring-like or it can be distinctly chilly. Also, the Aintree Festival draws such huge crowds that it might be wiser to rope in the grandparents to look after the kids while you set off for a kids-free overnighter with your husband, or maybe have a great excuse to buy a new outfit so that you’re suitably attired for Ladies’ Day with the girls.
Attending the event live has its pros and cons. You’ll be able to soak up the atmosphere at one of the world’s most prestigious racing fixtures and if you like people-watching, you couldn’t pick a better spot. On the downside, you’ll also spend a lot of the day being jostled by the crowds. Of course, you get the excitement of seeing the horses in the Parade Ring before the races, and hearing the thundering hooves as the horses are in running. However, it’s not the same as the close camera angles you get on TV. You’ll need to think carefully about where you choose to watch the race. To see the horses take the Grand National’s final fence, you’ll need to be in the West Tip enclosure and The Chair Pavilion is also a great spot to watch them on the home straight. If it’s your first visit to a racecourse, Aintree has a produced a guide for anyone new to the world of racing.
If you want to witness the Grand National in person this spring, now’s the time to start planning, as the best tickets will soon disappear and the betting odds are sure to change.