THE GRAND NATIONAL
The Grand National is the most valuable National Hunt handicap horse race in the United Kingdom. It is the biggest betting race in the United Kingdom, and is popular amongst many people who do not watch horse racing at other times of the year.
It is usually held on a Saturday in early April at the Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool. The steeplechase is run over two circuits of the Aintree course, covering four and half miles (7.2 km). There are 16 fences on the track, 14 of which are jumped twice. Some of these have acquired near-legendary status for their severity, particularly Becher's Brook and The Chair, although in recent years this severity has been much reduced due to pressure from various animal rights groups. The National is the centerpiece of a three-day meeting, one of only four run at Aintree in the racing season.
There is much debate among historians regarding the first official race held and most who have trawled the newspaper libraries of the United Kingdom now prefer the idea that the first running was in 1836 and was won by The Duke. This same horse triumphed again in 1837 while Sir William was the winner in 1838. These races have long been disregarded because of the belief that the 1837 & 1838 runnings took place at Maghull and not Aintree. In the last twenty years, several race historians have unearthed indisputable evidence that these three races were all run over the same course at Aintree and were regarded as having been Grand Nationals up until the mid 1860s. To date though, their calls for the Nationals of 1836-38 to be restored to the record books have been ignored.
In 1923, Sergeant Murphy became the first American-bred horse to win the Grand National.
By far the most successful horse in Grand National history was Red Rum, the only horse to win three times, in 1973, 1974, and in 1977. He also came in second in the two intervening years, 1975 and 1976.
A fictional account of a young girl training the winner of the Grand National by Enid Bagnold was made into a film, National Velvet, starring the young Elizabeth Taylor as the heroine, Velvet Brown. The events surrounding the 1981 National, and the winning jockey, Bob Champion, were also dramatised in the film Champions.
The 1967 running was won by rank outsider Foinavon ridden by Johnny Buckingham after a melee at the 23rd fence, when two loose horses pulled up in front of the field, causing the rest to fall, stop, or refuse. Foinavon was running so far behind, that Buckingham managed to avoid the carnage and Foinavon scraped round ahead of 17 remounted horses, coming home at odds of 100/1
In 1993, the result of the race was declared void after a series of incidents at the start, where the starting tape failed to rise correctly, causing several horses and jockeys to be caught up in it. A false start was declared, but lack of communication between course officials meant that seven horses ran the course in its entirety, forcing a void result. The 'winner' of those horses which ran was Esha Ness, ridden by John White and trained by Jenny Pitman.
In 1997, the Saturday meeting was abandoned after two coded bomb threats were received, reportedly from the Provisional Irish Republican Army. 60,000 spectators, jockeys, race personnel and local residents were evacuated, and the course was secured by police. The race was eventually run on the Monday, with the meeting organisers offering free admission. Some 20,000 people were left stranded over the weekend, with cars and coaches locked in the course. With limited accommodation space in the city and surrounding areas, those local residents not affected by the incident opened their doors and took in many of those stranded.
The Grand National is one of ten events reserved for live broadcast on UK terrestrial television under the ITC Code on Sports and Other Listed Events.
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