A Beginner’s Guide to the Grand National

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“A Beginner’s Guide to the Grand National”


The Grand National is a world-famous horse race. It’s been held annually at Aintree in Liverpool since 1839, and it attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world. The course is usually about four miles long and features thirty fences spread across two laps. Horses have to carry just one jockey, who must weigh a minimum of eight stones in order to ride in the race. The majority of horses in the Grand National are British-trained but there have been winners from Ireland, France, Germany and other nations in Europe. There are many things you should know about this race before you head out to do it yourself! This guide will provide you with all the necessary knowledge for completing this popular challenge.

grand national winner


The first officially recorded Grand National took place in 1839. It was a huge success and the race has been running every year since then – apart from during World War I and World War II, when it wasn’t possible to hold major sporting events because of safety concerns. For much of its history, the Grand National was only open to professional jockeys. However, in 1997 all owners became eligible to enter their own horses at Aintree.

Since 2013, there have been 30 fences in the race. This replaced an older course that featured 37 fences across two laps of eighteen obstacles each! From 2019 onwards, for health and safety reasons, helmets will be compulsory for jockeys in the Grand National.


The racecourse is made up of a long stretch from Aintree to the finishing post at the Sefton stand and back again, with two ‘out’ and ‘back’ sections around five furlongs long each. In total, the race is just over four miles long. Aintree’s natural terrain – marshland – makes it particularly challenging. The course has changed numerous times over the years to develop more reliable jumps and safer paths for horses and riders. It was modified in 2014 to include a new fence called ‘The Chair’, which features three flights of hurdles instead of just one.

The Fences

As well as natural obstacles, the Grand National includes thirty artificial fences that each need to be jumped over in a specific order. These range from 1ft 6in hurdles up to 5ft 4in oxers made from wooden planks and wire mesh. Many of the jumps in Aintree have very long names that can be difficult to remember. The combination of fences over which a horse and rider must jump incorrect order is called the ‘course’. Prior knowledge of each fence ahead should help jockeys make a decision on whether or not to continue along the course after jumping any particular obstacle.


The first fence that horses and riders meet at Aintree is the start of the Grand National ‘course’. This is followed by:

– The Canal Turn (fence 5) – a tight right-hand bend with a large ditch on either side encircled by a bank

– Becher’s Brook (fence 6) – a ‘stone’ fence, with a steep drop on either side

– The Chair (fence 8) – three flights of hurdles instead of one

– Canal Turn (fence 9) – the same as fence 5, except in the reverse direction

– Valentine’s Brook (fence 13) – generally considered to be the most difficult fence on the course, along the ditch with a very steep drop on the other side

– The Chair (fence 14) – another repeat offence 8

– Canal Turn (fence 15) – this time in the original direction

– Aintree Brook (fence 17) – two jumps over water in quick succession

– Canal Turn (fence 18) – a sharp right-turn out of the water, again in the original direction

– The Elbow (fence 19) – a large oxer to get over with plenty of time to establish momentum

– Melling Road (fence 20) – another ‘stone fence, with a ditch on either side and an uphill incline

– Canal Turn (fence 21) – a repeat of fence 5, except in the reverse direction

– The Chair (fence 22) – yet another repeat offence 8

– Valentine’s Brook (fence 25) – a repeat of the same challenging jump as before!

– The Canal Turn (fence 26) – this time in the original direction

– The Elbow (fence 28) – another large, awkward looking obstacle to getting over

– Becher’s Brook (fence 29) – one of the most infamous jumps on the course due to its large ditch with a steep drop on the other side

– Melling Road (fence 31) – yet another ‘stone’ fence, this time with a ditch on either side and an uphill incline

– The Chair (fence 32) – a repeat of fence 8 for the final time!

– The finishing line at The Sefton stand


*The first National in 1839 was won by the only horse to complete the course! The seven-year-old, Aniser, took home a prize of 1,000 guineas (£1,050). Sixteen horses have completed the race out of the 280+ to have been declared starters since.

The race has been won by a horse carrying a minimum of just 7st 12lb and a maximum weight of 10st 2lb. In the early days, horses even raced over hurdles instead of fences! However, these were no longer used after 1865 due to concerns that horses could be seriously injured. Since then, the race has been run over a distance of 30 fences.

*The Lighter is one of only two horses to have won the National more than once. These were his second and third victories in 1847 and 1848 respectively.

*Rough Music was the first winner born outside England, taking home the title in 1933! The horse was born in Ireland, then managed by trainer Tom Dreaper.

*Red Rum is the most successful horse in Grand National history, having won three times between 1973 and 1974. He also finished second in 1976.

*The Red Knight (1857) remains the only horse to complete the course with riderless. This occurred due to the jockey falling off!

*In 1927, a horse called Lovely Cottage fell at the first fence and despite being remounted successfully completed the course. However, he had to be put down due to injuries sustained during the fall. This makes him one of only three horses that have been euthanised as a result of an injury suffered during the Grand National.


The Grand National is the most exciting horse race in the world. It’s held annually at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England and has been running every year since 1839! There are 40 fences to jump over which means that there are 40 chances for your favorite horse to fell down. Every time you watch this iconic event with friends or family, be sure to have a drink on hand because we can guarantee it will make for some great stories and memories. And I hope you enjoyed this beginners guide to Grand National Racing.