Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool is the home of the annual Grand National. Arguably the greatest horse race in the world, no other race comes close to matching the excitement at Aintree on Grand National day. The story of Aintree racecourse is also the story of the Grand National and it’s inconceivable to imagine the great race being held anywhere else in England. But incredibly this looked a distinct possibility in the early post-war years. In 1965 the course was nearly sold to a property developer and every year the press warned this could be “The Last Grand National”.
In 1973 the course was sold to property developer Bill Davies who gave a commitment to keep the race going but his heart never quite seemed in it. Attendance at the 1975 Grand National was the lowest in living memory. That could have something to do with the fact that admission prices had been tripled by Davies. The Grand National had reached its lowest point and it looked like the end for the great race.
In 1975 a campaign was started by Ladbrokes Bookmaker to revive the ailing Grand National race. They then took control of managing the Grand National and were determined to keep it going. After eight years of management by Ladbrokes, the future of the Grand National and Aintree seemed secure.
Property developer Davies was unimpressed by the swift changes in fortune and still seemed determined to sell the Aintree course. The general public soon realised that more needed to be done to save it and a huge campaign was launched to rescue the race once and for all. With their love of Red Rum still fresh, generous donations from the public allowed the Jockey Club to purchase Aintree from Davies. And they still own and manage it to this day.
In 1984 distillers Seagram stepped in to provide the solid foundation on which Aintree’s revival has been built. The last Seagram sponsored National was in 1991 when the race was won by a horse which chairman Straker twice had the opportunity to buy; the horse’s name was Seagram!
A subsidiary of the Seagram company, Martell Cognac, took over sponsorship in 1992. It was during this time the National experienced a big boom but then in 1993, the race was declared void. While under the starter’s orders, one jockey was tangled in the starting tape which had failed to rise correctly. A false start was declared, but due to a lack of communication between course officials, 30 of the 39 jockeys did not realise this and began the race.
Despite the best efforts of the course officials, who tried to stop the runners, many jockeys continued to race, believing that they were protesters. Seven horses completed the course, meaning the result was void. The first past the post was Esha Ness (in the second-fastest time ever), ridden by John White and trained by Jenny Pitman.
Thankfully the race has been successfully run every year since then though another blip did occur in 1997. This was the year when after two bomb threats, the race was moved from the usual Saturday to Monday. Organisers offered 20,000 free tickets and the race was won by Lord Gyllene, ridden by jockey Tony Dobbin.
By 2004 around 150,000 attended the festival with more than 60,000 people at Aintree to witness the last Martell backed race. The following year Grand National sponsorship changed hands and John Smith’s took over. That deal lasted for seven years before Crabbie’s started their run in 2013 in what was a three-year deal.
In that time attendance figures were at an all-time high. In 2011, there was a sellout crowd for the first time in decades. Officials reported that more than 73,000 attended on the Saturday, which was the first time that the track had been at capacity since being taken over by Jockey Club Racecourses in 1984. Since then the race has sold out multiple times with tickets being snapped up as soon as they go on sale.
And not only does the course get sold out but viewing figures on tv are also at an all-time high. In part, thanks to Tiger Roll, iTV’s National coverage pulled in a peak of 9.6 million viewers in 2019. The broadcaster reported that was a 12% increase from the 8.5m in 2018, with the average audience for the National show up from 5.1m to 5.4m.
2020 looks like it will be another fantastic race with Randox Health sponsoring their third race and Tiger Roll possibly going to bid for his third consecutive Grand National win. There is a new Clerk of the Course taking charge for the first time as Sulekha Varma takes over from Andrew Tulloch and with prize money of £1,000,000 it is all to race for.
Ante-post odds are already available for the race but the full list of entries won’t be revealed until January 28th 2020. Weights will then be announced on February 11th, 2020 with the race itself taking place at Aintree Racecourse on Saturday, April 4th 2020.