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What is the Grand National and why is it popular?

The Grand National is a National Hunt, or jumps, horse race run in April every year at Aintree racecourse in Liverpool, England. It is traditionally labelled the world’s most famous steeplechase and regarded as the most-watched horse race on the planet.

Here, we bring you some key information about the race and why it’s so popular to bet on the Grand National.


What is the Grand National?

The Grand National is a handicap horse race run over an official distance of around four-and-a-half miles, two-and-a-half furlongs. This makes it one of the longest races run in Britain and Ireland. A handicap is a type of race where each horse is given a weight based on its previous performances that it must carry (the jockey and any additional weights added to the saddle), with the idea being that the horses should finish around the same time given that better horses are allotted more weight to carry.

This rarely happens, though, especially in the Grand National which is a gruelling, marathon test in horse racing terms. Lots can happen with up to 40 horses in the race and 30 fences to jump; some horses will be fitter than others, some will just not perform to their best on the day - there are so many factors to consider. There have been close finishes in the past, but it is rare to see more than two or three horses with a chance of winning after they clear the final fence.

The fences that the horses jump have themselves developed some notoriety, with Becher’s Brook, Valentine’s Brook, The Chair, Canal Turn and Foinavon often pinpointed as key moments in the race.

When is the Grand National?

The National - as it is often referred to - is one of the last races of the three-day Grand National Festival at Aintree, which takes place from Thursday to Saturday usually in the second week of April. There are several other high-quality, Grade 1 races on the first two days, including the Manifesto Novices’ Chase, Aintree Hurdle, Mildmay Novices’ Chase and Melling Chase, before the Grand National, which is a Grade 3 Handicap Chase.

In recent years the Grand National has moved to a slightly later starting time of 5.15pm (local time, BST) to encourage a higher viewership both in the UK and across the world.

It is thought that up to 600 million people watch the Grand National in over 140 countries.

Why is the Grand National popular?

Tradition is a big reason why the Grand National is such a popular race to bet on. It was first held in 1839 and it is the one race each year where people who never or rarely bet on horse racing will have a bet. The large field and long distance mean that it is more of a lottery than other races and this can result in horses winning at big odds - as recently as 2009 there was a 100/1 winner when Mon Mome triumphed.

People will often choose a horse based on the colour of the jockey’s silks, or go for a horse whose name they like when betting on the Grand National. Many others will also take part in a sweepstake at work or with friends, whereby each participant pays an entry fee and is randomly drawn a horse to cheer on in the big race.

These factors, combined with the sheer number of horses, the drama of the race, tradition, and many other things are what makes the Grand National more popular than any other race.

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