Aintree Racecourse

Aintree Racecourse

Horses running the Grand National have to successfully jump a total of 30 fences. The race comprises two circuits of Aintree racecourse with each of the 16 individual Grand National Fences jumped twice, apart from The Chair and The Water Jump which are jumped once.

Becher's Brook is the 6th fence on the first circuit and the 22nd on the second. It was modified for safety purposes in 1989 due to the large number of horse falling at it and remains one of the most famous race course fences in horse racing today.

Grand National Fences

The Grand National is the ultimate test for both the horses and jockeys. The race comprises two full circuits of a unique 2.25 mile (3,600 metres) course, where challengers will face 30 of the most testing fences in horse racing today.

Each of the 16 fences on the course are jumped twice, with the exception of The Chair and the Water Jump (only jumped on the first circuit). There is a hazard to overcome even before the race starts - the build up, parade and re-girthing prior to the off lasts for around 25 minutes.

With 40 starters, riders naturally want a good sight of the first fence and after the long build-up their nerves are stretched to breaking point, which means the stewards' pre-race warning to go steady is often ignored.

FENCE 1
Thorn fence, 4ft 7in high, 2ft 9in wide – The first fence comes very quickly after the start and with 40 plus runners going full pelt at speeds of 30 plus miles per hour there are bound to be a couple of causalities at this first fence which is 4 foot 6 inch in height.

FENCE 2
The second fence in the Grand National also comes up quickly and is slightly bigger than the first fence standing at 4 foot 7 inches but much wider than the first at 3ft 6in.

FENCE 3 - WESTHEAD
The ditches are the first real test for the horses as there is a 6 foot gap between the front of the ditch and the fence itself so the horse has to stand off and really stretch out to make it safely to the other side. This fence is the larger than the first two standing at 5 feet.

FENCE 4 & 5
Standard fences with no particular hazards.

FENCE 6 - BECHERS BROOK
Possibly the most infamous fence in Horse Racing. Becher's stands a modest 4ft 10in on the take-off side, but the problems come on landing, partly due to the 2ft 'brook' - nowadays filled with a modest 1" of water.

More dangerous is the drop on the landing side of nearly 2ft, which has caused riders to declare it like "stepping off the edge of the world". The drop used to be more severe on the inside of the track but in recent years has been levelled off because of the number of horses injured.

The fence gets its name from Captain Martin Becher who rode Conrad in the first National in 1839. Conrad ploughed into the sixth fence, catapulting Becher into the brook.

FENCE 7 - FOINAVON
Surely no problem? Just 4ft 6in and sited between the more famous Becher's and Canal Turn, the seventh and 23rd fence was for many years overlooked as a potential major hazard.

Then on the second circuit in 1967 a loose horse decided he had had enough of Aintree and veered sharply across the leading horses. From that moment there was chaos with every horse - bar one - falling, being brought down or simply being unable to find anywhere to jump.

Foinavon, a 100/1 shot who was as far behind as his odds suggested, somehow managed to escape the melee and scrambled across with a lead of 100 yards.

He made the best of his way home and although his lead was cut back, by the winning post he was still 15 lengths clear of the favourite, Honey End, and Red Alligator, who won in 1968.

FENCE 8 - CANAL TURN
One of the more unusual fences in British racing. The fence itself is plain, 5ft tall, but is positioned at a 90-degree turn to the left. Jumping the fence straight on can be disastrous to a horse's chance as many lengths can be lost before it can straighten up.

Jockeys therefore try to get their mounts to angle across the fence. On the first circuit in 1928, Easter Hero fell into the then ditch and brought down all but seven of the 42-strong field.

By halfway, only five were left in it and at the last just two - Billy Barton fell, leaving 100/1 chance Tipperary Tim to come home alone. Billy Barton was remounted to finish a remote second with no other finishers, a record low for the race.

FENCE 9 - VALENTINES BROOK
Similar to Becher's but less severe - a 5ft obstacle with a brook and a drop on the landing side. The fence got its name from one of the more bizarre events in Grand National history.

In 1840, the Irish amateur jockey Alan Power laid a wager that he would be leading at the halfway mark on his mount Valentine.

Determined to win the bet, Power was a furlong clear of the field at the Canal Turn but as he approached the next fence the horse slowed almost to a walk as if to pull up.

At the last moment the horse changed his mind producing a spectacular corkscrew-type leap clearing both the fence and brook - which from then on became known as Valentine's Brook.

FENCE 10-14
Standard fences with no particular hazards.

FENCE 15 - THE CHAIR
As the runners come past the stands on the first circuit, they are in the narrowest part of the racecourse. Ahead of them lies the biggest obstacle they will have to face - but only the once.

The Chair is 5ft 2in high, 3ft wide and has a 6ft ditch on the take-off side. The name comes from a seat positioned alongside which was once used by one of the judges.

In modern times, the biggest problem posed by the Chair came in 1979 when loose horses caused nine of the runners to fall or be brought down.

They included Ben Nevis, whose American amateur rider Charlie Fenwick remounted and carried on for a while - they returned to win in 1980.

FENCE 16 - THE WATER JUMP
The Water Jump is a long jump rather than a high jump and will often catch a horse unaware after jumping the chair but does not bring down that many horses.

It is one of the two fences which is only jumped once on the first circuit.It is 2ft 9in high and has 9ft 6in of water on the far side, but rarely causes major problems.

Until 1845, it was a stone wall. In the first race in 1839 a stone wall stood here and although it was only in place for a few years not surprisingly it caused havoc.

Replaced by a post and rails in 1845 the Water Jump was put in place in the late 1850's as it was deemed to be more safe for runners and riders alike!

THE FINISH
After jumping the last, the tiring horses are faced with a 494-yard run-in with a kink halfway up, the Elbow, where the runners are directed away from The Chair.

The race is frequently won and lost on the run-in.

The most famous example in recent years came in 1973 when the top-weight Crisp, who had led the field a merry dance throughout the race, struggled over the last when jockey Richard Pitman made the mistake of reaching for his whip causing Crisp to lose direction.

Aintree Grand National Course

The Aintree Grand National Course is run over the most unique race circuit in the country.

The wide course is tailor made for a field of 40 runners or more which is more like a cavalry charge out of a western movie than a traditional horse race - no wonder it is so popular!

The team here at Grand National free bets studied the Aintree course and found that it is nearly two and a quarter miles in circumference with 16 fences and a run in of 494 yards.

The horses have to jump nearly all the fences at Aintree racecourse twice when competing in the Grand National with 30 fences in all that make up this fantastic horse race.

At the end of jumping the 30 fences and running nearly four and a half miles there is the longest run in of any horse race in the UK of 494 yards with an elbow roughly half way up the run in many races have been won and lost on this final scramble to the finishing post.

Aintree Course History

The first official races were set up by the owner of Liverpool's Waterloo Hotel, Mr William Lynn.

Mr Lynn leased the land, laid out a course, built a grandstand and staged the first Flat fixture on July 7, 1829. The Aintree Grand National was first run in 1839 and was won by "Lottery".

This was also the year in which the infamous Captain Martin Becher fell from his horse "Conrad" into the brook when in the lead, beginning the legend that is Becher's Brook.

In recent years the Aintree racecourse has gone from strength to strength and a large part of the credit can go to Martell who provided much needed sponsorship at an important time.

John Smiths Beer took over the Grand National sponsorship in 2005 and this ties in nicely with future plans for the course which include a new grandstand, as well as a redeveloped Parade Ring and Winner's Enclosure.

Aintree's ambitious £30million plan was completed in time for the 2007 Grand National.