The Best National Hunt Handicap
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 normally watch or bet on horse racing at other times of the year.
It is usually held on a Saturday in early April at the Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool.The steeplechase is run over two circuits of the Aintree 'National' course, covering 4.5 miles.
This is not to be confused with Aintree's standard 'Mildmay' park fence and hurdle course.
The National Hunt Track
There are 16 fences on the 'National' track, 14 of which are jumped twice (The Chair and the water are omitted on the second circuit).
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. The 2007 Grand National runs from Thursday 12th - Saturday 14th April.
The First National Hunt Race
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.
For three years during World War I, while Aintree racecourse was closed, an alternative race was run at Gatwick Racecourse, on the site of the present Gatwick Airport.
The first of these races, in 1916, was called the Racecourse Association Steeplechase, and in the following two years the race was known as the War National Steeplechase.
The races at Gatwick are not always recognised as "Grand Nationals", however, and their results are often omitted from winners' lists.