Each April, thousands of spectators descend upon Merseyside for the Aintree Festival which takes place across the three days and culminates with the Crabbies Grand National. This iconic and historic steeplechase is contested over the four miles and three and a half furlongs and is one of the standout events on the sporting calendar in the UK. Many consider the stamina-sapping event to be the biggest race in the world and it’s difficult to disagree. The Kentucky Derby, the Melbourne Cup and the Dubai World Cup are all magnificent spectacles in their own right but very few of these events are able to capture the nation’s imagination in quite the same way.
The Grand National is always a hugely anticipated event with multiple generations often coming together to discuss the relative chances of each runner and this inevitably creates a buzz in betting shops around the country. Forty runners will zip around the iconic course negotiating each of the legendary fences in a bid to collect the lucrative prize pot for connections. Total Recall, trained by Willie Mullins is the current 10/1 favourite in Paddy Power’s Aintree betting odds but those at the head of the market generally have a poor record in this race. The competitive nature of the event generally favours outsiders and this element of unpredictability simply adds to the thrill.
Britons who rarely gamble will make an exception on Grand National day and those who have little knowledge about the sport tend to make an effort to at least read through the 40-strong card on the morning of the race. There are very few sporting events that are able have this effect on the public. Almost half of the country had a punt on the race in 2016 with around £250,000 wagered on the four-miler. Around 35 million bets were struck ahead of the event, which eclipses the totals staked on the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Kentucky Derby. This is further evidence that the Grand National is the biggest race in the world and interest in the steeplechase continues to grow each year.
Many trainers target the race with their runners and the contest always attracts a high-quality field. Participants must complete almost two circuits of the course whilst negotiating Becher’s Brook and the infamous Canal Turn. One of the most famous winners of the race is Red Rum, who is forever immortalised at the course following his three wins in the legendary steeplechase. The contest has also produced a number of feel-good stories such as Aldaniti being ridden home by Bob Champion, who had recently completed his recovery from cancer back in 1981.
The majority of British citizens can remember their first Grand National bet and many will also have fond memories of picking their first winner. It is a race that brings the country together and since the BHA moved the race to a later timeslot of 5:15pm, viewing figures have improved significantly. Very few sporting events can provoke the same level of interest as the Grand National and despite competition from the Melbourne Derby, it still retains its crown and can confidently proclaim to be the biggest race in the world.