Grand National day is one of the biggest, best and most eagerly anticipated days in all of British culture.
While it remains incredibly important to the sport of horse racing itself, it also has a firm place in the hearts of all once-a-year racing watchers and gamblers.
Around 600 million people watch the Grand National on live television every year, with betting turnover in Britain alone estimated at over £400 million.
Watching from afar is thrilling, but if you are lucky to be there in person, you’ll need to know all about what to expect from the biggest day of the year in horse racing.
Grand National Day Races
The vast majority of betting money and TV audience figures centre around the big race itself, the £1 million Grand National. It’s not the only race on the card though, naturally.
The Grand National meeting actually runs for three days; Thursday, Friday and Saturday in early April. Ladies Day is on Friday and the big one, Grand National day, takes place on the final day of the meeting.
After the Cheltenham Festival in March this meeting, in particular Grand National day, is the next most important fixture on the jumps schedule in Great Britain.
The line-up and times are subject to some change as the seasons roll on, but generally this is what you can expect on Grand National day at Aintree:
Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
The day begins at the same level as the Grand National, in terms of the quality of horses at least.
The opening handicap hurdle is a Grade 3 event, the third-highest in jumps racing, and is staged over the stamina-sapping distance of three miles and half-a-furlong.
The opener is known by its sponsor name and so the race title can change from year to year. It is worth £75,000 in prize money and may well feature a number of horses that did well at March’s Cheltenham Festival.
Mersey Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
One of three races on the day run at the very top level of racing – Grade 1. The Mersey Novices’ Hurdle features the very best of the current crop of young hurdlers going over the two-and-a-half-mile trip.
The Mersey Novices’ is worth a cool £100,000 and has been won in the past by such top-class types as Best Mate, Simonsig, Nichols Canyon and My Drogo.
Maghull Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
The second top-level race on an amazingly high-quality afternoon is the Maghull, another novice race, this time over the larger obstacles. The speedier novice chasers go here over the two-mile trip, all looking to land their share of the £120,000 pot.
Second in importance in this category only to the Arkle at Cheltenham, the Maghull often features a combination of Arkle runners and future Champion Chase contenders.
Winners in the past include Night Nurse, Flagship Uberalles, Sprinter Sacre, Douvan and Shishkin.
The Liverpool Hurdle (Grade 1)
Our trio of important Grade 1 races is the Liverpool Hurdle, these days known under a sponsor’s name.
Just like the opener, the Liverpool Hurdle is run over three miles and is the Aintree equivalent of the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, also a Grade 1 race.
The prize fund stands at a whopping £250,000 for this event, a race taken in the past by Lanzarote, Thistlecrack and four times in a row by the great Big Buck’s.
Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
Another £100,000 event is the three-mile, one-furlong handicap chase at Grade 3 level. This race represents a great chance for some excellently-prepared handicap chasers that maybe didn’t get what they wanted out of Cheltenham to go again on a flatter track and perhaps gain valuable compensation.
The Grand National (Grade 3)
“Only” a Grade 3 race, the Grand National is the one everyone has come to see and, after a small break in the proceedings, is the penultimate race on the card.
The National features no less than 40 runners, all of which are fighting for a £1 million purse. They have to go over 30 fences on their mammoth trip of four miles, two-and-a-half furlongs with the crowd getting plenty of chances to see the field as they take two full laps of the National course.
Memories of huge performances by Foinavon, the great Red Rum, Aldaniti, Hedgehunter and Tiger Roll flood into the brain and crank up the excitement as we wait to see the next champ crowned.
Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (Grade 2)
Grand National day finishes with a high-quality ‘bumper’, the colloquial name for a National Hunt flat race.
As the name suggests, there are no obstacles to jump here. This race is used by trainers to get some experience into what may be the jumping stars of the future. The race is run over two miles and has a prize fund of £50,000.
Attending the Grand National
Grand National day is staged at Aintree Racecourse, around six miles from the centre of Liverpool.
Aintree is a big, beautiful track with wonderful facilities which are all made possible by the Grand National. Most racecourses with just a few fixtures each year could never support the sort of provisions on show here, but the money brought in by this famous race sees to it that all race goers on the day get a fabulous experience.
Getting to Aintree
Aintree is situated north of Liverpool, right off the A59 Ormskirk Road. A train service is available from Liverpool Central on the Ormskirk line, reaching Aintree in around 25 minutes. From there, the racecourse itself is just a 5-minute walk.
Tickets for the Grand National
Getting tickets for Grand National day can be very difficult, depending on which part of the racecourse you want to be situated in and how early you book them.
The earlier the better either way, with a direct booking from Aintree Racecourse’s website being the best way to guarantee a place.
General admission tickets are available from £40, rising to £70 and upwards depending on the area you book for. Hospitality tickets are from £100+, and can reach £599 depending on the package.
With tickets sold separately for upper and lower seats of some stands and enclosures, there are actually 16 different areas to book tickets for on Grand National day, with the Embankment only available on the big day.
The sort of ticket you go for will give you access to various enclosure and stand types. Some give excellent, high-level views of the course while others are more specialist. Some tickets get you close to the finish line, others are better for restaurants, bars and hospitality areas.
On Grand National day you can book tickets for:
- The Garden Club. Close to the parade ring with a private bar and outdoor balcony.
- Festival Zone – Tattersalls. Access to the parade ring, features live music and entertainment.
- West Tip Seats. Covered seating with views of the home straight.
- Platinum Lounge. An elevated view, directly over the winning post.
- Princess Royal Roof. Covered area and bar with views of the parade ring, winners’ enclosure and the line.
- Princess Royal Seats Gallery. Reserved seating with views of the track, the winning line, parade ring and winners’ enclosure.
- Queen Mother Roof. Featuring a direct view of the winning line.
- Queen Mother Seats. A partially covered seating area with good views.
- Earl of Derby Terrace. Outdoor area close to the course.
- Earl of Derby Lower Seats. Views available of the parade ring, the course and the winners’ enclosure.
- Earl of Derby Upper Seats. An elevated view and featuring the Upper Saddle bar.
- Lord Sefton Terrace. An outdoor terrace near the horsewalk.
- Lord Sefton Lower Seats. Near the horsewalk.
- Lord Sefton Upper Seats. A more elevated view near the horsewalk.
- Lord Daresbury Roof. Elevated seating, directly above the winning line.
- The Embankment. An outdoor area featuring a party atmosphere, only available on this day.