Aintree Racecourse is a racecourse in Aintree, Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, Merseyside, England, bordering the city of Liverpool. The racecourse is the venue for the Grand National steeplechase, which takes place annually in April over three days. Aintree also holds meetings in May and June (both on Friday evenings), October (Sunday), November and December (both Saturdays).

The racecourse in 2006
LocationAintree, Merseyside, England
Owned byJockey Club Racecourses
Date opened7 July 1829
Screened onRacing TV
Course typeNational Hunt
Notable racesGrand National
Official website

History of the course Edit

Horse racing was popular in Liverpool from at least Tudor times, In the 18th century Nicholas Blundell organised races on the sands at Crosby.[1]

In 1829, William Lynn, the owner of the Waterloo Hotel in Ranelagh Street, Liverpool, approached the Second Earl of Sefton, William Philip Molyneux, whose nickname was 'Lord Dashalong', about leasing land to organise flat racing.

Lord Sefton liked racing, so he agreed. He laid the foundation stone on 7 February 1829, and placed a container of sovereigns inside the footings.[2] Lynn built a grandstand in time for the first meeting at Aintree racecourse on 7 July 1829. The opening race was the Croxteth Stakes over 1 mile 2 furlongs, and was won by Mufti.[2] In 1835 Lynn organised hurdle racing, which was a great success, especially when a well-known, rider, Captain Martin Becher, agreed to take part and rode a horse named Vivian to two victories. The story goes that Becher told Lynn about the Great St. Albans Steeplechase, a four-mile point-to-point race across country, which was first run in 1830. This caught Lynn's imagination and he decided that he wanted a similar race at Aintree.

With Becher's help Lynn organised the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase, first run on 29 February 1836. There were ten runners, to be ridden by gentlemen riders only, all carrying twelve stone, with the winner, sold if demanded. for two hundred sovereigns. Captain Becher (after whom Becher's Brook is named) rode The Duke to victory. The winner was owned by Mr Sirdfield, landlord of the George Inn at Great Crosby. Some racing historians regard this 1836 race as the first Grand National, but most favour the 1839 event as the inaugural one. The Duke won again in 1837, Sir William in 1838. There is even some disagreement as to the venue for the 1836 to 1838 races, with the nearby Maghull (which was opened in 1827 by a landowner, John Formby) having its supporters.[3]

By 1839 the aristocracy was taking an interest: Lords Derby, Eglinton, Wilton, Sefton and Lord George Bentinck backed a national racing event at Aintree. The race was named the 'Grand Liverpool Steeplechase' and advertised as being "four miles across country" – though starting and finishing on the established racecourse. There were 29 obstacles, including a stone wall five feet high, and about a mile from the stands a "strong paling, next a rough, high jagged hedge, and lastly a brook about six feet wide." As the runners approached that obstacle, Captain Becher led the field on Conrad, who hit the obstacle hard causing Becher to fall into the brook. As he came out of the brook, Becher is reputed to have said that "water is no damned use without brandy!"[4] Lottery, ridden by Jem Mason, won at 9/1, followed by Seventy-Four and Paulina, both 12/1. The 6/1 favourite, The Nun, failed to finish. There were seventeen runners. That first 'National' attracted a crowd of about 50,000.

In the following years the race became very popular, though William Lyn's health suffered and his interest in racing lessened. Another member of the syndicate, Edward William Topham, who was also a racing handicapper, took over as the leading influence at Aintree. In 1843 he turned the 'National' from a weight-for-age race into a handicap. The race officially became the 'Grand National' in 1847; the following year Topham took on the lease of the course from Lord Sefton.[3]

The Grand National, and with it Aintree racecourse grew in popularity throughout the second half of the 19th century. The 'National' was, by a long way, the most valuable and most important race in the national hunt calendar.

The 1914 Grand National was held a few months before the start of the First World War; the 1915 race was also run at Aintree but a year later Aintree was requisitioned by the War Office, so a substitute race, named the 'Racecourse Association Steeplechase' was held in 1916, 1917 and 1918 at Gatwick (on the site where the airport was later built) in Sussex. The Grand National returned to Aintree in 1919.[5]

During the Second World War there was one race won by BOGSCAR in 1940[6] at Aintree as the course had been requisitioned for use as a storage depot with hundreds of servicemen from the USA being stationed there. The course opened again on 4 April 1946 for the Spring Meeting, with the Grand National being run on the Friday, the second day of the three-day meeting. It was first run on Saturday in 1947.[7]

In 1949 Messrs. Tophams bought the racecourse outright from Lord Sefton after leasing the course for 100 years. To celebrate this purchase, the Topham Trophy, a handicap steeplechase over 2 miles 6 furlongs of the Grand National course was introduced as the main race on the first day of the National meeting.[8]

In December 1953 the Mildmay steeplechase course was opened with smaller versions of the Grand National fences. This two-day fixture was the first all National Hunt meeting ever staged at Aintree.

In July 1964 Mrs Topham announced that she intended selling the racecourse to a property developer, Capital & Counties, to build housing. This started the era of the "last Grand National" which lasted for about twenty years. There was talk of the Grand National being transferred to Doncaster.[8]

1973 saw the last Grand National meeting run by the Topham family as Aintree was bought by a local property developer, Bill Davies. A low ebb was reached in 1975 when the attendance at the Grand National was the lowest anyone could remember, largely because Bill Davies tripled admission prices. The National meeting was revived in 1976 under Ladbrokes' management and a new clerk of the course, John Hughes (although Bill Davies still owned the course).[8] The first day of the Spring Meeting saw the final flat race run at Aintree, the Knowsley Stakes over 1 mile 5 furlongs; the final two days, including Grand National day were all National Hunt events. In 1977 all three days of the 'National' meeting were National Hunt for the first time, and have continued to be so.

The uncertainty about the future of the course was finally removed in December 1983 when the Jockey Club bought the course from Bill Davies.[8]

Most of Aintree's old stands were demolished in 1985, leaving just the County Stand. A temporary stand, the Aintree Stand, was erected. The County Stand was renovated and extended in 1988. Three years later the temporary stands were replaced by a permanent one, opened by and named after the Queen Mother.[8]

In 1995 Red Rum, the only horse to win the Grand National three times, died in October and was buried near the winning post. A statue to the horse had been unveiled at the course on Grand National day in 1988.

In 1997 part of the County Stand was demolished to prepare for a new grandstand. In 1998 a new stand, named after the Princess Royal, was opened.

2006 saw the start of extensive re-development of the racecourse. A new parade ring, weighing room and winners' enclosure were opened. The old weighing room was turned into a wine bar and museum. A year later two further grandstands were opened, named after the Earl of Derby and Lord Sefton.

In 2015 the old weighing room and winners' enclosure were named 'McCoys' to honour the jockey A. P. McCoy, who had ridden in his final Grand National.[8]

Courses Edit

Traditional entrance
The Lord Sefton and Earl of Derby stands

There are three courses at Aintree: the Grand National course, the Mildmay steeplechase course, and the Hurdles' course

Grand National course Edit

The Grand National course is a left-handed triangular shaped course of about 2 miles 2 furlongs, with 16 fences, including three open ditches and a water jump. The fences range in height from 4 ft 6 ins to 5 ft 2 ins ('The Chair', one of the open ditches, and the largest fence on the course). Some of the fences have a drop – a lower landing side than take off side. These include Becher's Brook, the 6th and 22nd fence in the Grand National, although its drop has been reduced in recent years.

It is regarded as the most difficult of all courses to complete successfully, with the fences including obstacles such the Chair, Foinavon, Valentine's, Canal Turn and Becher's Brook. All fences bar the water jump are covered with spruce, unlike at any other course in British National Hunt racing.

Four other races take place over the National fences. These are the Topham Trophy Chase (reverting to its original name in 2002 after being known as the John Hughes Trophy Chase since 1989) and the Fox Hunters' Chase at the Grand National meeting, and the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase and Becher Chase in the December meeting.

The fences have been modified down the years to make them less severe. In 1961 all the plain fences were sloped on the take-off side. In 1990 the brooks at Becher's and Valentine's were filled in, while the landing side of Becher's was raised to reduce the drop.

In 2011 the drop on the landing side of the first fence was reduced, and the height of the fourth fence was reduced by two inches for 4 ft 10 in. In the same year the drop at Becher's was reduced again, by four to five inches.[8]

Mildmay Course Edit

The Mildmay Course was named in honour of Lord Anthony Mildmay (1909-1950), who was champion amateur jockey four times and rode in several Grand Nationals. He felt there should be a 'nursery' course at Aintree, with smaller versions of the 'National' fences to provide an introduction to potential future runners in the Grand National to Aintree's unique fences.[9]

The course opened in December 1953 with a two-day Yuletide meeting. The benefit of the Mildmay course was that it enabled Aintree for the first time to stage all National Hunt cards. Previously it could hold only flat programmes or mixed meetings of flat and jumps races. The course, a left-handed oval, was a little over 1 mile 2 furlongs round, with eight fences, two of which were used in the Grand National: fence number 13 and 29 in the Grand National, which was the second of the four plain fences in the home straight on the Mildmay Course, and the water jump. There were three fences along the back straight: an open ditch, a plain fence and another open ditch. Races were run over two distances: 2 miles 80 yards, and 3 miles 1 furlong 130 yards. The course was regarded as sharp.

The course was not popular with most trainers, and the races on the Mildmay course attracted small fields. The Mildmay course was used only once at the Grand National meeting, for the Mildmay 'Chase, a race over 2 miles 80 yards for novices, on the second day of the meeting.

In 1975 Bill Davies replaced the spruce fences of the Mildmay course with standard birch fences.[7] In 1990 the Mildmay course was changed: the water jump was no longer used, while a 'cross fence' on the bend into the home straight replaced one of the plain fences in the home straight, creating a long run between the final two fences. There were now four fences down the back straight, including an open ditch.

Hurdles' Course Edit

The Hurdles' Course was the flat course, and is the oldest of Aintree's three courses. It is a left-handed oval of about 1 mile 3 furlongs, with sharp bends. There are six flights of hurdles: three down the back straight, three in the home straight.

The final flat race at Aintree took place on the first day of the Grand National meeting in 1976. Flat races of five furlongs were run on a straight course which ran diagonally across the centre of the Mildmay course.

On this course on 7 April 1967, on the day before the Foinavon Grand National, on his first visit to Aintree, the two-year-old Red Rum, ridden by Paul Cook, dead-heated with Curlicue in a five-furlong selling plate.[10] The running rails for this course remained in place until 1987.

The Grand National Edit

The Grand National race was run for many years over 4 miles 856 yards (4 miles 3 furlongs 196 yards), then 4 miles 4 furlongs. In 2013 the start was moved 110 yards to keep the horses away from the noise of the crowd before the start.[8] The distance of the race is now 4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km) after being re-measured by the British Horseracing Authority in 2015. The race is considered among the most demanding steeplechases in the world. The lead has often changed hands during the 494-yard (452 m) run-in after the final fence. There are usually 40 horses taking part in the race (this has been the maximum since 1984) but fewer than ten may actually complete the course: for example, 42 horses started in 1928, and only two reached the finishing post.[11] The record for the most victories in the Grand National is held by Red Rum, who won three times in the 1970s, in addition to coming second twice.

Notable races Edit

Month Meeting DOW Race Name Type Grade Distance Age/Sex
April Grand National Thursday Manifesto Novices' Chase Chase Grade 1 2m 4f 5yo +
April Grand National Thursday Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices' Hurdle Hurdle Grade 1 2m 1f 4yo only
April Grand National Thursday Betway Bowl Chase Grade 1 3m 1f 5yo +
April Grand National Thursday Aintree Hurdle Hurdle Grade 1 2m 4f 4yo +
April Grand National Thursday Red Rum Handicap Chase Chase Grade 3 2m 5yo +
April Grand National Friday Top Novices' Hurdle Hurdle Grade 1 2m 110y 4yo +
April Grand National Friday Mildmay Novices' Chase Chase Grade 1 3m 1f 5yo +
April Grand National Friday Melling Chase Chase Grade 1 2m 4f 5yo +
April Grand National Friday Topham Chase Chase Grade 3 2m 5f 110y 5yo +
April Grand National Friday Sefton Novices' Hurdle Hurdle Grade 1 3m 110y 4yo +
April Grand National Friday Champion Standard Open NH Flat Race N H Flat Grade 2 2m 1f 4yo-6yo
April Grand National Saturday Village Hotels Handicap Hurdle Hurdle Grade 3 3m 110y 4yo +
April Grand National Saturday Mersey Novices' Hurdle Hurdle Grade 1 2m 4f 4yo +
April Grand National Saturday Maghull Novices' Chase Chase Grade 1 2m 5yo +
April Grand National Saturday Liverpool Hurdle Hurdle Grade 1 3m 110y 4yo +
April Grand National Saturday Grand National Chase Grade 3 4m 2f 74y 7yo +
October October Meeting Sunday Old Roan Chase Chase Grade 2 2m 4f 4yo +
November November Meeting Saturday Grand Sefton Steeplechase Chase Handicap 2m 5f 110y 6yo +
December December Meeting Saturday Becher Chase Chase Grade 3 3m 2f 6yo +
December December Meeting Saturday Many Clouds Chase Chase Grade 2 3m 1f 4yo +

Other events Edit

Motor racing Edit

The 3 mile Aintree motor racing circuit

Aintree has also been used as a venue for motor racing. The British Grand Prix was staged there on five occasions, in 1955, 1957, 1959, 1961 and 1962. In addition to the Grand Prix, the circuit also held 11 non-championship Formula 1 races, known as the Aintree 200, first won by Stirling Moss in 1954 with the last winner being Jack Brabham, in April 1964.

The only driver to have competed in both horse and motor races at Aintree is Alfonso de Portago, who rode in the Grand National in 1950[12] and 1952[13] as well as driving a Ferrari 750 Monza in the Daily Telegraph International Meeting in October 1955.[14] He was set to compete at the 1957 British Grand Prix at Aintree, but he was killed in the Mille Miglia in May of that year.

The Princess Royal Stand

Music Edit

Golf Edit

The racecourse contains a 9-hole golf course and driving range within its boundaries. Features such as Becher's Brook are incorporated into the course. It is accessed from Melling Road, which bisects the racecourse. Because of this, the golf facilities are closed when the course is used for horse or motor racing.[19]

Transport links Edit

Aintree racecourse was served by two railway stations: Aintree Racecourse railway station, which opened in about 1890, and Aintree Sefton Arms, which opened in 1849. The racecourse station was last used on Grand National day, 25 March 1961, and closed a year later. Aintree Sefton Arms became Aintree in 1968 and remains open.[20]

References Edit

  1. ^ Liverpool, Historic. "Historic Liverpool". Historic Liverpool.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b "And they're off – a brief history of Aintree racecourse and the Grand National". Age Concern Liverpool & Sefton. 9 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b Wright, Sally (3 April 2020). "An early history of Aintree racecourse". Timeform.
  4. ^ Magee, Sean (31 March 2014). "Aintree Racecourse Profile: the story of the Grand National". Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ "What happened to the Grand National during World War I?". 20 March 2020.
  6. ^ wikipedia grand national 1940
  7. ^ a b Chris (April 2015). "Aintree Racecourse". Grand National Anorak.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Chris (April 2015). "Aintree Racecourse". Grand National Anorak.
  9. ^ Chris (May 2012). "The Mildmay Course". The Grand National and Aintree 1946-1959.
  10. ^ Wright, Chris (6 March 2013). "The Red Rum Story, Part One". Echo.
  11. ^ Ian Thomsen (3 April 1993). "The 150th Grand National: 40 Horses and a Great British Tradition". International Herald Tribune. Archived from the original on 21 April 2007. Retrieved 22 April 2007.
  12. ^ "1950". Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  13. ^ "1952". Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  14. ^ "Aintree International Meeting". Motor Sport Magazine. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  15. ^ Wright, Jade (3 September 2015). "Michael Jackson at Aintree, September 11 1988". liverpoolecho. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  16. ^ Wright, Jade (3 September 2015). "Michael Jackson at Aintree: 27 years on can you spot yourself?". liverpoolecho. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  17. ^ a b Liverpool, Old Photographs of. "Aintree, a history". Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  18. ^ "P!nk Setlist at Liverpool Summer Pops 2007". Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  19. ^ "Opening Times & Closure Dates :: Aintree Golf Centre". Retrieved 3 April 2022.
  20. ^ Wright, Paul (12 May 2017). "Aintree Racecourse station". Disused stations. Archived from the original on 25 March 2021. Retrieved 30 August 2020.

External links Edit

53°28′37″N 2°56′30″W / 53.47694°N 2.94167°W / 53.47694; -2.94167