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THE 2018 GRAND NATIONAL AT AINTREE

The most famous jump race in the world is the Grand National at the picturesque Jockey-Club affiliated Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England.  The race has been held annually since 1839 and the 2018 renewal is scheduled for April 14, which concludes a three-day race meet with a card of seven races each day.  The Grand National has a purse of £1 million with £561,300 going to the winner.  In keeping with its aura of prestige, the event has a portfolio of sponsors like Bentley.

The Grand National is run at a distance of 4 miles and 514 yards and over 30 fences.  In every one of the 21 Grand National betting events, bettors have to search for horses that are in peak condition to stay the course and contend.  Trainers try to exploit their horses speed and build stamina through a combination of actual works and long and leisurely gallops over trails.

As with racehorses on the flat, chasers only have so many runs in them at peak levels before they begin to taper off.  And the Grand National races are so esteemed that trainers do everything they can to have their charges at the top of their games.

Bettors should initially satisfy themselves that leading up to a Grand National race, an entry has shown improvement in form in its two or three most recent races.  Clues to a horse’s fitness can also sometimes be picked up by watching the animal in the paddock or during the warmup.

Once the current form question has been answered with a yes, the next issue is about the horse’s class.  The fittest of horses is unlikely to be competitive if it is placed in a race with others who have consistently raced in much higher-level races (class and form are the subject of yesterday’s article “Class and Form at Cheltenham.”)  It is asking a lot for a horse that has been racing in nondescript races to abruptly move up and compete against proven Group I or Grade I winners.

In the Grand National especially, absolutely no win can be counted on until the horse in front has passed the finish line.  In the 1956 race, the famous mystery writer and then-jockey Dick Francis had cleared the final hurdle in front with Devon Loch, owned by the Queen Mother.  The horse proceeded to do a belly flop and defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business

THE MYSTERY WRITER, THE QUEEN MOTHER, AND THE BELLY FLOP AT THE GRAND NATIONAL

The accomplished British mystery writer Dick Francis, whose bestsellers revolved around horse racing, could not have spun a believable tale to depict what actually happened to him in real life when he rode in the 1956 Grand National at Aintree.  Truth is indeed often stranger than fiction.

Francis was a champion steeplechase jockey who had won over 350 races when he rode in 1956 in the Grand National for the eighth and final time.  His mount Devon Loch was owned by the Queen Mother.

Once Devon Loch cleared the last hurdle and was on the lead, Francis recollected his certainty that he was going to win the race: “Never had I felt such power in reserve, such confidence in my mount, such calm in my mind.”

The appreciative crowd roared and celebrated as Francis guided Devon Loch to what seemed to be a sure victory.  Then, fifty yards from the finish, disaster struck when Devon Loch suddenly did a belly flop (click here to see the photo).

Francis recalled: “Devon Loch pricked his ears.  A wall of noise hit him and his hind legs just refused to act for a stride.  Before I knew it, he was on his belly, his forelegs out in front of him.  I didn’t fall off…when he got to his feet, he more or less collapsed again.  So I dismounted.”

This has to be one of the most bizarre endings ever to a horse race…defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

With typical British reserve, The Queen Mother outwardly took it in stride, tersely remarking about the disappointing turn of events: “That’s racing.” Yet it is the sort of crushing loss that lingers forever in one’s mind.

The inaugural Grand National was run in 1839 and it became—and remains–the most famous steeplechase in the world with a massive global television audience.  The 2017 edition, the 170th running, will be held on April 8th at picturesque Aintree Racecourse, owned by the Jockey Club, near Liverpool.  The race is four miles, three furlongs, and 110 yards in length over 30 fences with colorful names like Becher’s Brook, Canal Turn, and The Chair.  The purse is £1 million and the race has 40 entrants with another four in reserve.

The Grand National is part of a three-day race meet and festival that begins on April 6.  Last year, over 150,000 people attended the Festival and some 70,000 showed up on day three for the Grand National.

With such a large field, the Grand National offers bettors plenty of opportunity.  In 2016, the winner, Rule the World, came home at odds of 33-1 and the next three finishers were 8-1, 100-1, and 28-1.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

2014 GRAND NATIONAL AT AINTREE

Dick Francis was a champion steeplechase jockey of the British National Hunt before retiring and becoming a best-selling novelist of mysteries woven with horse-racing themes and characters. He won over 350 races in his career, but he may be best known for a race he lost, the Grand National, the world’s most famous steeplechase, then and now.

In 1956, Francis was aboard Devon Loch for owner Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. A victory would be the first for the royal family in this famed race in over 50 years. Devon Loch had a large lead and looked to be a sure winner about 50 yards from the finish when he did a belly-flop. Francis later said he thought the deafening roar of the grandstand crowd startled the 9-year-old gelding and caused him to lose his balance. Toward the end of Francis’ life, he acknowledged that he never got over the incident. By contrast, with predictable British outward calm, the Queen Mother remarked, “Oh, that’s racing.”

Since Francis’s death in 2010, his mystery writing has been continued by his younger son, Felix Francis. The latter’s first novel following his father’s passing was titled Gamble, and its lead fictional character is Nick “Foxy” Foxton, one of the youngest jockeys ever to win the Grand National.

True stories like the belly-flop by Devon Loch and imagined ones like Gamble illustrate the lore and legend associated with what today is called Crabbie’s Grand National.

The 2014 edition is to be run at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool on April 5, culminating a 3-day festival of racing and entertainment. The on-track crowd and an estimated 600 million television viewers will watch as upwards of 40 horses contest a nearly 2 ¼ mile race in which the entries must jump 30 fences and then sprint on the flat for 494 yards to the finish line.

Odds are typically generous because of the large field. Last year, the winner Auroras Encore went off at 66-1 and the next four finishers were 12-1, 10-1, 66-1, and 16-1, respectively.

The Grand National has officially been run at Aintree since 1839. The winners of each rendition have their names recorded for posterity, except for a horse by the name of Esha Ness, who came home first in 1993. That year there were two false starts but on the second try about half the jockeys did not recognize the false start and completed the course. Esha Ness became legendary for winning the Grand National that never was because the stewards voided the race and bets were refunded.

Copyright © 2014 Horse Racing Business