It’s less than a week until England’s Aintree Racecourse, near Liverpool, opens for three days of competitive racing. Saturday’s main event is the John Smith’s Grand National steeplechase. In a steeplechase, the horses or “chasers” jump over sundry obstacles–fences, water, and open ditches.

The Grand National has a long and storied history, beginning with Lottery’s victory in the inaugural running in 1839 up through Neptune Collonges’ come-from-behind charge to win at the wire in 2012. Red Rum in the 1970s was the only three-time winner of the race.

Today, the Grand National is the world’s preeminent race for chasers. It is run on a 2 1/4 mile flat left-handed course. Normally, 40 horses compete over a 4 ½ mile journey encompassing 30 jumps, and some of the jumps have their own names.

Opening Day of the 2013 Aintree meet is Thursday, April 4, with seven races on the card. The features are the Bowl Chase, the Aintree Hurdle, and the Fox Hunters’ Chase.

Friday is Ladies’ Day with seven more races, including the Melling Chase, the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, and the Topham Chase.

Grand National Day on Saturday has an exceptional undercard of six races, plus the featured John Smith’s Grand National, with post-time at 4:15 PM. in Liverpool.

Over 150,000 spectators will be attracted to the Aintree meet. Many come time and again for both the racing and the associated social events. The Grand National itself is viewed on television by hundreds of millions of people in about 140 nations. Racing UK carries all of the races, and can be accessed on the Aintree website.

With 40 entries, the odds cover a wide range. For example, for the 2013 race, On His Own is the favorite at about 6/1, whereas Mortimers Cross is at 200/1. The large number of entries in the field, the length of the race, difficult jumps that can be the bane of favorites, and the wide disparity of odds, create plenty of potential for unexpected results.

A legendary example of “anything can happen” occurred in 1967 in a 44-horse field.  In that race, a loose horse impeded almost the entire field at the 23rd jump.  As horses fell and havoc ensued, a 100-1 outsider by the name of Foinavon and his jockey John Buckingham were somehow able to navigate their way through. Though 17 jockeys were able to regroup and pursue Foinavon, he held on to win. The fence where the trouble took place was dubbed, appropriately, the Foinavon Fence.

The Racing Post, a widely read daily digital newspaper, offers a Guide to the Grand National that provides a wealth of information about the race. The online resource covers a potpourri of subjects, such as a history of famous winners and losers of the Grand National and details about the course and famous jumps, as well as podcasts with expert handicappers.

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