Not having the Grand National and its three-day Festival at Aintree outside Liverpool left a reported hole of £500,000,000 in the finances of British horse racing and related businesses in 2020.

That is proof, as if it were needed, that the world’s most famous steeplechase remains a huge part of the international program of this global sport.  Around two-thirds of adults in the UK are thought to place a bet on the Grand National each year, most of whom don’t normally follow horse racing.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder.  With a worldwide TV audience in the hundreds of millions, the Aintree 4-mile 514-yard marathon handicap is the highlight of a three-day jumps horse racing festival that returns in 2021 after being cancelled in 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Grand National meet starts on Thursday, April 8 and there are 19 graded races across the three days.  Of those, 11 hold Group 1 status, so this is a major festival in its own right and not just following on from Cheltenham in March.

Here is what horse racing fans have to look forward to at Aintree, though sadly dual winner Tiger Roll won’t be among runners for the Grand National day 3 and bidding for a third win in the race as his owners felt he was excessively weighted in the handicap.  The first day sees four consecutive Grade 1 races kick the meeting off with a bang. 

They include the Aintree Bowl over 3 miles and the Aintree Hurdle over 2 1/2 miles.  Those horses that competed in the Champion Hurdle, plus Paul Nicholls’ McFabulous could tackle the latter on a card that also contains a Group 2 National Hunt Flat race for fillies and mares.

Headlining the middle day of the Grand National Festival is the Melling Chase sponsored by Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc.  Entries for the 2 1/2 mile feature race could include previous winners Min and Politologue.  Both are in the veteran stage of their careers as 10-year-olds, but fought out the finish of the last two editions of the Melling. There are also three Group 1 novice events on this card. 

On Grand National day, everything builds toward the big race. Supporting Aintree’s showpiece steeplechase is the Liverpool Hurdle over 3 miles that has been partnered by Irish international budget airline Ryanair in recent years.  The sponsor’s group chief executive Michael O’Leary is brother to the boss of Gigginstown House Stud.

Those racehorse owners have enjoyed plenty of success in the Grand National itself, thanks to victories for maiden Rule The World and the icon Tiger Roll.  Every race on the final day of the Aintree festival holds graded status, including two elite novice events, an open National Hunt Flat race, and a couple of handicaps.

In the Grand National itself, a massive maximum field of 40 horses are allowed to run. They face two laps of the special track, which has unique spruce-covered fences, many of which are bigger than the obstacles encountered in regulation steeplechases like those on the inner Mildmay course. 

After missing out on holding their April festival last year, Aintree will be striving to come back stronger than ever as horse racing and supporting industries in the UK cannot afford to miss out on another Grand National.

Horse Racing Business 2021