Few horse races have the storied tradition of the Grand National, held at the Aintree Race Course, located seven miles from the center of Liverpool, England. The steeplechase is the most famous race of its kind in the world and its global television audience is in the hundreds of millions from some140 countries.

Opening Day at Aintree, for 2013, is on Thursday, April 4, with Ladies’ Day on April 5, and Grand National Day on April 6. Seven competitive races will be held on each card. The three days of racing, social events, and entertainment draw royalty, celebrities, politicians, and people from all walks of life. Indeed, it is a highlight of the British sporting and social calendar.

The Grand National is a 4 ½ mile marathon over 30 fences, some of which have descriptive and colorful names like Becher’s Brook, Canal Turn, and the Chair. Except for the water jump, all of the fences are covered with spruce, making Aintree unique in British National Hunt racing. The race typically draws a contingent of 40 horses.

The field is sent on its way at approximately 4:15 PM, when the starter releases a tape, prompting the crowd, quiet with anticipation, to erupt into an ovation. By the time the leaders reach the last jump, the contenders are sorted out and the result is often decided in the 465 grueling yards to the finish line.

In 1956, the leader, Devon Loch, collapsed 50 years from the wire and lost a golden chance for racing immortality. The horse (who recovered) was owned by the Queen Mother and ridden by Dick Francis, who later became a bestselling writer of mysteries within a horse racing theme.

Neptune Colognes eked out a win in the 2012 Grand National by the smallest margin in the long history of the race—by a nose over Sunnyhillboy. The grey Neptune Collonges came on in the last yards of the race to catch Sunnyhillboy, literally right at the wire, in a pulsating drive in which the outcome had to be confirmed by a photo. Jockey Katie Walsh rode Seabass to third place, the best showing ever by a female rider in the Grand National.

Neptune Collonges was ridden by Daryl Jacob, trained by Paul Nicholls, and owned by John Hales. Nicholls is the outstanding National Hunt trainer of his era, and has been the leading trainer seven times. He previously trained Kauto Star, one of the very best chasers of all time.

Grand National betting is hugely popular. The bulk of the estimated £500 million wagered at Aintree is placed on the Grand National itself. The field of 40 horses puts a premium on skill and racing luck, which attracts bettors because of the potential payoffs. In fact, the Grand National has proved time and again that anything can happen over 4 ½ miles and 30 fences.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business