Horses for Courses: A dummies guide to The Grand National.

Horse racing’s answer to the World Cup Final is nearly upon us. Broadsport have broken down the basics and given our recommendations for the horses to watch ahead of kick off this Saturday.

A Summary

The Grand National has been held every year at Aintree since 1839. It’s a steeplechase, meaning that it’s a race covering a decent distance with a number of obstacles to be cleared (hedges, ditches, water). The horses run with handicaps according to their performance over the season in an effort to level out the playing field.

The prize money is the highest for any horse race in Europe, standing at £1m.

Jockeys will be hoping to follow last years winner One for Arthur (Credit: The Star)

What happens?

40 horses race over 4 miles jumping 30 obstacles along the way. Less than half of the starting pack often don’t make it to the finish.

What makes the Grand National so special?

The course is notably much tougher than other steeplechase events since it features more challenging obstacles than those found on conventional tracks. These include the infamous Becher’s Brook, The Chair and The Canal Turn.

The trickiest obstacles


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Jumping Becher’s Brook has been described as like “jumping off the edge of the world.” Having undergone a number of safety modifications since the 80s, the fence now stands at 5ft with the landing side 10 inches lower than the take off side. This fence gives a great indication of how the horses are going to fare as the race goes on. When ridden well, it offers a spectacular display of equine athleticism.

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It is a long way down at fence six with horse having to navigate a high jump and a water hazard (Credit:

Also standing at 5ft, The Canal Turn is famed for the 90 degree turn taken immediately on landing. It is often the site of multiple horse pileups. This fence requires real restraint and technical skill from the jockeys.

Only jockeys with real technical skill can safely navigate The Canal Turn (Credit: Time form)

The Chair is the site of the only human casualty in The Grand National: in 1862 Joe Wynne fell and died from his injuries. Standing at 5ft, with a 6ft wide ditch in front of it, the fence takes a powerful horse to clear.

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Horses will need to use all their power to navigate The Chair (Credit:

How does the handicapping work?

Every horse carries a weight in accordance to its performance over the year. The highest performing horse carries the most weight and vice versa. This is intended to level out the playing field. It’s like asking Usain Bolt to carry a few bags of shopping before racing him over the 100 metres.

The Horses

When looking for a horse you typically want to focus on their age and their performance over the season. Specifically, you don’t want them to have fallen over their season, and you don’t want them to be much older than 11. Horses which perform well at the Cheltenham Gold Cup historically have gone on to impress at Aintree.

Fionnuala McRedmond top picks:
The Last Samurai is one of the favourites (Credit: Coventry Telegraph).

Last Samurai (Kim Bailey) – This 10 year old has ran the Grand National twice and finished both times. He disappointed last year but his trainers have kept him fresher this time round. This is a reliable horse that is a contender for top 5 at least.

Blaklion (Nigel Twiston Davies) – This horse is the current favourite, and came 4th last year. He had a promising start to the season but struggled in the latter half. The 9 year old is experienced, and is a contender if fit enough.

Tiger Roll (Gordon Elliot) – This horse is controversial. He was a winner at Cheltenham and is a good age, but could be too small to tackle the giant obstacles on the course. Some think he lacks the power to finish.

Total Recall (Willie Mullins) – The 9 year old has won 3 out of his 4 races for his latest owner, however he fell during The Gold Cup which could be a big knock to his confidence. He can approach the fences too quickly which can lead to mistakes. If he settles down this horse could surprise.

Anibale Fly (Tony Martin) – This horse is one of my favourites. He won in Dublin over Christmas and came third in The Gold Cup. He’s a fit horse that runs well on any ground. Trainer Tony Martin has said “if he gets his own little bit of luck, he could run a really good race.”

Minella Rocco (Jonjo O’Neill) – This horse is running with the biggest handicap. He came second in The Gold Cup last year, but didn’t run it this year. A classy horse who should be a reliable finisher.

Ucello Conte (Gordon Elliot) – No relation to Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, this horse has tackled the Grand National 3 times and managed to finish sixth the year before last. He fell last year despite running confidently. The experienced jockey Daryl Jacob will be looking for his 2nd Grand National win. He would make a good each way bet.

Vieux Lion Rouge (David Pipe) – This horse is practically a Grand National veteran, having placed both 6th and 7th. His trainer, who won the national with Comply Or Die 10 years ago, has expressed immense confidence in this horse: “He lights up for the big occasion. He’s run well in the last two Nationals and he won’t mind what the ground is.” Despite this, the 9 year old gelding has had a disappointing season.

Featured image credit: Daily Mail

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