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4 Feb 2015

2015 Grand National: Clash of the Titans

As National Hunt fans wave goodbye to the Cheltenham Festival, anticipation rises for the Crabbie's Grand National Festival from 9th - 11th April 2015. Aintree, Liverpool, is the venue for the greatest steeplechase of them all - the Grand National 11th April. 

This Class 1 handicap raced over 4m 3f 110y which is open to horses aged seven years and older with a rating of 120 or more by the British Horseracing Authority and placed in a recognised chase over 3 miles or more. 

This is the most valuable jumps race in Europe features total win prize money of almost £1000,000. 

William Lynn founded this race after setting out a course, building a grandstand, and Lord Sefton laid the foundation stone on 7th February 1829.  The record books detailed that this race was inaugurated in 1839. It was promoted as unique race with much larger fences than conventional courses. The first race was won by a horse aptly named Lottery, ridden by Jem Mason. 

Today the Grand National is a global phenomenon broadcast on terrestrial television to an estimated audience of 600 million viewers over 140 countries. The 2014 Grand National was won by Pineau De Re, ridden by Leighton Aspell, trained by Dr Richard Newland at odds of 25/1. 

Betting is very much a part of this race which sees punters taking an interest in the Grand National Odds. Leading bookmaker Titanbet are presently offering last year's winner Pineau De Re at odds of 25/1. Shutthefrontdoor, trained by Jonjo O'Neill and owned by legendary gambler J P McManus, is 16/1 favourite. Other major fancies include Balthazar King 20/1, Unioniste 20/1, Merry King 25/1 & Teaforthree 25/1. It is often wise to bet ante-post because odds are often much shorter price come the day of the race.       

The Grand National has a rich history. Did you know? In the three years during the First World War (1916-1918) the Grand National was run at Gatwick Racecourse, which is now owned by Gatwick airport. The later two races were named the War National Steeplechase. In 1928 Tipping Tim won at odds of 100/1 when 41 of the 42 field fell. Only two riders completed the course. This remains the record for the fewest number of finishers. 

The most bizarre incident happened in 1955 when Devon Loch, owned by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, jumped in the air and belly-flopped on the turf when going to win.

Foinavon was one of the luckiest winners in 1967 when a loose horse called Popham Down hampered the majority of the field at the 23rd fence. This Irish racehorse was so far behind the field that he was able to jump the fence on the outside and win at 100/1. His owner had so little faith he went to Worcester instead. 

In the 1970s one horse marked himself as a true champion and still recognised as the horse synonymous with the Grand National - Red Rum. Originally bought as a yearling for just 400 guineas he went on to win the race in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He finished second in the intervening years. Ginger McCain trained Red Rum (which backwards spells Murder) by trotting him on Southport beach as the sea water was considered therapeutic for his lameness. McCain had witnessed this remedy with many carthorses. Red Rum is the only horse to have won the Grand National three times. Amazingly he never fell in 100 races. He died at the age of 30 and is buried at the finishing post of Aintree racecourse. The epitaph reads "Respect this place / this hallowed ground / a legend here / his rest has found / his feet would fly / our spirits soar / he earned our love for evermore." 

One of the most emotional winners came in 1981 - Bob Champion and Aldaniti. Two years earlier Champion had been diagnosed with cancer and given months to live. His horse had suffered with chronic leg problems. After a slow start the pair went on to win by four-and-a-half lengths from Spartan Missile. Within two years their story was made into the film Champions, starring John Hurt. 

Other notable performances include Mr Frisk winning in the fastest time in 1990 in under nine minutes. The oldest winning horse was called Peter Simple. He was 15 when victorious in 1853.

Five horse have won aged five - the last of those in 1909 named Lutteur III. Five horses have won at odds of 100/1.