With four miles and 514 yards and 30 fences to negotiate, it’s little surprise that the Grand National is one of horse racing’s most captivating spectacles. The two laps of Aintree Racecourse are the true test of a steeplechaser, containing some of the most adrenaline-fuelled jumps in the sport.
The Grand National remains the most lucrative jump race in European horse racing too. In 2022, the prize purse totalled £1 million, with the winner scooping 50% of the purse.
It’s still one of the most watched sporting events on the planet too. It’s been said that upwards of 600 million viewers tune in from more than 140 nations worldwide. That’s the fascination of this gruelling steeplechase, which attracts heavy commercial interest too.
On-course at Aintree, the entire Grand National festival is sponsored by Randox, while its official betting partner for the Grand National is Betway.
The latter is a licensed sports betting operator in the UK market and is no stranger to sponsoring some of the leading events in British and Irish horse racing. This includes the Cheltenham Festival, where it also sponsors the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
With just a matter of months until the 2023 Grand National, now is the ideal time to reminisce and look back at some of the most stunning finishes in Grand National history. We’re talking about tight victories and the most unlikely winners to enter Aintree’s Winner’s Enclosure. All of which should whet your appetite for another year of the National.
Foinavon – 1967
Foinavon was the winner of what’s regarded as the “craziest” Grand National race of all time. Foinavon was such a warrior of a winner that the seventh and 23rd fence on the Aintree course has since been named after the 1967 champion.
The race has long been remembered for the carnage at the 23rd fence on the first lap, which caused most of the field to fall, refuse to jump or unseat their riders. Foinavon – a 100/1 shot pre-race – was one of only a dozen to emerge from the chaos and stay the course.
Red Rum – 1973
Red Rum’s first Grand National victory remains one of the most memorable in the history of the race. It was by no means a sure thing that Red Rum would win in 1973. Australian-bred Crisp was heavily fancied and made a fine start to the race, opening a 20-length lead over Red Rum.
Even prior to the final fence, Crisp remained 15 lengths clear of Red Rum, but the 12 stone top weight eventually proved his undoing, flagging in the home straight to allow Red Rum and Ginger McCain to celebrate a now-iconic win.
Neptune Collonges – 2012
If you’ve ever wondered what the closest finish to a Grand National was, you only have to go back ten years. Paul Nicholls landed his first National win as a trainer, with Neptune Collonges locked into a neck-and-neck sprint for the finishing post with Sunnyhillboy.
It was a photo finish, with the course officials deliberating for some time before making Neptune Collonges the first grey National winner in over half-a-century. In fact, he is still the last grey thoroughbred to win the Grand National – and he was retired immediately after his Aintree success.
Aldaniti – 1981
The 1981 Grand National had one of the most poignant and heartfelt outcomes in the history of the sport, let alone the event itself. National Hunt thoroughbred Aldaniti had spent several months struggling with severe tendon problems, which put his racing career in jeopardy.
His long-time jockey, Bob Champion, had also been through his own struggles. Champion overcame testicular cancer, having been given a terminal diagnosis initially by doctors. In a magical twist of fate, Champion and Aldaniti recovered in time to romp home in style – and there was not a dry eye in the house!
Red Marauder – 2001
The 2001 Grand National was amazing for all the wrong reasons. Aintree Racecourse was beset with dreadful weather conditions, causing the circuit to become exceptionally heavy and practically impassable for most of the field.
After less than a third of the fences in the race, the field was down to just 13 runners and riders. The Chair – Aintree’s most challenging obstacle – proved the undoing of pre-race favourite Edmond, with just seven horses remaining on the final lap.
The closing stages were all about Red Marauder and Smarty, with the former eventually prevailing. This year’s National saw only four horses finish, which tells you all you need to know.
We can only hope that the weather doesn’t wreak havoc again in 2023, with the kind of racing conditions Aintree suffered in 2001 proving no fun whatsoever for horses, jockeys and spectators alike.