Up in the beautiful setting of the Lake District is an area where the spruce grows that is transported down the M6 for the five races a year run on the famous Grand National course which produces sporting history every year and has done since 1839 when the aptly named Lottery won the first ever running at its current home Aintree albeit with runnings at Gatwick when the two World Wars with Germany got in the way of the fun.
The Grand National meeting is now a three day bonanza of jump racing which follows on three weeks after the Cheltenham Festival, the racing is equally as competitive and the quality of the card has improved year by year to such a degree that for the 2013 meeting the race that everyone is keen to see is not the National itself but the highly anticipated battle between Sprinter Sacre,Cue Card and Flemenstar in the Melling Chase over 2m4f.
I was asked in an interview with a friend of mine about how the class system shows in racing after all it has been commonly known as The Sport of Kings since Adam was a lad and while meetings such as Royal Ascot does have a sort of segregation in place with the Royal Enclosure I can genuinely say that things are different at Aintree, the sport of jumps racing has its roots firmly established from the countryside but at this meeting you see a real coming together of anyone and everyone.
Walking around during the racing you see the richer and more well off in the tweed and funny coloured trousers but you also get the Scousers in their suits and ladies in dresses albeit not made of much material and the high heels which end up being swapped for flip flops after about four races due to novice racegoers not realising you spend about eight hours stood up for the days racing but this is a real sense of everybody in it together and the class barriers are down which makes this meeting what it is, It’s when the town and the countryside unite as one for the love of the sport,the event,the occasion and you can’t help but look and be proud that this is a true British sporting institution.
This years meeting does see a few changes, for a start the television viewers will be tuning into Channel 4 who are going all out to make everyone know this is the only channel for terrestrial coverage of horse racing, many people including myself will be nervous and excited as to what will no doubt we a different style of coverage but anyone who saw the 2012 Paralympics will know that Channel 4 will do a cracking job and treat it with the respect it deserves.
The other main changes include the start going forward by 90 yards which may work but trying to get the jockeys to go slower could potentially back fire with a shorter run to the first fence meaning riders could be more in a hurry to get a good sight at the first, I am more worried about this but jockeys are professional riders and hopefully will use their heads and remember to ride the race and not the occasion but only time will tell.
The last change are the fences themselves, normally the big greens are made with stiff upright timber poles covered with spruce but all of these have now been removed and replaced with a new fixed fence with plastic birch and still covered with spruce so to the once a year viewers they will not notice any changes and to be fair in December at the Becher Chase meeting four of these were trialled and I certainly spotted no difference whatsoever and hopefully while their will still be fallers we all hope nothing bad comes from them.
Each day of the meeting has a different feel to it,for me I only go to the first two days,I have been to a Grand National back in 2001 when Red Marauder was one of only four finishers in what was the most dramatic National since Foinavon in 1967 and since the 2001 running I have watched them all on the TV apart from 2011 when I was at Bangor on Dee but for me this is a race better to watch on the big telly at home
Day One is now known as Liverpool Day with four Grade One races including the Aintree Hurdle and the Bowl Steeplechase as the two classiest races on the card but oddly they are mearly the warm up acts as the big race for all those on course is the Aintree Foxhunters over 2m5f 110yards of the Grand National course with the horses ridden by Amateur riders who oddly dont get paid and will get no prize money should they earn it for the owners and it gives us our first sighting of the fences, always a brave,brutal and tough race it is an event to savour as these mighty warriors do battle with the winning jockey joining that elite list of being on the scoresheet of the five races held every year on the National course.
Day Two is Ladies Day which is always a sight in so many ways as the Liverpool ladies go all out to have fun and although its a mixture of high heels,fake tans,outfits that leave little to the imagination and lots of wine mixed in with the fashion show and best dressed competitions the people should also be aware that their is high quality racing on too!
The feature races on Ladies Day are the Melling Chase over 2m4f on the quick Mildmay course which always produces a cracking race and as I alluded to earlier the potential coming together of Sprinter Sacre,Cue Card and Flemenstar will make it the race of the whole meeting, the other biggie is the Topham Chase over the same course and distance as the Foxhunters and this gives jockeys a quick chance to get their eye in for the National the following day,always fast and furious it is a good race and with Always Waining going for the National there will be a new name after his winning the previous three renewals.
Grand National Day is one of the iconic days in the sporting and racing calendar and those on course will be treated to a real sight of top class horses and jockeys doing battle over those fearsome fences and going into Aintree folklore, The local betting shops as ever will be full of the once a year punters and no doubt asking the usual daft questions like “What’s Dettori riding?” “How much tax do I pay?” But it is things like this that make the day what it is and we would be much poorer without it occurring.
The Grand National may be a race which divides opinion, I for one will always defend it as I have grown up with the race and still remember my first ever pick in the race, Durham Edition back in 1988 and being amazed and in awe of Chris Grant as he finished a gallant second in the race which got be hooked on this most beautiful of sports.
As for the 2013 running well it does look as tricky as ever but if I had to give one horse to hopefully give you a nice run for your money then I would suggest Chicago Grey as a worthy each way bet, he fell last year very early but has form over this marathon trip and warmed up with a win at Navan in February so for me he could go well at a big price.
Thank you for reading this, I shall be at Aintree for the Thursday and Friday at the meeting and I know full well come Wednesday I will be going to bed feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve knowing what the presents are and getting more and more irritable to open them!