The Aintree Grand National Festival, which takes place annually in early April, of course revolves around the most famous horse race in the world, the Grand National itself. However, the three-day festival also includes a total of ten Grade One, or “championship” races, at varying distances over hurdles and fences. The Aintree Grand National Festival comes hot on the heels of the Cheltenham Festival, in mid-March, so participants have little time to recover from their exertions at Prestbury Park.
Day one, unsurprisingly christened “Grand Opening Day”, is a little less formal than days two and three, but nevertheless features four Grade One races and the Foxhunters’ Chase, which gives spectators their first glimpse of the celebrated National Course. In terms of quality, though, the Betway Bowl Chase – run over 3 miles 1 furlong on the Mildmay Course and one of just four races of its kind in Britain – is the highlight of day one. Inaugurated, in 1984, as a consolation race for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Betway Bowl was promoted to Grade One status in 2010.
Day two, a.k.a. “Ladies’ Day”, features three more Grade One races, including the Melling Chase, which has been won in recent years by such luminaries as Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Don Cossack, and the second race of the week over the Grand National fences, the Topham Chase. As the name suggests, Ladies’ Day is also a major social occasion on Merseyside, drawing thousands of glamorous ladies seeking to demonstrate their fashion sense and, perhaps, win the coveted style award for best-dressed female.
Day three, or “Grand National Day”, opens with three consecutive Grade One races, which are high-quality events in their own right, but also serve as hors d’oeuvres for the mouthwatering entrée that is the Grand National. Run over 4 miles 3½ furlongs and 16 unique spruce fences, all bar two of which are jumped twice, the Grand National presents an incomparable test for horse and rider. Many winning horses, jockeys and trainers and even some of the fences – Becher’s Brook, The Canal Turn and The Chair, to name but three – have become household names. The most famous Grand National horse, though, was Red Rum, who won the race in 1973, 1974 and 1977, as well as finishing second in 1975 and 1976.