Aintree is the home of the greatest jumps race in the world, the Grand National, run each April over a gruelling 4m4.
There are two courses at Aintree: the Grand National course and the Mildmay Course. The former is used purely for steeplechasing and it provides a unique test for a jumper – many horses don’t take to it at all, while others love it and become National regulars. Whilst the fences have been modified in recent years to appease the animal rights brigade, they are still pretty scary and most people will have heard of Becher’s Brook, Valentine’s Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn. The latter is immediately followed by a sharp 90 degree turn, thus tempting jockeys to take the fence diagonally to save ground, which can lead to all sorts of problems. The Chair’s location in front of the grandstand makes for a thrilling spectacle, and the steep drop (the take off side is six inches higher than the landing side) catches many horses out. Just to confuse the poor animals further, Becher’s Brook is the exact opposite! Even with the last safely negotiated, the runners have to cope with the longest run-in of any course (just over two furlongs), which includes a right-handed kink at the Aintree Elbow, and the complexion of many a race has changed during this stamina-sapping finish.
The Mildmay Course cuts across one end of the National course and is used for both chasing and hurdling. It’s essentially sharp in nature and those horses that like to race prominently have a distinct advantage, with any mistakes on the way round proving costly as it’s hard to make up lost ground. The going rarely gets too testing so horses that don’t stay the distance on more conventional tracks, will do so around here. Conversely, the more stout stayers who perhaps lack a turn of foot at the finish can be vulnerable to speedier types stepping up in trip.