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Image: "Aintree Grand National" (CC BY 2.0) by stacey.cavanagh

Horse Racing

Grand National Fever Set to Sweep UK in April

Before the Kentucky Derby kicks off America’s Triple Crown of racing for thoroughbreds in May, horse racing fans can look forward to Europe’s most valuable and gruelling jump race which takes place in Liverpool on April 6.

The Grand National is not just a major horse race, it is also one of the biggest events on the UK sporting calendar with up to 10 million viewers tuning in to watch. And for bookmakers, it represents their busiest weekend of the year.

Cultural phenomenon

The surge in betting activity is almost a cultural phenomenon. For decades, it has been a tradition in UK households to wager on this race. Even those who would not normally partake in gambling will have a ‘flutter’ on the day and the Aintree Grand National 2019 will be no exception, with Tiger Roll at 7/2 to be this year’s winner. And in offices up and down the country, sweepstakes will be organised where colleagues pay an entry fee to pick a horse at random with prize money handed to the top places.

The weight of history

The popularity is no surprise when you consider it was first held back in 1836. Just two years later, the Great St. Albans Chase was not renewed making the Grand National the most prominent race on the calendar. The same year, the first railway line came to Liverpool, enabling travelers to come from far and wide to watch the event. This brought better organization and national press coverage. What’s more, since 1960, it has been broadcast on free-to-air TV, giving anyone with a television access to the race.

The contenders

The early favorite in the ante-post betting is last year’s winner Tiger Roll. But the nine-year-old will have to achieve a rare feat if he is to defend his crown. Since 1936, only one horse has won back-to-back races and that was Red Rum, who is widely considered the greatest Grand National runner of all time. Red Rum holds the record for race wins with three triumphs in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also came second in the two intervening years (1975 and 1976).

Statue of racing legend Red Rum – winner of three Grand National races. Red Rum Statue Aintre by Paul via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

After Tiger Roll, there are four horses (Anibale Fly, Rathvinden, Vintage Clouds and Lake View Lad) all very closely priced. However, the 4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km) race which features 30 fences is notorious for being difficult to predict, and it has been nine years since a favourite came out on top. And six of the last 10 winners have been priced at 25/1 or higher, the longest being Mon Mome who was a 100/1 shot back in 2009.

Despite the difficulty in picking a winner, punters still come out in force for the Grand National. And while some may study form and statistics to choose a winner, it is more traditional to pick a horse because of a lucky name, colour or number. In fact, many people just stick a pin in a list and then cross their fingers for luck!

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