It’s billed as the greatest steeplechase in the world and it takes place on Saturday April 9th this year, but the Grand National is just part of a fantastic three-day festival of racing held at the Aintree course - which is easy to reach if you hire a car in Liverpool.
It’s the race that all owners, trainers and jockeys want to win, but it’s also an event that the bookmakers love. For many people it’s their one and only bet of the year and with 40 horses competing, picking a winner is always something of a lottery.
First held in 1839, the race has racked up centuries of history – not to mention some impressive statistics. It’s estimated that 600 million people worldwide will watch the race, which covers four miles and 2½ furlongs and includes 30 fences, the tallest of which are five feet high.
It’s also a race that’s surrounded by legend and emotion - most notably in 1981 when Aldaniti, a horse who had been all but written off years earlier due to serious leg problems, romped home being ridden by the jockey Bob Champion. The most successful horse in the race’s history is surely Red Rum, who won three times between 1973 and 1977 - and whose statue stands at the course.
If you’d like to be part of this incredible sporting event yourself, here’s a guide to what to expect over the three days that the race meeting lasts.
Day One of the meeting, on Thursday 7th April, is very much the curtain-raiser on the event, with featured races including the Red Rum Handicap Steeplechase, the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle and the Betfred Bowl Steeplechase.
Day Two has become known as Ladies’ Day at Aintree. As the name suggests, this is the day when the gauntlet is thrown down to the ladies to put on their finery for a day at the races. It must be said that this is a very different proposition on a potentially chilly day in Liverpool than it would be at Ascot in June. Nevertheless, thousands risk goose bumps and occasionally even frostbite as they compete for the style awards that are handed out on the day.
Further prizes are awarded on the race course for all the winners, with the three big races being the Topham and Melling Steeplechases and the Sefton Novice Hurdle.
Day Three – and it’s the big one. Excitement gradually mounts through the afternoon as we approach the penultimate race of the day. The planned start time for this year’s race is 5.15, later than in recent years, but it’s often delayed because of the problems in getting around 40 horses ready to start at the same time.
Last year’s winner was called Many Clouds and, at the time of writing, this is the early favourite for this year’s race. But anyone who’s followed the National over the years will know that form rarely counts. In fact, the last time a favourite was first past the post was when Don’t Push It won in 2010.
Whether or not you manage to pick a winner yourself, you should also make sure you take time to explore some of the many other highlights that Liverpool has to offer.
It’s a city that’s known the world over for The Beatles, and you can enjoy a celebration of the most famous group of all time at The Beatles Story. It’s a permanent exhibition dedicated to the band, telling their story through pictures, memorabilia and, naturally, the music itself. There are also recreations of important venues that they played including the legendary Cavern Club.
A short walk from the museum you’ll find Tate Liverpool on Albert Dock. This is an offshoot of the two Tate galleries in London and focuses on modern art. As well as frequently changing exhibitions, there are also many pieces from the Tate collection on display.
Nearby too is the Museum of Liverpool which provides a fascinating history of the city that once was one of the busiest ports in the world. As well as being filled with wide-ranging exhibits the building itself is a remarkable sight with a great central staircase leading to all the floors, with great views out over the River Mersey.
If you do have a pocketful of winnings from the National then you might also want to stop off at Liverpool One, the city’s biggest outdoor shopping centre, where you’ll find all the major high street names and more.
So with sport and culture, plus some first-rate retail therapy too, Liverpool really does have everything on offer - and a trip to the National could be the perfect excuse for you to discover it all for yourself.