The Toughest Races to Win and The Grand National

April 8, 2021

In flat racing one can argue all day long about the toughest race to win. Is it the Kentucky Derby, The Breeders’ Cup Classic, The Dubai World Cup, The Saudi Cup, The Melbourne Cup, The Japan Cup and we can probably go on and on and never agree. When it comes to steeplechase racing since 1839 there has been just one race that fits the bill as the toughest to win and it is of course The Grand National which will be run Saturday at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool.

The Grand National is not just a steeplechase race but a handicap. It is run over 4 miles and 514 yards or 4 miles and two and a half furlongs. One can easily argue it is just the toughest horserace to win period. If the distance of the race was not enough the fences are actually higher than the ones on the National Hunt track circuit. The fences can be so difficult to handle for both horse and rider some have earned names of their own such as Canal Turn, The Chair, and Becher’s Brook. In auto racing there are turns and bends in courses that have earned names, but in flat racing we basically have the far turn and clubhouse turn, but none that have “earned” a title of their own.

The 16 fences on the course each have about 14 inches of spruce expected to be knocked off by the horses. In a race run the first time in 1839 17 female jockeys have ridden the legendary Aintree test with the first being Charlotte Brew in 1977. The best finish was by Katie Walsh who was third in 2012 aboard Seabass. Katie who is now an ambassador of Betway narrates this animated history of the 17 female riders who managed to ride the storied fences of the Aintree course.

When you think about how The Grand National stacks up against the other horse races that are extremely difficult to win, this next fact becomes all the more noteworthy. Obviously no horse can win the Kentucky derby more than once as it is restricted to three year olds. The others are fair game but has any horse ever won one of those three times? Has any horse even competed in one of those races three times? Interesting questions for any student of the game. Red Rum, the most successful Grand National Champion in history won the race three times, in 1973, 1974, and yet again in 1977. This is a feat likely never to be duplicated.

There are a lot of things one can do this Saturday. Not many will be as exciting to the racing fan as watching and learning and perhaps placing a wager on The Grand National.

Photo: Aintree Racecourse Map

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