About the Grand National Course and Fences 

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The Grand National Steeplechase course is located at Aintree near Liverpool, England. It ranks high among the world’s most famous tracks and offers a true test of jockeys as well as horses. Completing two full laps of the 2¼-mile, left-handed turf course makes the Grand National one of the longest closed-circuit horse racing events run annually. The circuit is marked by 16 challenging fences, with a field of up to 40 fierce jumpers in competition.

The permanent fences of the Grand National course range from 4’6” to 6” in height. During the running each April, the first 14 of these must be cleared twice. The last two are encountered only on the first of the two laps, and the racers end their exertions with a final 494-foot run in to the finish post.

Many of the jumps at Aintree are “drop fences.” In other words, the elevation of their landing sides is lower than that of their take-off sides. Other fences present the opposite challenge, with raised landing planes. As horses approach the fences, they cannot know which variety of fence they have leapt until they are mid-air. That makes the jockeys’ skill in guiding their mounts over Grand National’s obstacles especially important.

Each of 16 fences at Aintree has contributed stories to the over-160-year history of the Grand National. At the start, Fence one, which is also fence seventeen on the second go-round, presents a significant challenge, not so much for its 4’6” height but runners tend to approach it at high speed. Those that race too quickly often fail to jump before smashing right into it.

Fence three, which doubles as fence nineteen, provides the course’s first open ditch. It features a 5-foot-high barrier that is preceded by a 6-foot trench. Clearing this seems to help the horses settle into a steadier pace, which should be clear by the time they get to the 4’10” Fence four, which is also fence twenty.

Quite a few of Aintree’s jumps have gained special nicknames to memorialise their roles in races past. Fence six, for example, which is a water jump and also fence twenty-two, is famous as “Becher’s Brook.” This is where Captain Martin Becher got a soaking when he fell from his mount Conrad during the inaugural meeting in 1839. Upon losing the race, Becher remarked, “I never knew water tasted so foul without whisky in it.”

The very next obstacle, fence 7 as well as fence 23, got its name 1967. That year, every horse but one refused to jump it on the second circuit. Ever since then, the “Foinavon Fence” has carried the name of the brave steed that went on to win the race.

The “Canal Turn” refers to fence eight, which is also fence twenty-four, owing to the 90-degree angle that runners must take once they have cleared its 5-foot height. The next barrier is “St. Valentine’s Brook,” which serves as fence nine and fence twenty-five. It features a 5’6” water hazard and was named for a horse that corkscrewed over it in 1840.

Additional fences on the course with interesting monikers are the “The Bench” (fence eleven and twenty-seven) marked by a 6-foot approach ditch and “Westhead” (fence twelve and twenty-eight), which derives its name from its location. Directly across from the seat where the distance judge sits is fence fifteen, known as “The Chair.” Although it is crossed only once, at six feet this is the tallest fence on the course and it has caused more than a few stumbles over the years.

Two other fences worthy of note are near the finish line—fences twenty-nine and thirty, which are also fences thirteen and fourteen. By the time the tired horses reach them, the 4’7” and 4’6” heights appear to be even taller.

The run in at the end of the course has a slight bend to the left at its head, followed by a kink known as the Elbow at the middle. This non-linear path is caused by avoiding fences fifteen and sixteen during the final stretch. This is where the race is won or lost, as spent horses and fatigued riders flounder and only true champions possess the stamina needed to prevail.

The Grand National Steeplechase course has not been modified much over the years, even though its surroundings have been greatly upgraded. The best views are available from the County Stand just ahead of the finish post and from the Aldaniti Stand just after it. The course’s prime location, of course, is the Queen Mother Stand, which is situated directly on the winning line.

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