The Grand National Betting

As one of the longest distances in closed-circuit horse racing, England`s annual Grand National Steeplechase tests both horses and jockeys. It covers two laps of the Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. It is a challenging two-and-a-quarter-mile, left-handed turf circuit that contains 16 fences, several of which involve water.

The race has an illustrious history, dating back 170 years. It has seen some the greatest steeds and riders in racing history and also been the scene of real tragedies. Captain Martin William Becher rode The Duke to the very first victory in 1839 and claimed a prize of 80 sovereigns. Two years later, the Captain would stumble into the stream at Fence 6, a spot destined to become Aintree`s most famous jump, "Becher`s Brook".

Lord Craven`s Charity crossed the finish line first in 1841 to become the Grand National`s first victory mare. Jockey George Stevens was the race`s first three-time winner in 1856 and he set a record by gaining five victories in total. But in the 19th century, the Grand National will be best remembered for a bay named Manifesto. The horse won by 20 lengths in 1897 with jockey Terry Kavanagh on board, and then won again 1899. The horse`s skeleton remains on display at a Liverpool veterinary college to this day.

In the 20th century, a five-year-old called Lutteur III became the last 5-year-old to claim victory, in 1909, before the entry age was raised to six. In 1911, only four horses finished the race, and in 1928 fully 40 out of 42 starters failed to finish. The course is really that extreme.

The BBC began radio broadcasts of the Grand National in 1928, and the following year the field of entrants swelled to 66. In 1934, 7-year-old Golden Miller became the only horse ever to win the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in a single season, and he did it with an Aintree`s fastest-ever time of 9`20.4, a record which lasted nearly four decades.

Horses of note in that 100-year period include back-to-back winner Reynoldstown (1935~36), the 100-to-1 longshot winner Caughoo in 1947, and the Queen Mother`s own Devon Loch, the leader that took a spill just 50 yards from the finish in 1956, dumping jockey Dick Francis. The phrase "to do a Devon Loch" has meant "plucking defeat from the jaws of victory" ever since.

Red Rum was probably the most popular horse ever to run the Grand National. He was a winner in 1973, 1974, and 1977 and placed second in 1975 and 1976. He led the race parade in 1978, and the BBC honored him as the “Sports Personality of the Year.” When he died in 1995 at the ripe old age of 30, Red Rum was buried at Aintree with his head facing the winning post.

The Jockey Club saved the old course and the Grand National from financial ruin in the 1980s, by conducting a National Appeal and raising £4 million in donations toward purchase of the property. And despite such hiccups as a false start that nullified all results in 1993 and an IRA bomb threat causing postponement in 1997, sponsorships by Seagram`s Distillers, Martell Cognac and John Smith`s Brewery saw the race to solvency as it transitioned into the 21st century.

Today, the Grand National is a handicap event conducted each April for a field of up to 40 horses aged six years or older. To the winner goes £500,000 or more out of a purse totaling £9 million. As many as 70,000 spectators come to Aintree to be trackside for the race, while an estimated 600 million viewers watch it broadcast live on television.

Tours of the track are conducted throughout the year, but the focal point of interest is always the three days of festivities, starting on a Thursday and leading up to the race on Saturday. Preliminary races, such as the Liverpool Hurdle, the Foxhunters` Steeplechase, the Melling Chase, and others, see that the crowd`s need for speed is satisfied while fashion shows, parties, concerts, and feasts take place.

Betting on the outcome of the Grand National amounts to tens of millions of pounds each year. Picking a winner out of the 40 starters takes a keen knowledge of odds, jockeys, trainers, and weather as well as the horses` ages and weights. Trackside, bettors have their choice of bookies or the tote. Off-track, local betting shops take wagers, and online betting is now possible, too.

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