The Grand National was the brainchild of William Lynn, proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool, although Lynn took his inspiration from the existing, and highly successful, Great St. Albans Steeplechase. The inaugural running of the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase took place in 1836, but the first ‘official’ running of the Grand National is recognised as having taken place three years later, in 1839.
Indeed, for the first three years of its existence, the Grand National was a conditions race, in which all the runners carried twelve stone, and did not become a handicap until 1843.
With the exception of the years 1941-1945, when the race was cancelled because of World War II, a Grand National of some sort has been staged every year since. However, during the years 1916-1918, during World War I, the race was transferred to Gatwick Racecourse, where it was run first as the as the ‘Racecourse Association Steeplechase’ and subsequently as the ‘War National’.
In 1993, disaster struck when the majority of the jockeys failed to realise a false start had been called and seven horses completed the course, leading to the race being declared void and going down in history as the ‘National that never was’. A real out there event that wouldn't have been present in anyone's Grand National predictions. Four years later, in 1997, a coded bomb threat from the Irish Republican Army, led to the evacuation of Aintree Racecourse and the running of the one and only ‘Monday National’ 48 hours later.
In the early days, the point where runners cross the Melling Road, near the Anchor Bridge, really did mark the boundary of the ‘racecourse proper’. Beyond that boundary, horses raced over open countryside, including ploughed fields, and jumped a variety of natural obstacles, including banks, brooks, ditches and hedges. Over time, some of the original obstacles, and also a stone wall and two standard brush hurdles, were modified, or done away with altogether, and incorporated into an enclosed National Course. Of course to this day the National is very much known for it's challenging fences. The Chair and Canal Turn especially are notorious for their level of difficulty. Many gifted horses have come a cropper navigating the National course.
Taking us to the present day. The 2020 Grand National will be the 173rd running of the prestigious event, a fact which takes some getting your head around. TV viewing figures in the UK are expected to be around 8-10 million, and worldwide into the hundreds of millions. There may be updates to the record books should Tiger Roll do what many would have won thought impossible. Namely win a third Grand National in a row. His season has gone as expected so far, and predictably he's been made favourite for the race. Tiger Roll has been level pegging it with the legend of racing that is Red Rum, but will he be able to take this achievement to the next level? If he does, I dare say I'll be six feet under before any horse ever beats THAT record.