Aintree Grand National Festival Betting Tips – 4th to 6th April 2019

The flat season may have officially begun by the time we reach this time of year and whilst we no doubt have plenty to look forward to in that sphere, don’t forget about the jumps action just yet. We still have the excellent Punchestown Festival over in Ireland to satisfy our National Hunt needs, not to mention this three-day extravaganza on Merseyside which stages the biggest race of them all.

The venue is of course Aintree, as a selection of the most talented hurdlers and chasers in training rock up for the three-day Grand National Festival. It all builds to the crescendo that is the most famous race on the planet – which really needs little introduction, even for non-racing fans – but that staying and jumping showpiece receives ample support from a whole host of quality contests.

We have 21 races on offer in all – including no fewer than 11 at the very top Grade 1 level – all taking place under the watchful eyes of the jam-packed grandstands, and at least when it comes to the big one, the millions watching around the world. Betting is of course what makes this game tick though, and here’s where our cash is going over the course of the meeting.

About the Grand National Meeting

Princess Royal Stand at the Entrance to Aintree Racecourse

Not everyone is a fan of horse racing, but there’s a decent chance that even those who have never watched a regular race meeting in their life will have heard of the Grand National. It sits alongside the Cheltenham Festival at the top of the National Hunt’s calendar as one of the most important events of the year, seeing hundreds of millions of people from around the globe tune in to watch what is known as the world’s greatest steeplechase.

What not everyone will realise is that the Grand National isn’t the only race that is run at Aintree Racecourse over the duration of the meeting. Instead, it sits amongst a number of top-class races that takes place over the three days of the Grand National Meeting, giving horses and jockeys numerous opportunities to test themselves on one of the country’s most challenging jump racing courses. The Grand National is the crown jewel of it all, of course, so it’s no surprise that that’s where we’ll focus most of our attention.

The Grand National

There really is nowhere else to start when talking about the Grand National Meeting than with the main event. It is one of the most exciting, thrilling and fascinating steeple chases in the world of horse racing, gripping the attention of all who watch it. The obsession with it is in no small part due to the fact that it really does feel as if any of the horses entering it can win, with fields often going to their maximum of forty competitors.

Run left-handed over four miles and five hundred and fourteen yards, the Grand National is a handicap race for horses aged seven and over. Not only that, but they must be rated 120 or more by the British Horseracing Authority and have placed in a recognised chase of three miles or longer.

As the field can reach up to forty horses, there’s always a feeling that anyone can win it. It’s also one of the most valuable jump races in Europe, boasting a prize fund of £1 million in 2019 and seeing £500,000 of that going to the winner. The National is one of few horse races that has been broadcast on free-to-air television every year since 1960, which is why many people who don’t normally bet on horse racing tune in and place a wager.

Let’s start by taking a brief look at the race’s history, examining how it came to be one of the foremost events in the National Hunt calendar. We’ll also take a look at the fences, which are as much a part of the Grand National as the horses that take part in the race.

The Race’s Origins

William Lynn is widely considered to be the father of the Grand National, building a racecourse on ground that he had leased from the second Earl of Sefton. The foundation stone was laid by the Earl on the seventh of February in 1829, though when the first race took place is a matter of some debate. One thing we do know is that there was definitely racing in 1836, but some historians believe that it took place in Maghull and not Aintree. Regardless, the first race to be given the title of the ‘National’ was the one that was occurred in 1839, so that is widely considered to be the first official running of the race we know today.

Another reason the 1839 race is considered as important in the history of the National is that another much-loved event that had clashed with it in previous years, the Great St Albans Chase, had been discontinued the year before. That meant that the racing calendar had room for a top-class race and the National was ready to step into the breach. On top of that, the ability to travel by rail had arrived in Liverpool, meaning that there was much more publicity for the event in 1839 than in previous years. Lynn’s health began to fail in the 1840s, leading to a handicapper named Edward Topham taking over the running of the race.

The Boom in Popularity

The taking over of the organisation of the National by Topham had one crucially important factor to it that would influence the race in a massive way; as a prominent handicapper he believed that it should switch from a weight-for-age offering to a handicap, making the switch in 1843. This was a big part of why it started to cement its place in the imagination of the public, with racegoers believing that it made it fairer and gave ‘lesser’ horses a better chance of winning.

There have been numerous examples of just that happening over the years, seeing outsiders cross the finish line first and giving bettors a decent return on their money. One of the first times that happened was in 1928 when forty-two horses started the race on a day when the weather was miserable, and the going was heavy. A pile-up at the Canal Turn saw all but seven horses emerge, with another four dropping at the penultimate fence. When Great Span and Billy Barton both fell it left 100/1 outsider Tipperary Tim to finish first and delight those in the crowd.

Another 100/1 horse won in similar fashion in 1967 when Foinavon was so far behind the leading pack that he was able to avoid the mayhem caused by an unseated horse at the twenty-third fence. Instead of getting caught up in the melee, the horse’s jockey, John Buckingham, managed to steer away from the mess and crossed the finish line in first, once more giving Creedence to the idea that the Grand National was a race that any horse could win if the circumstances were favourable.

Red Rum

No conversation about the history of the Grand National would be complete without mentioning Red Rum, one of the most famous horses ever to race. Bought by Ginger McCain for around £6,000, Red Rum was actually lame when McCain purchased him because of an inflammatory bone condition known as pedal osteitis. Having seen many carthorses reconditioned after being allowed to run in the sea, the trainer did exactly that with Red Rum and saw him improve dramatically.

Had he gone to a different trainer we might never have seen his exploits at the Aintree course, but instead he went on to become the race’s most successful ever participant. Not only did Red Rum win the Grand National three times, managing it in 1973, 1974 and 1977, but he even finished second in both 1975 and 1976. No horse has managed to get close to Red Rum’s record so as a result, the Aintree racecourse is littered with references to this most famous of winners.

A Voided Race & The Bomb Scare

There are two other particularly noteworthy moments of Grand National history, starting in 1993 when a jockey became tangled with the starting tape after it had failed to rise as it was supposed to. Thirty of the thirty-nine horses began the race, not realising that a false start had been called by the starter. Despite course officials attempting to stop the runners, seven of them completed the race. This meant that the entire race had to be made void, leading to it being declared ‘the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National’ by commentator Peter O’Sullevan.

Things could have been far more disastrous four years later when the Provisional Irish Republican Army called in two coded bomb threats, leading to the entire course having to be evacuated. As all the hotels in the city had been booked up for the event so local residents offered places to stay to racegoers, jockeys and trainers. The race was eventually run on the Monday with twenty thousand free tickets given away by organisers to ensure that the locals were thanked for what they’d done to help the event cope with the bomb threat.

The Fences

The story of the Grand National fences is almost as interesting as the history of the race itself. There are sixteen in total, with two of them only being jumped once to give a total of thirty jumped during the course of the race. Topped with spruce from the nearby Lake District, all sixteen of the fences offer their own challenge but there are six that have a story particularly worth telling. Number seven, which is also the twenty-third, is named after Foinavon because of his exploits in 1967, with the rest being as follows:

Becher's Brook

Coming sixth and twenty-second on the circuit, Becher's Brook stands at five feet in height but is notoriously challenging because the landing side is lower than the take-off. It was named in honour of Captain Martin Becher, who fell in the first official Grand National and hid himself in the brook that runs alongside the fence whilst the other horses completed their jumping of it.

The Canal Turn

The name of this one is somewhat obvious, coming as it does close to the Leeds - Liverpool Canal. Indeed, the ninety-degree turn after landing often saw horses get confused in runnings that happened before the First World War and end up in the canal itself. It is the eighth and twenty-fourth jump in the race.

Valentine’s

Whilst there’s no doubt that this fence has been something of a heart-breaker over the years, it actually gets its name from a likely apocryphal story of a horse called Valentine jumping over it with its hind legs first during the 1840 race. It is jumped ninth and twenty-fifth as horses complete the race.

The Chair

Only one fence during the Grand National’s history has claimed a human life, with that fence being The Chair. The name is not a reference to the death penalty, however, but instead because it’s where a distance judge was located during the race’s early years. Joe Wynne was the poor soul who lost his life in 1862, leading to a ditch being put in front of the fence in the hope that it would slow horses down on their approach. Along with the final jump we’ll tell you about, it is one of the two that is only jumped on the first circuit.

The Water Jump

This fence is only around two and a half feet, but the name tells you the important information. A water jump that asks plenty of riders and horses alike, this one was originally a concrete wall before being replaced with the water. It’s sixteenth on the circuit, coming directly after The Chair and presenting a pair of obstacles almost unrivalled in racing.

The Three Day Grand National Meeting

The Grand National is an event worthy of your attention, enjoyed not just in its home of Liverpool but all around the world. The racing usually gets underway on a Thursday towards the start of April, with seven races filling the first day’s race card. The Friday is Ladies’ Day, offering another seven races alongside a fashion parade off the course that promises stunning dresses and entertainment abound.

The Grand National itself always gets underway on the Saturday, taking pride of place in amongst six other races that see the Aintree racegoers love every minute of their day. Few meetings can truly rival the Cheltenham Festival when it comes to jump racing, but the Aintree Grand National Meeting is very much one of them. Here’s a look at the three days of racing to give you some idea of what you can expect.

Day One: Grand National Thursday

Liverpool is a proud city, especially when it comes to its sporting achievements. That’s why the first day of the Grand National Meeting is often dedicated to the sporting victories of people from the North West, both past and present. When it comes to the racing itself, the Foxhunters’ Steeple Chase and the Aintree Hurdle are standout moments.

Day Two: Ladies’ Day

Practically every race meeting has a Ladies’ Day, but few of them do it quite like the Grand National. It’s a day of festive brightness and amazing fashion statements, with racegoers having fun all day long. The feature races of the day are generally considered to be the Topham Steeple Chase and the JLT Melling Steeple Chase, but the other five on offer are equally as enthralling.

Day Three: Grand National Day

If the Grand National Meeting were a restaurant then the first two days would have been some stunning starters that you enjoyed, knowing that the main course would still blow them all out of the water. The Grand National itself typically lasts for around eight minutes, but it’s eight minutes of some of the most exciting racing you could hope to watch. The races that flank it are very much worth watching also.

Race List

There are 21 races in total across the three day meeting, details of all of these can be found in the table below.

RacePrize MoneyAgesObstacles
Day One / Thursday
Manifesto Novices Chase £100,000 5 years old + 16 fences
4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle £100,000 4 years old only 9 hurdles
Aintree Bowl £200,000 5 years old + 19 fences
Aintree Hurdle £250,000 4 years old + 11 hurdles
Foxhunters Chase £45,000 6 years old + 18 fences
Red Rum Handicap Chase £90,000 5 years old + 12 fences
Mares' NH Flat Race £45,000 4-6 years old only None
Day Two / Friday
Handicap Hurdle £75,000 4 years old + 11 hurdles
Top Novices' Hurdle £100,000 4 years old + 9 hurdles
Mildmay Novices' Chase £100,000 5 years old + 19 fences
Melling Chase £250,000 5 years old + 16 fences
Topham Handicap Chase £140,000 5 years old + 18 fences
Sefton Novices' Hurdle £100,000 4 years old + 13 hurdles
Standard NH Flat Race £45,000 4-6 years old only None
Day Three / Saturday
Handicap Hurdle £75,000 4 years old + 13 hurdles
Mersey Novices' Hurdle £100,000 4 years old + 11 hurdles
Maghull Novices' Chase £100,000 5 years old + 12 fences
Liverpool / Stayers Hurdle £180,000 4 years old + 13 hurdles
Handicap Chase £75,000 5 years old + 19 fences
The Grand National £1,000,000 7 years old + 30 fences
Handicap Hurdle £50,000 4 years old + 9 hurdles

The Supporting Races in Detail

Given the sheer importance of the Grand National it’s not overly difficult to figure out why that is the race we’ve dedicated the most time to, but there are countless top-class events that take place over the course of the Grand National Meeting that are worth telling you at least a little bit about. Here’s a look at the standout ones.

Handicap Hurdle

A Grade 3 handicap that is open to horses aged four and over, the race took place for the first time in 1985 and has enjoyed numerous sponsors over the years. Run over about three miles and half a furlong, the Handicap Hurdle has thirteen hurdles during its running and was promoted from a Listed race in 2010.

Betway Bowl

This steeplechase was inaugurated in 1984 as something of a consolation prize for horses that had missed out on the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. It gained Grade 1 status in 2010 and is run over three miles and one furlong, with nineteen fences during the distance. Open to horses aged five and over, the weight is eleven stone seven pounds and mares get a seven pound allowance.

Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices' Hurdle

Known as the Lancashire Hurdle during the 1960s and 1970s, this is one of the leading jump races for four-year-olds and often sees horses that have run in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham take part in it. Run over two miles and one furlong and boasting nine hurdles, its weight is eleven stone with a seven pound allowance for mares. Classified as a Grade 2 offering for a time, it was promoted to Grade 1 in 2005.

Aintree Hurdle

Originally run over two miles and five and a half furlongs when it was first run in 1976, this race was shortened to its current two miles and four furlongs in 1988. As with all races here it is run left-handed and there are eleven hurdles to be negotiated during its course. It’s four horses aged four and over, with four-year-olds having eleven stone and those aged five and over eleven stone seven pounds, whilst fillies and mares get a seven pound allowance. If you’re looking for hints about this one then turn to the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, with horses that do well in that often performing in this.

Red Rum Handicap Chase

Of course Aintree was always going to have a race named after Red Rum, with this two mile offering being a handicap for horses aged five and up. Known as the Aintree Chase when it was inaugurated in 1976, it gained its current moniker in 1997 and was promoted to Grade 3 in 2004.

Manifesto Novices' Chase

Run over two miles and four furlongs and open to horses aged five and over, this race has a weight of eleven stone four pounds and gives mares a seven pound allowance. Featuring sixteen fences and inaugurated in 2009, it’s a chance for novice chasers to get to know the Aintree course. Competitors who have previously done well in the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the JLT Novices' Chase are ones to watch here. The race is named after Manifesto, that won the Grand National twice during his eight runnings of the race between 1895 and 1904.

Top Novices' Hurdle

A hurdle race for the top novice hurdlers out there, this takes place over two miles and around one hundred and ten yards. There are nine hurdles during its running. Previous winners of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham do well in this one, though Brown’s Gazette in 1984 was the last to win both in the same season. It became a Grade 1 offering in 2016.

Topham Chase

A handicap race for horses aged five and over, the Topham Chase takes place over two miles and about five and a half furlongs. It was first run in 1949 and is one of just three races that takes place over the same fences as the National itself. The others, for the record, are the Foxhunters’ Chase, which is for amateur riders, and the main event.

Sefton Novices' Hurdle

First run back in 1988, the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle is open to horses aged four and up and takes place over three miles and one hundred and ten yards. It has thirteen hurdles and was classed as a Grade 2 offering until it was promoted to Grade 1 in 1995. The Spa Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham is the one to watch for tips on this one, with Fishers Cross winning both in 2013. The race has a weight of ten stone ten pounds for four-year-olds, eleven stone four pounds for horses aged five and up and a seven pound allowance for fillies and mares.

Mildmay Novices' Chase

Established in 1981, this is a race that often sees horses that have done well in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham be competitive in it. It can also be seen as something of an indicator for the following season’s Gold Cup. Run over three miles and one furlong and boasting nineteen fences, it takes place on the Mildmay Course and was given Grade 1 status in 2014.

Melling Chase

Open to horses aged five and over with a weight of eleven stone ten pounds and a seven pound allowance for mares, the Melling Chase was inaugurated in 1991 and is named after the nearby village of Melling. It has always been a Grade 1 offering and horses that raced in either the Ryanair Chase or the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham tend to be entered into it. Taking place over two miles and four furlongs, it has sixteen fences during its running.

Maghull Novices' Chase

Inaugurated in 1954, the Maghull Novices' Chase is for horses aged five and up and has weight information of eleven stone four pounds plus a seven pound allowance for mares. It takes place over two miles and offers the challenge of twelve fences during that period. A race for novice chasers, it usually sees horses that were competitive in Cheltenham’s Arkle Challenge Trophy being competitive in it.

Liverpool Hurdle

Established at Ascot in 1974 as the Long Distance Hurdle, this race moved to Aintree in 2004 and was renamed accordingly. It gained Grade 1 status in 2010 and often sees horses that have done well in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham do well in it. Raced over three miles and half a furlong, it has thirteen hurdles during its running and is open to horses aged four and up. Those aged four have ten stone thirteen pounds, with five-year-olds and over having eleven stone seven pounds but fillies and mares getting a seven pound allowance.

Champion Standard Open NH Flat Race

One of two flat races that take place during the Grand National Meeting, the Champion Standard Open NH Flat Race lasts for two miles one furlong and is for horses aged four to six. It was established in 1987, received Grade 2 status in 1995 and horses that ran the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham are often included in the line-up.