EQUINE MANAGEMENT AND TRAINING - Fred and Rowena Cook
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The Grand National is the most famous steeplechase anywhere in the world. Since it was first run in 1839 when the aptly named Lottery was successful, it has caught the imagination of those who don’t necessarily follow horse racing throughout the year. National hunt trainers prepare their horses all season for this one race and here is our in-depth look at what is needed for a horse to be successful at Aintree in the Grand National.
When you look at the Grand National roll of honours list, all the top jockeys throughout the years have been successful in this race, including most recently Tony McCoy and Rugby Walsh, two of the finest riders to ever participate. Their horsemanship is really tested in this race as they have to be cool under pressure and patient with their horse. With the potential of loose horses cutting across them at every fence or something falling ahead of them, the path they take is crucial.
Aintree Racecourse via Twitter
George Stevens holds the record for the number of victories in the Grand National as a jockey with five, and that is something which is going to be tough to be broken in the modern age. Leighton Aspell rode Pineau De Re to victory in 2014 and then 12 months later was on board the winning horse again with Many Clouds. He was unable to make it a hat-trick of wins in 2016 as the honour went to Irish jockey David Mullins who partnered Rule The World.
No female jockey has ever been successful in the Grand National, however, Katie Walsh did finish third when she rode Seabass in 2012. With more female jockeys riding in the race today, it is only a matter of time before one of them is victorious.
The Grand National is the ultimate test of a horse’s jumping ability. The fences around the course at Aintree are much bigger than those used in a standard chase in the sport. Not only are they taller but they are different, which poses many challenges.
If a horse is to finish the Grand National course they must successfully navigate 30 fences in the race. Horses who have experience in this race or over these fences tend to do well in the race. On the other hand, it is common to see some of the best horses in the sport struggle around the first circuit as they simply do not enjoy the task in hand.
The Grand National is in many ways similar to the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in that you need a horse who just keeps on jumping whatever is in front of them. Cheltenham winner Cause of Causes is looking to do the unique double this year by winning at the Festival and at Aintree in the same season where he has been cut into 14/1 to be victorious.
Martin Phillips via Twitter
Given there is a maximum field of 40 horses in the Grand National, and so many things that can go wrong for a horse or jockey in the race, the winner also needs a bit of luck along to the way to finish first in the contest. Some jockeys will keep their horse at the front end of the field to stay out of as much trouble as possible behind them, while others prefer the patient approach of holding their mount up and delivering a late run. Either way, sometimes something will hinder them that is completely out of their control.
The BHA head handicapper releases the weights for the Grand National every February and this is done by allocating a particular weight to a horse off their official rating. The best horse in the race will be at the top of the list, while those who haven’t achieved quite as much in their career will be much lower to give them as much chance as possible to be competitive. The last horse to win off top weight was Red Rum in 1977, therefore those at the top of the list can find it tough.
The 2017 Grand National will take place on April 7 where the current 10/1 favourite is Vieux Lion Rouge for trainer David Pipe.