The Grand National – Part of British Culture!

My personal memories of horse racing go back to the 1980s, where we would visit my elderly grandfather in the West Heath area of Birmingham.

Jim was originally from Dublin Ireland and was an avid horse racing fan. He literally lived his life for his main hobby which was nipping down to the bookies to place his bets on the neds each week – if you got in the way of the TV while the racing was on, you’d better watch out!

The highlight of his horse racing year, was The Grand National. The Grand National is known by many as a National Hunt horse race. The event is held each year at the infamous Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England. These days instead of having to waste time standing in the betting shop, there are online betting sites where people can place their bets online, much easier.

The very first event took place back in 1839, and the present day race is a handicap steeplechase which covers 4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km). There are 30 fences for the horses to leap and it takes place over two laps.

Not many people realise, that The Grand National is the the most valuable jump race in Europe. The prize fund was a staggering £1 million in 2017. As demonstrated by Jim’s passion, this race is an important part of British culture. It draws an audience from many backgrounds and ages, with the emphasis on the betting, it’s a chance for everyone to place a bet and win or lose.

Some people, including animal rights groups resent the Grand National because the course has much larger fences than those on other conventional National Hunt tracks. Many of these, particularly Becher’s Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn, have become famous in their own right and, combined with the distance of the event, create what has been called “the ultimate test of horse and rider”.

Without being broadcast on TV the event would not be anywhere near as important or engrained in British culture. The Grand National has been broadcast live on free-to-air terrestrial television in the UK from 1960. From 1960 to 2012 it was broadcast by the BBC, then from 2013 and 2016 it was broadcast by Channel 4 and finally in 2017 UK broadcasting rights transferred to ITV

A mind boggling 500 to 600 million people watch the Grand National in over 140 countries worldwide each year and it has also been broadcast on the radio since 1927. Again the BBC held exclusive rights over broadcast on radio until 2013, and Talksport now holds radio commentary rights as well.

In 2017, The Grand National was won by One For Arthur, ridden by jockey Derek Fox for trainer Lucinda Russell. This year’s event will take place on 12 April 2018 and finish on 14 April 2018. The race and accompanying festival are currently sponsored by Randox Health.

If my grandad Jim was still alive today, he’d no doubt be shouting at the TV like a mad man as the horses jumped the fences. However, he too used to admit the fences were too high with many notable casualties. This does not deter people watching or placing their bets.

Article by Simon Lucas for Blog About Sport UK.

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