The Grand National at Aintree Racecourse is one of the biggest and most prestigious events on the jump racing calendar. It was first run in February 1839, although it went by the name of “Grand Liverpool Steeplechase” at the time. Back then, 17 races took part, but today as many as 40 traverse the fences around the course.
It’s not just the number of entrants that has increased. The crowds of spectators that flock to Aintree to watch the Grand National has also ballooned to more than 150,000. It draws the attention of the entire nation, with millions watching on TV and listening on the radio.
The Grand National reaches beyond horse racing fans and has become part of British culture, with sweepstakes printed in newspapers and organised in workplaces and friendship groups. In addition, hundreds of millions of pounds are spent placing bets with bookmakers, with sites like oddschecker compiling lists of free bet offers that fans can use.
The popularity of the Grand National does more than generating a lot of money for bookmakers and the Liverpool economy. It creates household names from the horses that win. Some of those names get forgotten about over time, but other times these names live on for years.
Red Rum is arguably the most famous of all. Having won the Grand National for the first time in 1973, he went on to pick up another two victories to become the most successful runner at the event.
In addition to being the only horse to win the race three times, Red Rum was the first horse to win back to back races, crossing the finish post first in both 1973 and 1974. He remained the only horse to do this until 2019 when Tiger Roll repeated it.
Red Rum’s achievements are even more remarkable because he suffered from a life-long bone condition called pedal osteitis in one of his feet. When vets found out about this after his 1973 victory they were shocked, with three describing it as “impossible”.
In recognition of this horse’s fantastic, record-breaking achievements at the venue, he was buried at Aintree Racecourse’ winning post. There remains a small shine to him today, where fans continue to stop there to pay their respects.
He left a mark on the region too, Red Rum statues were built in Southport and at Aintree and Ayr Racecourses. A Merseyrail train was named after him in 2008, and a street in Fazakerly was given the name Red Rum Close.
Red Rum’s name appeared on TV and radio commentary a lot more in 2019 when Tiger Roll matched his record for winning two back-to-back Grand National victories. The Irish Thoroughbred horse has racked up almost £1.4 million in winnings since he began racing in 2013. In that time he’s won five other major events: the Triumph Hurdle in 2014, the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup in 2017, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase in 2018 and 2019, and the Boyne Hurdle in 2019.
Tiger Roll’s first Grand National win was achieved by the tiniest of margins, requiring a photo finish. He made it look much easier the following year though, winning by a margin of two and three-quarter lengths.
Sometimes, like in 2019, the favourite wins the Grand National. Other times, a complete rank outsider manages to steal the show and shock everyone. In 1967, it was the latter that happened.
Foinavon, who was ridden by John Buckingham was an Irish racehorse who had seen little success so far in his career. Despite entering him into the Grand National, Foinavon’s owner, Cyril Watkins, didn’t attend in person believing it to be certain that his horse wouldn’t achieve anything.
Yet, Foinavon defied the unfavourable odds of 100/1 and took the victory. Granted, it wasn’t all Foinavon’s talent that achieved this, a lot of luck played a part too. Many of the other runners either fell or suffered other issues that meant Foinavon could cruise to victory.
In 1984, the 23rd fence at Aintree was named after him. A huge pile-up at this fence took many of the horses out of contention, handing the victory to Foinavon.
Unfortunately, Foinavon didn’t have any other successes. He defended his Grand National title the following year but fell at the 16th fence.
Like Red Rum, West Tip had to overcome adversity to win the Grand National. He was injured in 1982 after being hit by a lorry outside the stables where he was kept. His owners had feared that the accident had been so bad that he would have to be put down.
Thankfully, he made a full recovery but was left with a large scar. He ran the 1985 Grand National but fell at Beechers Brook. He returned the following year and took victory, creating an incredible comeback story that’s not heard of very often in horse racing.
West Tip ran the Grand National four more times, in 1987, 1988, 1989, and 1990. However, the best he achieved was second on his penultimate outing at the event.
Earth Summit is another horse that had to overcome an almost fatal injury to win the Grand National. He won the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in 1994 and the Peter Marsh Chase in 1995. Shortly after this, he fell badly for the first and only time in his career, leaving him unable to compete for 21 months.
Two years later, Earth Summit competed in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow, before entering and winning the Grand National at Aintree in 1998. He became the only horse to have won the British National treble, a title that is just as difficult as the American Triple Crown, but without the same prestige.
Earth Summit returned to Aintree the same year to compete in and win the Becher Chase, another jump race but with a slightly shorter distance.
More than one hundred horses have won the Grand National in its incredibly long history, but only a select few, like the ones in this list, live on in the memories of racing fans.