All you need to know (and some stuff you don't) about the Grand National

The 2018 Grand National / Picture by Getty Images
The 2018 Grand National / Picture by Getty Images

The Grand National is the most famous jumps race in the world. This year 40 runners will line up for the £1m event, which takes place on Saturday at 5.15pm at Aintree.

Here courtesy of the Racing Post is a full guide to the big race, and some helpful hints if you're looking to have a bet. This is the Racing Post's racecard for the big contest.

What is the Grand National?

The Grand National is a £1million handicap chase over a unique set of fences which are covered in spruce. Every year 40 runners compete in the race over four miles and two and a half furlongs at Aintree Racecourse. The race is run over two full circuits of the course, with competitors facing 30 testing fences.

Because the race is a handicap, horses carry different weights according to their previous form. The idea behind the Grand National handicap is to make for a more even race. The best horse carries a maximum weight of 11st 10lb, and the weights given to the other horses are set in relation to this.

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Key jumps

There are 30 fences to jump in the Grand National. Many of the obstacles carry names which have become famous in the history of the race.

Becher’s Brook is fence number six and 22 in the Grand National. Becher’s Brook has a steep drop on the landing side and measures well over 6ft on the landing side. It is named after jockey Captain Martin Becher, who took shelter in the brook after being unseated.

Foinavon is fence number seven and 23. It is the smallest jump on the course and was made famous in 1967 when the 100-1 outsider Foinavon was the only horse to scramble over it at the first time of asking because of a mass pile-up and went on to win the race.

The Canal Turn is fence number eight and 24. It gets its name from the fact there is a canal in front of the horses when they land. To avoid it, they turn a full 90 degrees on landing.

Valentine’s Brook is fence number nine and 25. The fence was originally known as the Second Brook but was renamed after a horse called Valentine jumped the fence hind legs first in 1840.

The Chair is fence number 15 and is only jumped once in the race. The Chair is the tallest (5ft 2in) and broadest fence. This fence is the site of the only human fatality in the Grand National’s history, when Joe Wynne sustained injuries in a fall in 1862.

How to pick a Grand National winner

There are many ways to pick your Grand National runner - some people go by names or follow their favourite jockeys, or maybe draw their pick in a sweepstake - but if you want to improve your chances of finding the winner, follow these four simple rules when making your selection.

Horses for courses

Look for horses with previous form around the Grand National course. The unique test presented by the track requires technique, spring and speed, and a horse experiencing it for the first time is often at a disadvantage.

Staying power

Stamina is an essential asset for the Grand National. Nine of the last ten winners had won over at least three miles, so cross any runner who doesn’t meet this requirement off your list. There is nothing worse than seeing your horse loom up three out only to have jelly legs up the run-in.

Class will out

The Grand National has evolved in recent years. With the £1 million prize fund it has attracted a classier type of horse, the likes of Mon Mome, Neptune Collonges, Many Clouds, Rule The World and Tiger Roll were proven in Graded company. While you obviously need a horse who stays and jumps well, pay particular attention to horses with the class to have contested Graded races.

Don't bank on one

Last year longtime Grand National favourite Blaklion was gone after the first fence and it wasn't even his fault. The Grand National is not the lottery its reputation suggests, but 40 runners give plenty of opportunity for even the biggest certainty to come a cropper. Reduce your stakes if need be, but your money is much more likely to last if you spread it around multiple runners - three or four is normally a good number.

GRAND NATIONAL TIP

Pricewise – followers of his tips won £84 from a £10 stake at Cheltenham.

Ballyoptic

5.15 Aintree

Each-way at 50-1 generally

Irish trainers saddled five of the first six home last year and they have seven of the top ten in the weights this year, but at this stage I think it might be worth siding with one of the best trainers of staying chasers in Britain and Grand National specialist Nigel Twiston-Davies, who runs Ballyoptic.

An unlucky second in the Scottish National last season, the nine-year-old has plenty of classy form including when defeating Bellshill and Balko Des Flos in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree and he beat Elegant Escape by 13 lengths on his chasing debut last season.

Ballyoptic came down in the Becher Chase on his reappearance but had jumped really well up until getting in too close. He had a rushed preparation for the Welsh National but ran respectably in the circumstances under a big weight and Aintree has always been his target.

What happened last year?

The hugely popular Tiger Roll landed a famous victory to add to his three Cheltenham Festival wins in a dramatic finish, just clinging on at the line to hold off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company. Tiger Roll has since added a remarkable fourth Cheltenham Festival win to his CV and is set to go off a short-priced favourite as he bids to become the first horse since the legendary Red Rum in 1974 to record back-to-back victories in the Grand National.

THE GRAND NATIONAL IN NUMBERS

40 runners line up for the race

30 fences are jumps

600 million people are estimated to watch the race on TV worldwide

75,000 people will be at Aintree to watch the Grand National

4 women have trained Grand National winners - Jenny Pitman, Venetia Williams, Sue Smith and Lucinda Russell

66 horses lined up in the 1929 National, the biggest ever field. Today it is restricted to 40

17 was the age of the youngest jockey to win the race, Bruce Hobbs on Battleship in 1938

2 is the smallest number of finishers and occured in the 1928 race

3 greys have won the National – The Lamb (1868 and 1871), Nicolaus Silver (1961) and Neptune Collonges (2012)

23 was the largest number of finishers when Hallo Dandy scored in 1984