The Grand National is the biggest event in National Hunt season and one of the most famous horse races in the world. It goes back to 1836, although there is some debate as to the actual year that the organised race was first held.
Purists claim that the first official Grand National took place in 1839 and was won by Jockey Jem Mason riding a horse called Lottery. The reason for the dispute over the date of the first race is that the previous three events were held at Maghull and not at the Aintree course. However, recent historians have claimed to have discovered that the first three races were held at Aintree, but so far the official line remains, that the first Grand National was the 1839 event.
The race is traditionally a favourite with people who usually dont gamble and who have a once a year Flutter.
During the First World War the event was moved to Gatwick racecourse (now the site of the airport) but the purists insist calling these three events The War National Steeplechase.
The race has thrown up many stories of courage in its history. In 1979, jockey Bob Champion was diagnosed with cancer and told he had only months to live. He went on to win the 1981 Grand National riding Aldaniti; a horse that had almost been retired with leg problems.
In 1983 the gruelling race was won by 17 year old Bruce Hobbs on Battleship, and the oldest winning horse, Peter Simple, was a staggering 15 years old when he crossed the finish line first, in 1953.
The Grand National has also had its share of controversy. The 1993 race was declared void as a result of several mishaps at the start of the race and the starting tape failing to rise correctly and entangling several horses. In 1997 the race was abandoned, after two coded bomb threats were received, reportedly from the IRA. The race was rescheduled and took place on the following Monday, being won by Terry Kavanagh, riding Manifesto.
Animal rights campaigners have condemned the race as cruel because of the many fatalities that have occurred over the years to both horses and jockeys. Many modifications have been made to the course over time as a result of these fatalities and fortunately the modern course is now a lot safer.
The very nature of National Hunt Racing means that there will always be a risk of injury to horses and jockeys, but the people involved are working constantly to minimise the risks.
This year sees the 171st running of this great race (if going by the earliest dates) and viewing figures will run into millions worldwide; as a great sporting event, The Grand National takes some beating