Aintree Racecourse Guide
For many people Aintree conjures up only one image: the Grand National. However, there is more to this iconic Merseyside venue than the illustrious steeplechase that takes place there in spring each year.
The Grand National contest is part of a wider three-day meeting and Aintree also plays host to a number of other good races as well. Read on for more information on those, as well as general course details, including history, how to plan a visit and how the track rides.
The Grand National Meeting
Most racecourses in the UK have one huge meeting with which they are most associated but this is especially the case with Aintree. Much as we have said there is more to the course than one race, there is no escaping the fact that the big one plays a large part in making Aintree so famous.
You can see our full Grand National guide for loads of info on the race itself if that’s what you are interested in, but the Grand National is just one race on a fine three-day card.
Check out the other major races held during the Aintree Grand National Meeting below:
Casual bettors who tend to bet only on the National and other big races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup may not realise that the Grand National is actually one of Aintree’s lower level races in terms of grade.
As a Grade 3 handicap chase, the hugely lucrative contest is relatively low down the pecking order in terms of class. Of course, it more than makes up for that in excitement, history and betting interest but even so, racing purists will be looking at other fixtures on the festival’s card.
Of particular interest are the Grade 1 races and this brilliant meeting holds no fewer than 11 of those. Considering there are just 40 such races throughout the National Hunt campaign that’s a huge number. There are only 14 at the Cheltenham Festival, which illustrates just what a classy meeting the three-day Aintree showpiece is.
- Manifesto Novices’ Chase – Group 1, 2m 4f
- Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle – Group 1, 2m 1f
- Betway Bowl – Group 1, 3m 1f
- Aintree Hurdle – Group 1, 2m 4f
- Top Novices’ Hurdle – Group 1, 2m ½f
- Mildmay Novices’ Chase – Group 1, 3m 1f
- Melling Chase – Group 1, 2m 4f
- Sefton Novices’ Hurdle – Group 1, 3m ½f
- Mersey Novices’ Hurdle – Group 1, 2m 4f
- Maghull Novices’ Chase – Group 1, 2m
- Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle – Group 1, 3m ½f
As you can see from those races above, hurdling is a big part of the Aintree meeting, despite it being a chase that it is most famous for. As with almost all of the big meetings, each day has a feature race that really gets the punters excited. Each of the three days features multiple Grade 1 fixtures but even so, the features hold just that little bit of extra prestige – even if the biggest of the lot is actually a lowly Grade 3 handicap.
The Grand National Meeting is held at the start of April, getting underway on a Thursday and always culminating with the Grand National itself on the Saturday. You can see a little info on each of the three days below:
- Day 1 – Grand National Thursday – it’s not the best-named race day in the world but things get started with the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices’ Chase. It is two other Grade 1s though that really get punters excited: the Betway Bowl and the day’s feature, the Aintree Hurdle.
- Day 2 – Ladies Day #FabulousFriday – Ladies Day at Aintree really is something, with the locals certainly knowing how to dress up. On the track we have another three Grade 1 contests but the one to really look out for is the Melling Chase. Often featuring Champion Chase horses, this has previously been won by Moscow Flyer, Voy Por Ustedes and Sprinter Sacre.
- Day 3 – Grand National Day – of course it is the big one that many people up and down the country and across the world will be looking forward to. However, whilst the eight or so minutes of the Grand National will be the most watched race of the year, the Liverpool Hurdle, run as the Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle, is arguably the classiest renewal of the day. Won four times by Big Buck’s this offers the staying hurdlers one last big contest for the season.
Visiting Aintree Races
If you want to make a pilgrimage to the Grand National or any other of Aintree’s great meetings, all the key info is below.
- Location – Aintree is close to Liverpool, lying just a few miles north of the city centre in the North West of England
- Address – Aintree Racecourse, Ormskirk Rd, Liverpool L9 5AS, UK
- Contact details – Elaine.Davis@thejockeyclub.co.uk or 0151 522 2911
- Tickets – as usual there are loads of options when it comes to tickets. The Jockey Club’s Aintree ticket portal is the best option or you can call the number above. Tickets start at £20 with the National being more expensive.
- Dress code – as with many UK racecourses, the official line is that there is no dress code. However, Aintree state that “smart is preferable and is often adopted.” Moreover, “Sports clothes and fancy dress are not permitted for The Randox Health Grand National Festival.”
- Transport – Aintree is really well connected, with a train station within walking distance for those that want to use public transport. Trains go from Liverpool Central, a short walk from Lime Street, the mainline station. A taxi from the city centre is also an option whilst by car access is easy from the M57 and M58. The course is just on the A59, just a mile from those motorways which link to the M62 and M6.
- Accommodation – most visitors to the Grand National will stay in Liverpool, which has a huge number of hotels catering to the many tourists that visit this city for football, music and more. There are further options closer to the track, whilst visitors may also choose to stay by the sea at Southport, Crosby or Formby.
- Hospitality – there are many options for luxury or corporate entertaining at Aintree. Private boxes cater for groups from 16 to 72 in number whilst various restaurants offer fine dining and great views too.
- Food and drink – aside from the above mentioned restaurants Aintree has something for everyone. The usual outdoor food kiosks cater for the masses whilst the luxury seekers can head to the Moet et Chandon Champagne Bar or the Princess Royal suite, the latter offering seafood, deli sandwiches and more champers. Note that picnics are not permitted.
Aintree is one of a number of tracks owned and operated by the Jockey Club. Whilst it is now purely a National Hunt track, it was originally for flat races only. That was all the way back in 1829, with jumps racing being introduced before too long, in 1836. The history of Aintree is very much intertwined with the history of its most famous race, so we’ll look at that too.
It didn’t take long from Aintree introducing jumps before the birth of the Grand National, with the inaugural running taking place in 1839. It was called the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase at that point and fittingly, given many peoples’ thoughts on how hard it is to pick the winner, Lottery was the horse who delivered the goods.
Back then the race was perhaps even more challenging, with a jump over a stone wall required, as well as a romp over an area of ploughed land before two hurdles on the home straight just to mix things up a little.
For the first four years it was a weight-for-age contest but then Mr Edward William Topham, a racing handicapper, turned it into a handicap. His family owned large swathes of land in the area and in 1849 they bought Aintree from Lord Sefton, the previous owner who had leased it out for racing since 1829.
To the Future
Relatively little changed at Aintree over the next 100 years or so, although the course did quietly expand and develop. However, post-war austerity and other factors mean that the course faced a difficult time in the 1950s. This was a picture repeated at many tracks of course but there were even genuine concerns over the future of Aintree and the Grand National itself at this time. Indeed, twice during the 1960s the race was billed as the “last Grand National”, whilst there was even a suggestion the famous race could be moved from Aintree to Doncaster.
In 1973 the property developer Bill Davies bought the course and his efforts only made matters worse. Prices for entry were tripled for the 1975 Grand National, with a relatively meagre crowd of just 30,000 seeing L’Escargot come home in front.
Thankfully Ladbrokes stepped in and managed the big showpiece until 1984, since when a variety of sponsors have helped secure the race and make it hugely lucrative for owners and connections.
Indeed, in 2014 the prize fund for the National reached seven figures for the first time and has stayed at that astronomical level since. It is the richest handicap chase in the world by some distance and a worthy highlight for this fine course.
As said, Aintree is owned by the Jockey Club and is one of 15 courses they operate. The Jockey Club was officially founded in 1750 but may have existed from as early as the beginning of the century.
Jockey Club Racecourses was previously known as the Racecourse Holdings Trust and owns other key courses such as Cheltenham, Epsom and Newmarket. The Jockey Club bought Aintree in the 1980s and have continued to develop its facilities. They stabilised the course during the rocky times before really helping it to prosper when they moved from being operators and managers to outright owners.
In 2008 a huge new stand was built as the course continued to flourish. The £30m development included a new grandstand as well as upgrading various facilities at Aintree including the parade ring, weighing room, stables and media suite. On top of that additional hospitality areas were added, further enhancing the racing experience at Aintree.
The 2019 Grand National was a real cracker as Tiger Roll made history by defending his crown. The multiple Cheltenham Festival winner made it look incredibly easy too and the story of this small horse with the huge heart further boosted the profile of the National and Aintree.
Around 150,000 fans packed into the three-day meeting, with approximately 70,000 attending for the Saturday. Racing is thriving at Aintree and, as you can see below, it isn’t all about the National meeting.
Aintree’s Other Meetings and Key Races
Obviously the Grand National itself is the prime draw at Aintree. In terms of class, the meeting also hosts all of Aintree’s top races too. However, if you fancy a trip to Merseyside without the huge crowds, or simply at a different time of year, here are the other highlights of the racing calendar at the venue, whilst Aintree also hosts various other days of racing throughout the year.
In October Aintree teams up with the Countryside Alliance to host their Family Day, also known as Countryside Day. The racing is decent, starting at around 1pm and finishing at about 5pm but there is loads away from the track to interest kids too and ticket pricing is reasonable. The Grade 2 handicap Old Roan Chase is the pick of the action on the track, a contest previously won by Kauto Star, Albertas Run and, in 2018, by Bryony Frost and Frodon.
The December Meeting, also known as the Becher Chase Meeting, sees three interesting races take place at Aintree. The highlight for many is the eponymous Grade 3 Becher Chase. Taking place over the National fences this is a great chance for trainers to see how their charges will handle the unique Aintree obstacles. There is £150,000 on offer too and a number of horses have won this as well as the big one, including Amberleigh House and Silver Birch who took this in winter before landing the National the following spring.
This Saturday of racing also sees the Grand Sefton Steeplechase, another National “trial” of sorts and the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase. This latter contest is named after the 2016 victor of the race who had won the Grand National in 2015.
Aintree is a left-handed course that solely hosts National Hunt racing. It’s flatter than most courses but is testing in other ways. Of course the obstacles are a challenge in the bigger races but the long run-in can also catch some horses out.
Look out for horses who can establish a good rhythm and stay on the bridle for as long as possible. Anything pushing too hard, too early is unlikely to flourish.
There are two courses within the same venue, the triangular Grand National course and the sharp Mildmay course. The former has the incredibly sharp Canal Turn as the furthest point away from the Grandstand, whilst the run-in features an elbow and stretches a huge 494 yards. Over those special spruce fences, clearing the last is in some ways just the beginning.
The National circuit is two and a quarter miles long, with runners taking two full laps on the big day. The Mildmay, which is used more often, lies inside the more famous circuit and is much easier. It is a mile and a half in length, with two long straights and although the sharp turns suit handy types it provides nothing like the challenge of its big brother.
The National fences have been modified so many times over the last 20 years to try and protect the horses. They are no doubt easier than they were but organisers have been able to maintain the excitement and accurate jumping and bags of stamina are still essential. Easy to see why Tiger Roll prospered then.