What makes the Grand National so special?

Alan Tyers
Red Rum: perhaps the most special National horse of them all - AFP

The distance

Run over four miles, two and a half furlongs (there's eight furlongs in a mile by the way), the National is the longest horse race in Britain by, er, miles. This means you need a horse with a massive engine (not an actual engine, that would be cheating).

Everyone has a flutter

This is the one betting race a year for many people, bookies are trumpeting a possible £100million in bets. For those who like an outsider, memories of Mon Mome's 2009 triumph at the tasty price of 100/1 are still fresh...

Champers-ing at the bit: Grand National winner Mon Mome with winning jockey Liam Treadwell and owner Vida Bingham Credit: PA

This year, it's spreading a medical message

Dr Peter FitzGerald's  company Randox Health are sponsoring this year's Grand National. The Randox Health Grand National it is, then. But what is Randox Health? Have at it, Doc:

Randox Health makes things that test blood for diseases: cardiac conditions, strokes and some cancers. We can pinpoint cancers earlier.

Doctors and hospitals have been slow to take-up our tests so we are looking to get our message to the public directly. People are losing their lives because the right tests are not being done. The Grand National is our way to get our name out.

The race is unique, it's iconic, it's so full of drama and amazing characters. 600 million people worldwide follow it.

Healthy interest: Dr Peter FitzGerald of Randox, the company that is sponsoring the Grand National, with horse Echo Springs

It provides loads of other sports with a useful shorthand

It has given sports reporting one of its handiest bits of journalese: the Devon Loch Moment, named for the unfortunate horse who was streets ahead in the 1956 National when he suddenly jumped in the air and landed on his stomach.

Not nice.

The brilliant location

Cheltenham, Newmarket, Epsom and most of our other major courses are either in the countryside or outside smallish towns: Aintree is in an actual residential area, as befits the People’s race.

Inner city (ish): Aintree is part of its city not stuck way out in the country Credit: Getty

Longshots can win 

Credit: PA

Here's Foinavon scoring at 100-1 in the 1967 race. There were a LOT of fallers. You're horse might not be out of the top drawer, but if it can stay on its feet, you never know. 

Foinavon has been celebrated in beer, among other media.

Sports journalist and author David Owen described the scene in his book, Foinavon, the story of the 1967 National in which there was a huge pile-up at the 23rd fence.

"It was a battlefield. It was a defeated cavalry charge. It was reminiscent of those blood-curdling 19th-century sporting prints. It was like cars in a multiple motorway concertina in fog. From a mile away it was as though a film had broken down with a temporary cessation of all movement. It was a cauldron of furious activity. It was a chain reaction of ruin. In the days that followed, all these metaphors - and more - were deployed..."

Foinavon had been so far behind that his jockey, John Buckingham, had time to avoid the chaos. He got over the 23rd. To his astonishment, he found himself 30 lengths clear with just six to jump... and he held on.

The Bookies welcome everyone's investment

Of course they do.

Here's Alex Donohue from Ladbrokes.

The Grand National is so special because for a few minutes on one day of the year, every year,  the most experienced students of the turf and equine experts stand side by side with the pinstickers of the nation, all uniformly gripped by the thrill of having money riding on the greatest race on earth thanks to months of form study, a catchy name, or a randomly-drawn office sweepstake ticket. 

The shrewdest judge will have whittled the field down to the 25/1 winner, only to be joined in the payout queue by an aunty who saw  grey skies on her annual pilgrimage to the betting shop (Many Clouds – 2015). My favourite tale of Grand National luck involves a a friend's family who won a holiday in 2007 thanks to their granddad’s favourite tree in their garden, a Silver Birch (33/1). 

It’s an event that continues to give millions a taste of the unique buzz offered by the sport of kings and like so many others it sucked me in for life thanks to a hunch for a set of silks that I was only old enough to back in my family sweepstake decades ago. You may have 50p, £50 or £50,000 on each way (please bet responsibly), but there’s nothing quite like backing the winner of the big race regardless of the means of picking it. 

Although some are claiming that the gambling is going too far

Betting site The Nominant.com says that is has interviewed 1,700 people and that 37 percent of them would consider taking out a payday loan to fund Grand National betting activity.

Credit: Getty

That does not seem like a very good idea.

Some People Are Virtually Definitely Certain To Be Right About The Winner

Some clever sausages have even done a Virtual Reality prediction of the National, where they predict exactly how it will turn out, and them simulate it, presumably with blocky graphical horses. Be sure to tune into that on ITV on Friday night at 8pm (and ITV4 on Saturday at 11.30am) with Nick Luck.

People really make an effort

Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley for the Daily Telegraph

Another group of women, these ones not identifying as Welsh.

Credit: Paul Grover

Reds (and Oranges) are the order of the day

At local tanning salon Tanerife (best name ever?) the nice lady says "we're just too busy to even talk!" Business is booming as local ladies top up ahead of the big day. And perhaps gentlemen as well. And horses, who knows?

It all leads to a proper party

At nearby pub The Queens, they're promising marquees, barbecue, music, and it's one minute from the racecourse. "It's the best weekend of the year," says Karen at the bar. "The atmosphere is fantastic, the girls look amazing. It's electric."

Only one thing missing: "I've never backed the winner. My husband has. He's the lucky one."

Although some of the experts reckon it's more about the show than the race

The Daily Telegraph's tipster supreme, Marlborough, says:

As a race I can take it or leave it. As a sporting spectacle, there are few better. As a journalist I love it, because there is always a wonderful story and the big yards just cannot dominate the way they do many other races.

And it's a chance to give an outing to a tip-top lid

Hats at Aintree 2016 Credit:  Paul Grover for the Telegraph

You can't really wear hats on a regular day, can you?

Further hattery Credit:  Paul Grover for the Telegraph

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