What was the largest field ever assembled for the Grand National?

Nowadays, the safety limit for the Grand National is 40 runners, but the largest field ever assembled was 66 in 1929. A photograph of the start shows the record number of starters stretched out, in one long line, across the entire width of the Aintree track.

The 1929 Grand National was also notable as the first renewal after the filling in of the ditch that had previously preceded the Canal Turn, which had been the site of the biggest pile-up in National history the previous year. Indeed, one of the horses that contributed to the melee, Easter Hero, was sent off clear favourite at 9/2 in 1929, despite carrying the welter burden of 12st 7lb. In any event, Easter Hero finished second, beaten 6 lengths, by Gregalach, who became the second 100/1 winner in the history of the Grand National and, remarkably, the second consecutive 100/1 winner after Tipperary Tim in 1929.

Of the 66 starters, nine horses – including three 200/1 outsiders, Melleray’s Belle, Delarue and Kilbairn – completed the course. There was, however, one casualty; Stort, another 200/1 outsider, nearly unseated rider at the first fence, did so at the third fence, fell, when loose, at the Canal Turn on the first circuit and fell again, fatally, at the twelfth fence.

What, and where, is the Melling Road?

Ever since the Grand National was first broadcast on television, in 1960, the Melling Road, along with the ‘named’ fences, such as Becher’s Brook and the Canal Turn, has crept into the public psyche as part of the familiar Aintree infrastructure. The National Course crosses the Melling Road at two points.

The first is on the approach to the first, and seventeenth, fence, while the second is after the twelfth, and twenty-eighth, fence. The second, near the Anchor Bridge, marks the point where the runners rejoin the ‘racecourse proper’ and, on the second circuit, where the race really begins in earnest. Indeed, back in the days when the Grand National was televised on BBC, it was the point at which John Hanmer handed commentary ‘over to Peter O’Sullevan’, who traditionally called home the winner.

Obviously, the Melling Road is best known for its association with the Grand National, but is a bona fide, mile-long thoroughfare through the village of Aintree. On National Day, the road is covered with Fibresand to allow the horses to cross safely.

What is jump racing?

Jump racing, also known as National Hunt racing, is the code, or discipline, of horse racing that involves negotiating obstacles, usually in the form of hurdles or fences. Some jump racing does, however, take place on specialist ‘cross country’ or ‘bank’ courses, on which some of the obstacles are more akin to those typically found in open countryside. In Britain, with the exception of some National Hunt Flat races, all jump races are run over an ‘official’ minimum distance of at least 2 miles, although on certain racecourses the advertised distance may be slightly shorter. However, the longest jump race staged in Britain is, unequivocally, the Grand National, nowadays run over 4 miles 2 furlongs and 7 yards, at Aintree Racecourse in April each year. Since the advent of so-called ‘summer jumping’, which began in 1995, jump racing is staged throughout the year, although the National Hunt season ‘proper’ lasts from mid-October to late April or early May.

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