Which are the ‘named’ fences on the Grand National Course?

The Grand National Course at Aintree consists of 16 fences, 14 of which are jumped twice during the Grand National, but five of them, namely Becher’s Brook, Foinavon, Canal Turn, Valentine’s Brook and The Chair, have become famous, or infamous, in their own right. Indeed, the first four of the ‘named’ fences come one after another in rapid succession.

The most famous of them all, Becher’s Brook, is the sixth fence on the first circuit and is named after Captain Martin Becher, who took shelter in the brook on the landing side after being unseated from his mount, Conrad, in the inaugural Grand National in 1839. The fence, itself, stands 4′ 10″ high, but a steep drop on the landing side, which is between 5″ and 10″ lower than the take-off side, makes Becher’s Brook a notoriously difficult obstacle.

Becher’s Brook is immediately followed by Foinavon, an unremarkable, 4′ 6″ high fence – in fact, one of the smallest on the Grand National Course – but, nevertheless, the scene of a dramatic melee during the 1967 Grand National. The 100/1 outsider, and eventual winner, Foinavon, was the only horse to jump the fence at the first time of asking and, in 1984, it was renamed in his honour.

The next fence, the eighth on the first circuit, is the Canal Turn, which takes its name from its position, near the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the fact that horses must negotiate a sharp left turn immediately after the fence. Next comes Valentine’s Brook, originally known simply as the Second Brook, but renamed after Valentine, the horse that negotiated the fence in bizarre, twisting fashion, apparently landing hind feet first, during the 1840 Grand National.

Last, but by no means least, of the ‘named’ fences, The Chair is the fifteenth, and penultimate, fence on the first circuit and is jumped just once. Originally known as the Monument Jump, The Chair stands 5’3″ high and has a 6′ wide ditch on the take-off side, making it the tallest and broadest fence on the Grand National Course.

Why is the fifteenth fence on the Grand National Course called ‘The Chair’?

Along with Becher’s Brook, Valentine’s Brook, The Canal Turn and, more recently, Foinavon, The Chair is one of the fences on the Grand National Course that has become famous in its own right. At 5’3” high and 9’ wide, including a 6’ wide ditch on the take-off side, The Chair is one of the tallest and broadest fences on the National Course but, unlike the other ‘named’ fences, is jumped only once. That said, by contrast to say, Becher’s Brook, the ground on the landing side of The Chair is 6” higher than that on the take-off side, so the fence presents a unique test for horse and rider.

Originally known as the Monument Jump, The Chair took its name, quite literally, from the chair that originally stood on a concrete plinth alongside the fence and, in the early days of the Grand National, housed the distance judge. The distance judge was a course official who assisted the racecourse judge by declaring any horse that had not passed him when the previous finisher crossed the winning line to have been beaten a ‘distance’ and therefore, officially, have failed to finish. The distance judge became a thing of the past in the mid-eighteenth century, but the original chair remained – at least, until 1994, when it was replaced, for safety reasons, by a plastic replica – and the fence known as ‘The Chair’ has become part of the heritage of the Grand National.

What does ‘seeing a stride’ mean?

In National Hunt racing, over hurdles or fences, ‘seeing a stride’ refers to the ability of a jockey not only to identify the point at which, ideally, a horse should leave the ground to negotiate an obstacle successfully, but also to ride positively to reach that point. To position a horse optimally – that is, close to the base of an obstacle, but not so close as to impair take-off – a jockey must consider the characteristics of the horse, in terms of balance, suppleness and temperament and, of course, its stride length, as well as the nature of the obstacle. Of course, the different types of obstacles include hurdles, plain fences and open ditches; the tallest and broadest fence on the Grand National Course at Aintree, known as ‘The Chair’, is 5’3″ high and 9′ wide, including a 6′ wide ditch on the take-off side. A horse typically has a stride length between 9′ and 12′, so will cover at least that distance in the air and possibly further, if the obstacle is wider. Nevertheless, while momentum is required to jump larger obstacles, a jockey must avoid ‘kicking on’ too hard, which can lead to jumping errors, loss of confidence and injury to horse and rider.

Which is the biggest fence on the Grand National course?

The fifteenth fence, known as ‘The Chair’, is both the tallest and broadest fence on the Grand National course. The fence, itself, stands 4’ 8” high, but the ground on the landing side is actually 6” higher than that on the take-off side, so horses must clear a total height of 5’ 2”. Breadth-wise, The Chair measures 3’ 0”, but is preceded by a ditch, 6’ 0” across, to create a total breadth of 9’ 0”.

Along with the sixteenth fence, the Water Jump, The Chair is jumped just once during the Grand National. By contrast, ‘Becher’s Brook’ is jumped twice, as the sixth and twenty-second fence. Again, the fence, itself, stands just 4’ 10” high, but the lie of the land means that it is effectively 6’ 9” high, from the top of the fence to ground level, on the landing side.