What happened to the Grand National during World War I?

World War I officially began on July 28, 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918. The 1914 renewal of the Grand National was staged, as usual, at Aintree Racecourse on March 27, four months before the commencement of hostilities, and the 1915 renewal was also staged on Merseyside.

However, in 1916, Aintree Racecourse was requisitioned by the War Office and, under the auspices of Frederick Cathcart, who was, at the time, Chairman of Gatwick Racecourse, a substitute version of the Grand National, renamed the ‘Racecourse Association Steeplechase’, was run at the Surrey venue. Notwithstanding the fact that Gatwick Racecourse was right-handed rather than left-handed, the substitute race was run over the full Grand National distance and bona fide ‘National’ fences.

Subsequently renamed the ‘War Steeplechase’, the substitute Grand National was held at Gatwick Racecourse again in 1917 and 1918, before returning to Aintree Racecourse in 1919. The 1918 winner, Poethlyn, who was ridden by Ernie Piggott, grandfather of Lester Piggott, went on to win the Grand National ‘proper’ at Aintree the following year. Of course the 2020 Grand National was cancelled due to the Coronavirus, despite thoughts about holding it behind closed doors. I guess we needed a bit more of that wartime spirit!