The success of both Aintree racecourse and the Grand National are interwoven and inseparable. Little could Mr William Lynn have known back in 1829 when he marked out a racecourse on a plot of land leased from Lord Sefton that he was pioneering the worlds most famous horse race.
Local hotelier William Lynn originally planned to hold three meetings a year on the course. However, by 1839 the popularity of those early races inspired him to add an annual Steeplechase.
The 5/1 favourite ‘Lottery’ won the first Grand National in 1839.
The race was called ‘The Grand Liverpool Steeplechase’ and is considered by historians to be the first proper ‘Grand National’. The inaugural race was won by a horse called Lottery and ever since racing fans have been hooked by the magic of the Aintree Grand National.
The National has been staged at Aintree every year since 1839, excluding periods during the First and Second World Wars. In 1916 Aintree racecourse was taken over by the Ministry of War and racing had to be abandoned. However, the importance of the Grand National to civilian moral was considered so important that a substitute race was hastily organised at Gatwick Racecourse (now Gatwick Airport).
The inter war periods saw the Grand National return to its spiritual home in Liverpool but shortly after the outbreak of WWII Aintree was once again commandeered by the War Office and became a prisoner of war camp. No substitute Grand National was held between 1941 and 1945.
THE UPS AND DOWNS
A intree enjoyed mixed fortunes in the post war years, a motor-racing track was installed on the course in the 1950s and a number of British Grand Prix’s where held at the course. However, as the post war economic boom began to subside in the late 1960’s so did the fortunes of the racecourse.
In 1973 ownership of the racecourse past from the Topham family to Bill Davies, a property developer who gave a commitment to keep the race going but his heart never quite seemed in it. Attendance at the 1975 Grand National was the lowest in living memory (admission prices had been tripled by Davies) and the Grand National had reached its lowest point – it looked like the end for the great race.
A campaign was started by Ladbrokes Bookmakers to revive the ailing Grand National race. Like everyone else, Ladbrokes had a genuine love for the race which transcended self interest. After 8 years of management by the high street bookmaker the future of the Grand National and Aintree seemed secure.
Property developer Davies was unimpressed by the swift changes in fortune and seemed determined to cover the Aintree course in housing. The general public realised that this may be the last chance for the Grand National to be saved and a huge campaign was launched to rescue the race once and for all. Generous donations from the public allowed the Jockey Club to purchase Aintree from Davies.
In 1984 distillers Seagram stepped in to provide the solid foundation on which Aintree’s revival has been built. The last Seagram sponsored National was in 1991 when the race was won by a horse which chairman Straker twice had the opportunity to buy; the horse’s name was Seagram!
A subsidiary of the Seagram company, Martell Cognac, took over sponsorship of the famous race in 1992. During this time the National experienced a real revival in fortunes. In 2004 around 150,000 people were at Aintree to witness the last Martell backed race.
Credit must go to the Jockey Club who seized the opportunity to redevelop Aintree and its facilities during this time. A new £30 million grand stand greeted the crowds for the 2008 race which was sponsored by popular bitter brand John Smith’s, a sponsorship deal which started in 2005 and ended in 2013.
In 2014 Aintree announced that Crabbie’s Ginger Beer would be the new sponsor of the race and that the drinks brand would be boosting the prize fund to 1 million pounds, making it not only Britain’s most famous race but also its most valuable.
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