The Grand National is renowned for being one of the most difficult horse races in the world. The gruelling four and a half mile course has 30 jumps of varying difficultly for the brave jockeys and horses to navigate. Around 60% of the horses that start the race will not make it past the finishing post, and for the first horse over the last fence a 494 yard marathon run-in awaits.
There are only 16 actual fences on the Aintree course, the first 14 fences are jumped for a second time to make 30 total jumps in the race. All fences, except the Water Jump (16th) must be at least 4ft 6in high.
FENCE 1 (17)
Only 4ft 6in high, and one of the smallest on the course, this fence often claims a disproportionate number of fallers. In 2004, a team of vetinary surgeons at Liverpool University studied the fate of all 560 horses that took part in the previous 15 Grand Nationals and determined that this fence was one to be feared most with horses being seven times more likely to fall here than at other plain jumps with no ditch.
The higher number of fallers at this fence is likely due to the quicker speed horses usually travel at in the early stages of the race.
FENCE 2 (18) : THE FANThe Fan, named after a mare who regularly refused here in the 19th century. A plain 4ft 7in-high fence of no special difficulty.
FENCE 3 (19)Far tougher than number two, this 5ft high fence is preceded by a yawning 6ft open ditch, with the ground sloping away on the landing side. It is the first real test and clearing it well can give a confidence boost. In 1996 it accounted for the former winner Party Politics. John Francome has said that if he was still riding today, only this and The Chair would give him concern.
FENCE 4 (20)Straightforward at just 4ft 10in high, yet it was here – second time around – that Neale Doughty, who completed the course in nine of his 10 Grand National rides, had the only blot on his copybook, falling on Rinus when disputing the lead in 1991. Also, in 1986, Corbiere, after winning and twice finishing third, uncharacteristically came down here.
FENCE 5 (21)Another plain fence at 5ft high, this fence sees very few fallers when compared to some of the other, more difficult, fences.
FENCE 6 (22) : BECHER’S BROOKOn the approach, the hedge on either side is a warning that this fence lies ahead, as this is the most famous steeplechase obstacle in the world – Becher’s Brook. Although only 4ft 10in on take off, there is a confusing drop on the landing side which can catch horses out if they land too steeply. Recently the fence has been modified to make less perilous for horses and jockeys.
FENCE 7 (23) : FOINAVONFor those who successfully make it over Becher’s Brook, this fence can appear to be very easy at just 4ft 6in and this casual attitude can surprise horses who anticipate another drop. It was named the ‘Foinavon‘ fence after the 1967 Grand National winning horse who avoided a huge pile up at this fence to go on and win the race at odds of 100/1.
FENCE 8 (24) : CANAL TURNThis 5ft fence presents a dangerous challenge as many riders take it at an angle to minimise the 90-degree turn on the course, in an attempt to gain ground. It was the scene of its biggest pile-up in 1928 and again in 2002 when eight runners were taken out by rider-less Paddy’s Return.
FENCE 9 (25) : VALENTINE’S BROOKThis is the first of four 5ft fences in a straight line on the way to Melling Road and this one bounds a 5ft 6in wide brook but, despite, it’s drop on the landing side, is not thought to be as dangerous as Becher’s Brook and has claimed far fewer horses. Named after a horse who reputedly jumped the fence hind legs first!
FENCE 10 (26)The second of the five footers on the straight, in front of the Sefton Stand, this fence doesn’t present any unusual challenges.
FENCE 11 (27)The third of the 5ft fences in a row, this is more difficult given the fact that it is bordered on both sides of the take-off by the second 6ft wide open ditch and has a bigger drop than it’s third fence counterpart.
FENCE 12 (28)The fourth and last of the five footers in a row, fence 12 is followed by a 5ft 6in ditch but with less of a drop on the landing side. Following this fence is a long stretch of about half a mile before the penultimate fence on the way to the finish line on the second time around.
FENCE 13 (29)This fence is only 4ft 7in high and generally doesn’t present any problems, however it was here, in 1994, that a mini pile-up saw five horses come down, including the strongly backed, Double Silk and Master Oats.
FENCE 14 (30)Clear this on the second time around and you’re on the home straight of 494 yards to potential victory. However, on the first trip around the circuit it precedes one of the most difficult fences – The Chair (number 15) so cannot be taken lightly.
FENCE 15 : THE CHAIRThe Chair – one of the most notoriously difficult jumps on the whole course. It is 5ft 2in high and preceded by the third open 6ft ditch. Because of it’s narrow approach it looks exceptionally daunting with an even more confusing higher ground level on then landing side than on the take-off side.
FENCE 16This is the last obstacle on the first circuit and the smallest fence of them all at just 2ft 6in but requires a huge leap to clear the 12ft 6in expanse of water beyond.
Adapted from A-Z of the Grand National by John Cottrell and Marcus Armytage
GRAND NATIONAL FENCES VIDEOJust click the video below to watch a fly-over of the fences.