The Grand National is the most famous steeplechase in the world for a reason, because its 16 fences – 14 of them must be tackled twice – have remained almost as challenging today as they were over a century ago.
Here we take a more in-depth look at five of Aintree’s most daunting fences.
It would be remiss of us to start with any other fence than the infamous Becher’s Brook. This is a fence so testing that it raises discussion every single time the race is run, with many a betting favourite having their chances dashed by an ill-timed leap.
The fence is named after Martin Becher who competed in the inaugural Grand National all the way back in 1839. A captain in the army at the time, he fell from his horse at the fence and took shelter from the hooves of the other runners in the closest thing he could find to a trench – the watery brook.
What makes the fence so tough to navigate is the tricky angle it requires horses and jockeys to tackle it from. Then there is the almost 7ft drop, with many jockeys describing the freefall experienced there as being truly terrifying.
Since 2011 the fence has been adapted to ensure that fewer horses or jockeys come a cropper at Becher’s. This appears to have tamed the fence somewhat, as evidenced by the fact there were no fallers at Becher’s in 2019.
This is most certainly something that those punters who bet on horse racing will be taking into account when they come to make their race day picks, due to the fence now suiting those horses who are not the strongest of jumpers.
This is the tallest fence on the course, and one that has spooked many a horse in the past, leading to some unfortunate jockeys being thrown over the handlebars as their steed pulls the handbrake a few strides before the jump.
The fence is so daunting that officials only make horses jump it once, on the race’s first circuit, a decision most jockeys are glad of, especially considering that even reaching the fence’s peak is tricky, because there is a 5ft wide ditch to clear first.
The fence’s somewhat daunting name is born of the fact that it used to be where the distance judge sat, in order to relay to the race organisers how many lengths there were between the leading horse and those in pursuit. That chair no longer exists, but the fence remains as challenging as ever.
As its name suggests, this fence is all about the awkward angle it makes horses and jockeys deal with, as all runners have to endure a punishing ninety degree turn immediately having landed the jump.
This has interrupted the rhythm of many a Grand National favourite and is therefore a fence not to be taken lightly.
Although canals are not particularly known for their bends and turns, the fence borrows its name from the man-made waterway that links the cities of Leeds and Liverpool, and which flows close to Aintree’s outer boundary.
This fence has nothing to do with romance or bouquets of flowers and everything to do with a thoroughbred that went by the name of Valentine who, legend has it, cleared the fence backwards.
It is hard to imagine this being true, especially seeing as the fence stands 5ft tall. Nevertheless, it gives racing commentators a memorable fence name that rolls off the tongue, although a perilous brook on the fence’s landing makes this one obstacle that plays hard to get with horses and jockeys alike.
This is the last fence that horses face on the Grand National course but is perhaps more famous for what it used to be than what it is now.
That is because what is now the smallest fence on the course followed by a shallow water ditch, used to be a terrifying and unforgiving wall made of nothing but stone.
Thankfully, the days of making racehorses jump rock hard walls are over, with modern steeds able to attack the final straight with nothing to hold them back except exhaustion and wet hooves.