Having a flutter on the National this year? The big day’s nearly here, but before you have a gander at Completebetting.com’s exclusive free bet offers on Grand National, it’s time to get to know the race’s toughest hurdles – those pesky fences that put even the world’s most fancied horses through their paces.
We have to start with what is without a doubt the most famous fence in horse racing. Intimidating to say the least, this jump is named for Captain Martin Becher, a veteran of the Napoleonic War who rode The Duke to victory here in 1836. A few years later, riding Conrad, his horse refused at this fence, leading Becher to take a tumble into the brook that sits on the landing side. Sat in the water while the rest of the field bounded over, he somehow managed to remount and chase pack – until he was unseated again at Valentine’s.
So, a valiant effort, and a fence that even today, after some safety adjustments, retains a reputation that strikes fear into the heart of many rider and runner. Part of the reason for its notoriety is the 2’ disparity between the approaching ground and the landing, so the drop is considerably further than horses expect.
Only two fences at the National are only jumped once, and this is one of them. It’s up there with Becher’s in terms of reputation, mainly for its size. At 5’ 3” it’s the tallest fence in the race – and uniquely challenging thanks to the 6’ ditch that precedes it. Positioned right in front of the grandstand, this is a showjump and a half. Like Becher’s in reverse, it features that formidable ditch on the takeoff side, and a 6” raised landing side – a feature that often surprises horse on landing.
This may be far from the biggest fence on the course, but it’s also one of its most famous. Thanks to a spectacular multi-horse pile-up back in ’67, the seventh fence at the National, and the 23rd on the course, will be forever known as Foinavon. It’s known as a bit of a challenge, not in terms of its scale, but because of the speed of its approach, and the fact that it follows straight after Becher’s.
When a stray horse got in the way in that ’67 race, every horse stalled, stopped – some even ran in the wrong direction. This mess allowed rank outsider Foinavon, at 100-1 no less, to emerge out of nowhere and run away with the title. By the end of the race, 17 horses had managed to give chase, but none could catch him. The fence was officially renamed in his honour in 1984.
The Canal Turn
Another fence that isn’t necessarily challenging but will be familiar to many is the iconic Canal Turn. Running parallel to the canal at Aintree, and featuring a sharp 90-degree turn just after the fence is cleared, it can certainly give runners problems. It also has the potential to create racewinners out of the runners and riders capable of clearing the fence at a tricky diagonal angle, thereby streamlining their jump and clearing the turn in one fell swoop.
On the other hand, less experienced jumpers can find the sharp turn a sharp shock, and many have been unseated here. The last memorable incident was back in 2001 when a rider-less Paddy’s Return crossed the field at the Canal Turn. Nine horses were taken out, and only four finished the race that year.
There are two brook fences at the National, and Valentine’s may be regarded as the lesser of them, but it’s caused plenty of upset over the course’s history. This is the jump that follows directly after the tricky Canal Turn, and so by virtue of its position, is no easy task to clear. This fence takes its name from a horse called Valentine. Back in 1840 it pulled off something a spectacular frog-like leap over the fence after first attempting to pull up at it.