Why the Grand National is more popular then ever
Often called the world’s greatest steeplechase the Grand National is one of the most famous horse races to run over the sticks in the racing world. First run in 1829 by the proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel ion land he leased in Aintree, William Lyn set in motion a sporting spectacle that now assumes world wide popularity.
Central to the popularity of the race is the Aintree course over which it is run. In 1973the course was sold to a property developer who inexplicably trebled the entrance fee to the course on national day. This apparently suicidal increase in pricing happened to coincide with the era of the famous Red Rum. Red Rm won the National three times, in 1973, 1974 and again in 1977, becoming the only horse ever to win the race three times and the interest in Rummy appeared to secure the races future despite the punitive increase in entrance charges.
The Grand National is also popular due to the nature of the course that competitors have to run. Consisting of two circuits with sixteen fences first time round and a further fourteen on the second, presents such an extreme physical test for the horses and jockeys that we seem to be ever drawn towards the race.
In 2013, with a capacity crowd of 70,000 at Aintree and an expected TV audience of 166 million worldwide it was estimated that the race would attract in excess of £150 million for the first time. According to bookmakers Coral, an expected two-thirds of the population will place bets on the outcome of the race.
The nature of the physical event is always going to be a source of controversy with animal rights campaigners often in the headlines complaining about cruelty to horses. It appears almost ironic that the more they complain, the more popular the race becomes. Looking back at the history of the race, the 70’s and 80s saw 12 horses destroyed after accidents on the course that led to course modifications. Despite this there were still a further 17 horses destroyed. More recently, consecutive years 2011 and 2012 saw two further deaths increasingly the level of complaints even further.
Why then against this backdrop of danger to the horses do the public still watch the game in ever increasing numbers? It seems implausible that the interest is due to the possibility of witnessing further deaths on the course, what seems more possible is that the race is seen to be an example of unparalleled sporting effort on behalf of the horse and rider and this leads to the ever increasing interest.