It’s fair to say that the organisers have done a good job of building auxiliary events around the Grand National at Aintree each April. In years gone past, the famous race was perhaps the only reason for casual racing fans to tune in, but the festival that has been built up around the big one is now brilliant in its own right. In fact, should you take the Grand National out of the three-day event, you’d still be left with a world-class racing festival.
Sure, the Grand National race might hog a lot of the limelight, but there are several Grade 1 races that many believe trump the showpiece in terms of quality. Aside from the quality of the action on show, there is also a sense that the Aintree Festival represents a kind of curtain-closer for the jumps season, which broadly runs from October to April. The end-of-season nature of the festival means it represents one of the last chances for major honours for trainers, jockeys and owners.
This year’s Aintree Festival will take place from the 13th – the 15th of April, featuring three days of pulsating action. Of course, most of the focus will go on the Grand National (15th April, 17.15 pm) – that’s normal, given it is one of the world’s most famous horse races. But there are other huge events across the three days. Indeed, the Aintree Festival only trails Cheltenham when it comes to volumes of horse racing betting in the national hunt discipline. Here are some of the highlights of the festival:
Day 1 – Four Grade 1s to Open the Festival
Opening Day of the Aintree Festival is on Thursday 13th April. It features four Grade 1 races (the highest level in jumps racing), including the championship race of the day – the Aintree Hurdle. Constitution Hill – arguably the biggest superstar hurdler in racing right now – is the clear favourite for the race. The Nicky Henderson-trained horse stole the show at Cheltenham last month, and he is certain to draw the eye again as he aims for yet another big-race triumph. Other important races that day include the Bowl Steeple Chase, Doom Bar Juvenile Hurdle and Manifesto Novices’ Chase.
Day 2 – Ladies’ Day Has Relentless Action
Ladies’ Day at Aintree arguably vies with its counterpart at Royal Ascot as one of the most celebrated days in racing, with plenty of attention on what goes on off the track. Aside from the hats and frocks, there is furious action on the course, particularly with the Melling Chase in the mid-afternoon. It’s been won in the past by legendary horses like Sprinter Sacre and Moscow Flyer. Fakir D’Oudairies, a horse looking to make it three in a row, leads the betting this time around. The Topham Steeple Chase and Mildmay Novices’ Chase are other cracking races to look out for on Ladies’ Day.
Day 3 – The Main Event Beckons
The Grand National is considered the race that stops the nation, joining others like the Melbourne Cup and Kentucky Derby among the world’s most iconic horse racing events. The key to understanding the Grand National is appreciating that it’s a cultural event, not just a sporting one. Who will win this year’s Grand National? Who knows. The race can have 100/1 winners with relative frequency, so the favourites don’t always have it their own way. Corach Rambler gets the nod as ante-post market leader from the bookies in the lead up to the race. But anything could happen. Don’t forget that there are six other brilliant races on Grand National Saturday, including the Grade 1 Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle.