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Entertainment Today

This weekend, the UK will be going horse racing crazy, with the biggest event in its racing calendar. A few years ago, that might only have been of passing interest to the rest of the world, but in this age of online streaming and global coverage, everyone has at least heard of the Grand National.

It’s the race that everyone wants to feel they are a part of, and with the huge number of runners, it is traditional to tale a lottery style approach to backing a winner. Pubs, social clubs, even offices usually get into the horse racing spirit run a sweepstake, with everyone contributing a pound into the winner’s pot and drawing a horse at random. Want to join in the fun? Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the big race.

A brief history

The first ever Grand National was run in 1839, and it has been run in all but six years ever since. There was no Grand National from 1941 to 1945 during World War Two, and the 1993 event ended in farce. A false start was declared, but only nine of the 39 starters realized, and the rest continued with the race. Esha Ness went on to win what is now known as “the race that never was.”

Almost all the races have been run at the historic Aintree racetrack. The only exception was during the First World War, when it was moved to Gatwick racecourse. That venue is now a distant memory, lying buried under the airport that bears the same name.

The course

The Grand National has a reputation for being one of the toughest races on the calendar. It is run over a longer distance than most steeplechase events, and includes some of the most treacherous jumps. Beecher’s Brook and The Chair, for example, are as famous as the race itself and have been the scene of drama, and sometimes tragedy, dozens of times over the years.

Famous winners

Given the profile of the race, it is unsurprising that the list of winners reads like a Who’s Who of horse racing. Red Rum made the race his own in the 1970s, and is the only horse in the event’s long history to have won in consecutive years or to have been victorious three times. Other famous winners include Mr Frisk, Seagram and L’Escargot.

Who to back this year?

Ask the bookmakers and they will tell you that Tiger Roll is this year’s runaway favourite. This is the horse that won last year, and after an impressive performance at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, he looks even stronger this year. However, this is one race in which the bookies have a habit of getting it wrong. The last time a favourite won the race was in 2010, and if Tiger Roll does manage to come in victorious, he will not only beat the bookmakers’ hoodoo, he will also be only the second horse to win back to back Grand Nationals.

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