Aintree is the home of the Grand National which is arguably the greatest horse race in the world. No other race comes close to matching the excitement at Aintree Grand National day and the April 5th 2008 race will be no different.
The story of the Aintree race course is also the story of the Grand National. It’s inconceivable now to imagine the Grand National being held at any other race course in England but this looked a distinct possibility in the early post war years. In 1965 the Aintree course looked likely to be sold to a property developer and every year the press warned this could be “The Last Grand National”.
In 1973 the course was eventually sold to property developer Bill Davies who gave a commitment to keep the race going but his heart never quite seemed in it. Attendance at the 1975 Grand National was the lowest in living memory (admission prices had been tripled by Davies) and the Grand National had reached its lowest point and it looked like the end for the great race.
In 1975 a campaign was started by Ladbrokes Bookmakers to revive the ailing Grand National race. Ladbrokes had a deep love for the National and when they took control of managing it they were determined to keep it going. After 8 years of management by Ladbrokes the future of the Grand National and Aintree seemed secure.
Property developer Davies was unimpressed by the swift chances in fortune and still seemed determined to sell the Aintree course. Finally the general public realised that this may be the last chance for the Grand National to be saved and a huge campaign was launched to rescue the race once and for all. Generous donations from the public allowed the Jockey Club to purchase Aintree from Davies. In 1984 distillers Seagram stepped in to provide the solid foundation on which Aintree’s revival has been built. The last Seagram sponsored National was in 1991 when the race was won by a horse which chairman Straker twice had the opportunity to buy; the horse’s name was Seagram.
A subsidiary of the Seagram company, Martell Cognac, took over sponsorship in 1992. During this time the National experienced a big boom. In 2004 around 150,000 people were at Aintree to witness the last Martell backed race. Aintree racecourse now enjoys its most successful period ever.
There is much debate among historians regarding the first official Grand National race held and most who have trawled the newspaper libraries and archives of the United Kingdom now prefer the idea that the first was in 1836 and was won by The Duke. This same horse triumphed again in 1837 while Sir William was the winner in 1838.