The Grand National Festival was due to take place this weekend. Unfortunately for race fans, however, the Covid-19 outbreak has forced the organisers to cancel the event. This means that spectators will not be able to witness ‘the most famous steeplechase in the world’ in 2020, as well as all of the additional high-level racing due to take place.
Luckily, to fill the void that the cancelled festival will leave in the fans’ lives, I can share my experiences from the 2019 festival, from the perspective of a relative racing novice.
As a student in Liverpool, studying Sports Journalism, it seems like sacrilege not to visit the greatest racecourse on Earth during the Grand National festival. It would be like moving to Barcelona and never watching an El Clasico match; or living above Monaco racecourse’s famous ‘Rascasse’, but never popping your head out of the window to watch. Desperate not to waste this opportunity, myself and a group of friends booked our ticket for Ladies day, pulled on our suits and headed north, toward Aintree.
The racecourse is perfectly situated across the road from the MerseyRail station, meaning that you get a fantastic view of the grandstand as you approach. After making your way through the plethora of security, you can finally venture inside. Upon exploring the grounds, we found a wide variety of food and drink market stalls, not to mention the huge aircraft hangar in which you are able to place bets and watch the races. It appeared, however, its most common purpose was as a hotspot for excited punters to drink and party.
As fans of horse-racing in general, we made our way to the paddock in the hope to fight our way through the crowds to maybe see some famous jockeys or horses. To our surprise, this area was genuinely rather quiet, and turned out to be a hotbed for celebrity guests; Ed Chamberlain, Nicky Henderson, Chris Hughes, AP McCoy and even Princess Anne to name but a few. The real superstars, however, are the horses. The parading of the horses before their race was a sight to behold, my personal favourite coming in the form of Topofthegame, jockeyed by Harry Cobden.
The racing itself, whilst very enjoyable, becomes rather redundant once you’re actually there. We generally watched the majority of the races on the TVs, however making sure we went trackside for the chance to witness hot favourite Topofthegame. To our disappointment, it ran a relatively poor race and finished second, around 5 lengths behind. Regardless, it was a fantastic sight to behold as a horse we all loved ran along the famous track.
In general, the Aintree experience is thoroughly enjoyable. Not only is the atmosphere absolutely fantastic, but the setup is fantastic which makes for an incredibly satisfying experience. No doubt this is one sporting experience which is definitely deserving of it hype.
Hopefully, for race fans, the 2021 festival comes around quickly in order for fans to experience this fantastic event on the sporting calendar.