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The Grand National course - The ten key areas where the famous race will be won and lost

  • Where the Grand National will be won and lost - key Aintree flashpoints.
Aintree has a host of formidable dangers to Grand National hopefuls.

We take a look at the ten key areas around the Grand National course which will each play a crucial part in determining the ultimate winner.


The Grand National is the most demanding and difficult horse race in the world, and it represents the ultimate test of both horse and jockey.

The gruelling contest takes place at Aintree over a gruelling marathon trip of four and a half miles, where thirty tough fences are jumped, and more than half of the forty runners who set out will fail to finish the course.

Aintree’s fearsome fences have been toned down in recent years, making them much easier to navigate; however, they remain unlike any other fences and still take plenty of jumping. One circuit of the Aintree course takes in 16 fences, while only two – the Chair, and the Water Jump – are omitted on the second circuit.

Plenty can happen throughout the twelve or so minutes it takes to run the Grand National, and we look at the ten key areas of the Aintree track where the Grand National can be won and lost.

1) At The Start Line

There has been plenty of drama at the start of the Grand National, with false-starts aplenty down through recent years, most recently in the 2014 renewal which saw all bar one jockey subsequently warned about their conduct following a weighing room revolt.

In such large fields, horses can get wound-up due to delays in checking and adjusting tack, and generally milling around before the tapes go up. As horse and jockey jostle for position, it is possible to be left behind in the melee.


Waiting for the tapes to go up and signal the start of the Grand National can be an anxious time for both horse and jockey.

2) The First Fence (fence 17) – The Thorn

Runners jump this fence twice in the course of the race. Although one of the smallest on the course at only 4ft 6in high, the plain fence claims plenty of victims early as horses often approach the fence too quickly for their own good.

As a result, those horses who might have lost their position at the start could find themselves at the mercy not only of the fence itself, but other runners who might come to grief at the fence and increase the chances of being brought down.

By the time the field come around again to jump the fence for a second time, its threat is far diminished.

3) The Third Fence (fence 19) - Westhead

Those who have navigated safely the first two fences now find themselves with their first real jumping test – an open ditch measuring six feet wide, and banked by a 5ft high fence. 

The landing ground on the other side of the fence does slope away from the horses on landing, and it can be a tricky fence to clear for even the best and most experienced horses.

4) The Sixth Fence (fence 22) – Becher’s Brook

Perhaps the most famous fence on the course, Becher’s Brook has undergone several alterations and is no-where near the formidable beast it once was. Horses should have begun to get in some sort of rhythm by the time they approach, but Becher’s is a whole different test to the five preceding fences!

Despite alterations, the fence is still one of the most nerve-wracking fences for jockeys and specators alike, as while the fence on the take-off side measures only 4ft 10in, but there is a drop on the landing side of around an additional one foot in depth, which can see horses landing too steeply, pitch and lose their footing. For those in-behind horses, here is always plenty of potential to be brought down by a faller here, especially on the first circuit.

Horses and jockeys have to jump the fence twice in the course of the race.


Becher's Brook presents a formidable jumping test for Grand National hopefuls.

5) The Seventh Fence (fence 23) – Foinavon

The scene of one of the most famous Grand National incidents in history, where only the 100/1 outsider Foinavon jumped the fence safely following a mass pile-up in front, the Foinavon fence is deceptively difficult coming so soon after Becher’s Brook.

It should be relatively straight-forward for horses and jockeys, given the fence is only 4ft 6in high, but overconfidence can often prove a bugbear, and the Foinavon fence claims more victims than it otherwise should.



6) The Eighth Fence (fence 24) – Canal Turn

The fence itself measures five feet in height, and poses little real threat. However, immediately after the fence, the horses turn ninety degrees left and so many jockeys try to cut off as much of the corner as they can by jumping the fence at an angle.

The risk comes from taking on too much angle, and intact partnerships can be at real risk of any loose horses here, who might jump across them. The rider-less Paddy’s Return accounted for eight runners at this fence back in 2002.

Those that jump the fence on a much safer line run the risk of losing a lot of ground, so the Canal Turn can be very much a risk/reward fence, especially on the second circuit.


Jockeys have to decide how much of the Canal Turn they need to take on in order to get a good position.

7) The Ninth Fence (fence25) – Valentine’s Brook

So named after a horse named Valentine reputedly jumped the fence hind legs first, Valentines features a 5ft high fence backed by a narrow brook on the landing site. 

The fence itself doesn’t cause a great deal of problems, but horses that are to the fore at this fence on the second circuit are likely to be pitching for top honours later in the race.

8) Fence 15 – The Chair

Perhaps the most difficult fence on the course, those remaining horses are funnelled into a narrow opening that can see plenty of bunching and jostling prior to jumping a wide 6ft ditch banked by a 5ft 2in fence, where the landing side is slightly higher than the take-off side. 

Horses as a result can become unsighted at the fence, and mistakes are prevalent here. Thankfully for horses and jockeys, The Chair is only jumped once in the race.


The Chair is another big test of jumping during the Grand National.

9) Fence 16 – Water Jump

The final obstacle on the first circuit, the Water Jump is only jumped once in the race but features the smallest fence on the course at just under three feet high.

However, the expanse of water measures almost 13-feet wide, and horses need to really stretch to clear the obstacle safely. Those that don’t can lose valuable yards on their rivals if they stay upright and with jockey!

10) The Run-in

After jumping the final fence, runners face a gruelling run-in of more than two furlongs to the winning line, with The Elbow funnelling runners away from The Chair fence.

By this point, tired horses can begin to run around and stray off their course as jockeys fight and drive them towards the finish line. Many a Grand National has been settled by the punishing run to the line, and the Elbow can sometimes catch jockeys out as they can get close to going on the wrong side if they don’t notice its approach, which occurs around the half-way mark of the final run to the line.


After the final fence, the attritional near-500 yard run-in is an unwelcome final test at the end of the marathon race.


Countdown to Grand National

The 2018 Grand National takes place on Saturday 14th April and we'll have live coverage of the meeting on here and on Twitter.

Join millions of fans preparing to celebrate the build up to the world's most famous race - the Aintree Grand National.


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The Grand National course - The ten key areas where the famous race will be won and lost

The 2015 Grand National course poses another formidable test to horse and jockey alike, but there are ten key areas around the Aintree venue which will each play a crucial part in determining the Grand National winner.

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