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Grand National Fences
The Chair fence at Aintree.
The Grand National is run over the most unique race-circuit in the country. With 30 fences to negotiate over a trip of four miles and two and a half furlongs, there is no race quite like the Grand National - and millions around the world tune in to watch the 40 runners take their chance each year.
Although new measures were implemented to improve the safety of the fences on the National Course in 2012, the fences offer a unique test, and the majority of runners each year still fail to complete the race. Aintree's National Course is nearly two and a quarter miles in circumference, there are 16 fences and a run in of 494 yards. Two of the most famous fences on the course are Becher's Brook and the Canal Turn, which the 2013 National-winning jockey Ryan Mania discusses below.
Perhaps the worst fence to see the horse you’ve backed depart at, the first fence is a standard National obstacle, though it regularly causes drama - and two runners departed at the first fence in 2019.
Fences 2 & 18: Plain fence
The second fence arrives very quickly after the first, and although it is a standard obstacle it is one inch bigger than the one before it.
Fences 3 & 19: Open ditch
More daunting-looking than the first two fences, the open ditch is the first real jumping test for the runners, and is a couple of inches taller to boot. Spanning six foot, the ditch requires a horse to stretch out in order to jump it cleanly, and it regularly catches one or two out.
Fences 4 & 20: Plain fence
This fence is the same height as fence three, but without the ditch.
Fences 5 & 21: Plain fence
Regularly referred to as ‘the fence before Becher’s’, fence five is the same height as Becher’s Brook, but doesn’t have as much as a drop.
Fences 6 & 22: Becher's Brook
Arguably the most famous fence of them all, Becher’s Brook features a steep drop on the landing side. Named after Captain Becher, who fell at this fence in the first ever running of the race, Becher’s Brook is 4”10 tall, with the landing side dropping six inches. The drop is more forgiving the wider you go, about six inches at its widest, and more inexperienced jockeys tend to take a wider path at this fence.
Fences 7 & 23: Foinavon
One of the least imposing fences on the course, Foinavon has perhaps the best story behind it - causing carnage in the 1967 renewal, when a colossal pile-up at the fence allowed 100/1 no-hoper Foinavon to build up an unassailable lead. Standing at 4”5 tall, the race can cause more trouble than might be expected for horses who are still recovering from the demand of Becher’s Brook.
Fences 8 & 24: Canal Turn
Another unique test, Canal Turn poses runners with a sharp 90-degree turn immediately after jumping the fence, and runners tend to try and stick the the inside in order to save as much ground as possible.
Fences 9 & 25: Valentine's Brook
Standing at 5 foot tall, with a 5”6 brook on the other side, Valentine’s was named after Valentine, who appeared to jump the fence hind-legs first.
Fences 10 & 26: Plain fence
A five-foot-tall plain fence, at what starts to become the business end of the race when jumped for the second time.
Fences 11 & 27: Ditch
Known as the Booth, the fence is the same height as the previous fence, but with a six-foot ditch on the landing side.
Fences 12 & 28: Ditch
Known as Westhead, this is another fence that stands at five-feet, with a 5”5 ditch on the landing side. The runners cross the Melling Road after this fence, the point which is traditionally considered to be the closing stages of the race.
Fences 13 & 29: Plain fence
Standing at 4”7, this fence is one of the smaller obstacles on the course, and offers the runners a minor breather before the finale.
Fences 14 & 30: Plain fence
The final fence on the second circuit. Standing at once inch smaller than the fence before it, the last obstacle doesn’t tend to have too much of an impact on the finish before the long ‘elbow’ run-in, which is a seemingly never-ending 494 yards long.
Fence 15: The Chair
Only jumped once, the Chair is one of the most difficult fences on the entire course. Located in-front of the main grandstand, the fence is six foot tall, with a 5”2 ditch in-front of it. On top of this, there is a six-inch rise before the fence, making it essentially the opposite to Becher’s Brook.
Fence 16: Water jump
The smallest obstacle on the course at two and a half feet, the Water Jump offers some relief for the runners before they take on the second circuit.
The 'elbow' run-in
As mentioned above, after the runners have safely cleared all 30 fences, they must negotiate the 'elbow' - which is the longest run-in of any horse race in the UK, 494 yards, with an elbow roughly half-way up the run-in. Many races have been won and lost on this final scramble to the finishing post.