And they’re off – a brief history of Aintree Racecourse and the Grand National
In 1829, William Lynn, the owner of the Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool’s Ranelagh Street, approached William Philip Molyneux, a gentleman holding the title of Lord Sefton, about leasing land at Aintree to stage flat racing events. Lord Sefton, a racing enthusiast himself, agreed to the lease. Lynn made plans to build a grandstand, and on February 7, 1829, Lord Sefton laid the first foundation stone, also placing a container of sovereigns inside the footings.
The first meeting at Aintree racecourse was on July 7, 1829. The opening race was the Croxteth Stakes, ran over 1 ¼ miles, and won by Mufti. With the strong financial support and ardent backing from the Jockey Club racing committee, Lord Sefton and a few Aintree syndicate members, the racecourse prospered.
In 1835, Lynn experimented with hurdle racing. The event was a complete success, especially when celebrated rider Captain Martin Becher arrived to take part and rode the impressive hurdler Vivian to two successes. It is rumoured that Becher engaged Lynn in a conversation about the Great St. Albans Steeplechase, a four-mile race from point-to-point, across country and back again. Lynn was fascinated by the event, and with the help of Becher, set about bringing a grand steeplechase event to Aintree.
On Feb. 29, 1836, Lynn hosted the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase. The race attracted 10 runners with the following racing conditions: all horses carry 12 stone, gentlemen riders only and the winner sold for 200 sovereigns, if demanded. In 1949 Mr Edward William Topham, bought the course outright from Lord Sefton.
Aintree racecourse has had many colourful characters including Mirabel Topham. A former Gaiety Girl, she ran Aintree during some of the course’s most difficult years. Speaking to BBC Radio Merseyside in 1971, at the age of 77, she described her love for the race.
“It’s unique and it has held its own as being the stiffest and best test for horse and rider.” Even in the mid 1970’s Mirabel Topham saw the race as something that stood out in the modern world, “What I would like to keep about Aintree is the uniqueness of the race,” she said. “It’s something different and in these days of standardisation I think it’s rather nice to be something different.
Amongst the initiatives brought in by Mirabel Topham was the construction of a motor racing track within the course. Work began in 1954, the track hosted a European Grand Prix and five British Grand Prix. Stirling Moss won his first British Grand Prix at the course 0n 16th July 1955 and was victorious again in 1957 and 1959.
The last British Grand Prix to be held at Aintree was in 1962.
It was nearly 40 years ago now that Red Rum recorded the first of the three victories in the Grand National that earned him pride of place in the record books forever. He still remains the only horse to have won the Grand National three times. The Grand National 2019 will be held on Saturday, April 6th at 5:15pm. This year, Tiger Roll, the winner of the 2018 Grand National will be looking to become the first back-to-back winner since Red Rum.
Credit is due to Liverpool Picturebook, a website to share a collection of Old Photographs Of Liverpool, from which most of this article is derived.