One of the main reasons the Grand National is revered by all in horse racing is its daunting fences and jumps. The race features fences which are much larger than those on other National Hunt tracks, making the race one of the toughest tests in the sport for horse and jockey.
Here, we look to answer all your burning questions about Grand National jumps.
Grand National Course Description
The Grand National course is located at Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside. It is shaped like a triangle, with the race covering a total distance of 4 miles 514 yards – which makes the contest the longest National Hunt race in Great Britain. The distance used to be 4 miles 856 yards, but for safety reasons the start was moved forward.
Map photo: Google Earth
The course has a gruelling 494 run-in after the final fence, which includes an elbow. Runners often lose their lead during the run-in and end up being pipped to the post. This famously happened to Crisp in 1973 and more recently Sunnyhillboy in 2012.
It is a left-handed course which is dedicated to steeplechases. Most of the track is flat, but there are two sharp corners which challenge runners. One of those is at the end of the home straight, while the other is just after the Canal Turn fence.
How many fences in the Grand National?
In total there are 16 different fences on the Grand National course, with each of them bringing different challenges to horse and jockey.
All 16 fences are jumped during the first lap of the race, while 14 of them must be navigated in the second lap. That means that in total, there are 30 jumps to complete in the Grand National.
Grand National Fence Positions
Fence 1 is one of the smallest and known as a ’settling’ fence. It is right next to the Embankment which houses the raucous Grand National crowd. With fans cheering as they watch horses navigate their first jump, jockeys will need to block out the noise and focus on the task at hand in order to get off to a strong start. Interestingly, a Liverpool University study determined horses are seven times more likely to fall here than at other plain jumps.
There are also three open ditch fences on the course, including fence 3 which is also known as ‘Westhead’ after former Aintree fence builder Steve Westhead. This is often considered as the first big test for Grand National runners.
What are the fences called in the Grand National?
The fences around Aintree Racecourse are so fearsome that several of them have even got their own names. Indeed, five of the 16 fences on the course are named, giving them legendary status in National Hunt racing.
Fence 6 and 22 – Becher’s Brook
Standing 5 ft tall, Becher’s Brook takes its name from legendary Grand National jockey Captain Martin Becher, who raced in the inaugural contest in 1839. With a landing side between 6-10 inches lower than the take-off side, some jockeys have likened going over the fence to “jumping off the edge of the world.”
Fence 7 and 23 – Foinavon
At just 4 ft 6 inches tall, this is one of the smaller Grand National jumps. It is named after 1967 winner Foinavon, who avoided a mass pile up at this fence and triumphed despite pre-race odds of around 100/1. This fence rarely troubles the jockeys. Indeed, it accounts for just 2% of fallers in the race’s history.
Fence 8 and 24 – Canal Turn
The Canal Turn fence presents two challenges for horse and jockey. Not only is it 5 ft tall, but it also has a sharp 90-degree left turn to be navigated upon landing. Due to this, unseatings at this fence are quite common. Pre-World War I, it was not unusual to see horses land and run straight into the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
Fence 9 and 25 – Valentine’s Brook
Initially known as the Second Brook, this fence stands at 5 ft tall and has a 5 ft 6-inch brook on the landing side. It is named after a horse called Valentine, who is reported to have jumped the fence hind legs first back in 1840 before going on to finish the race in third place. It is not dissimilar to Becher’s Brook, although it is less severe and accounts for around 2% of fallers
Fence 15 – The Chair
Standing at 5 ft 2 inches, The Chair was initially known as the Monument Jump. Its current name comes from its position alongside a chair where the distance judge used to sit. The fence is now situated in front of the grandstand and is preceded by a 6 ft wide ditch, making it even trickier for runners.
As well as the five fences mentioned, there is also a sixth that will be well known to horse racing enthusiasts. Fence 16, also known as the Water Jump, used to be one of the most popular jumps on the course. However, the introduction of television in the 1960s coincided with a decline in the Water Jump’s popularity, with neighbouring fence The Chair becoming more well liked.
What is the highest jump in the Grand National?
The highest jump in the Grand National is fence 15, better known as The Chair. It stands at 5 feet 2 inches tall, and with the exception of the Water Jump, it is also the narrowest fence on the course. Additionally, it also has a landing side which is 6 inches above the ground on the take-off side, making it an incredibly challenging fence for runners.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Water Jump is the shortest jump in the Grand National. Indeed, it is just 2 feet 6 inches tall and is instead considered as more of a long jump.
Which fences are only jumped once in the Grand National?
As mentioned, there are 16 Grand National fences on the course but only 14 are jumped twice. This means that two of the fences are only jumped once.
The two fences that are avoided in the final lap and are only jumped once are The Chair and the Water Jump, as runners instead veer off to the right as they head along the home straight towards the finishing post.
What are Grand National fences made of?
Nowadays, Grand National fences are made out of either Sitka or Norway spruce, which come from the Lake District. This is weaved around an inner plastic birch core, which provides flexibility and helps reduce the chances of injury. The Water Jump is the only fence that is not covered in spruce. It takes ground staff at Aintree around three weeks to construct the fences ahead of the festival.
Prior to this, fences were made using a timber core and thorn hedges. These were replaced in 2013, in an effort to reduce injuries should a runner make a mistake when going over one of the Grand National jumps.
Additionally, in the past, runners would have to get themselves over a stone wall Grand National jump. However, that has long since been replaced by the Water Jump.
How many horses finish the Grand National?
The number of horses that finish the Grand National changes every year. The challenge of the Grand National’s jumps is such that it is extremely likely that there will be several non-finishers each year.
On average, 63% of horses will not complete the race as the intimidating fences get the better of many jockeys, causing several fallers. The fewest number of non-finishers was 17 in 1984, when Hallo Dandy stormed to victory. In 1928, only two horses managed to complete the race, which is a record low.
What is the fastest winning time for the Grand National?
Plenty of famous horses have won this race, including Red Rum, Foinavon and Lord Gyllene. However, the horse with the fastest time around the Grand National course is Mr Frisk. Ridden by Marcus Armytage and trained by Kim Bailey, the 16/1 shot completed the course and its jumps in eight minutes and 47.8 seconds back in 1990.
You have to go all the way back to 1839 for the slowest winner of the race, when it took Lottery 14 minutes and 53 seconds to make his way around the Grand National course.