Grand National History

The origins of the Grand National can be traced back to the first official races at Aintree which were initiated by the owner of Liverpool's Waterloo Hotel, Mr William Lynn. Lynn who leased the land from Lord Sefton, built a course, built a grandstand and staged the first Flat fixture on July 7, 1829.

On Tuesday February 26, 1839, Lottery became the first winner of The Grand National. In those days the field had to jump a stone wall (now the water jump), cross a stretch of plough land and finish over two hurdles.

The Grand National in the days of the Topham family owned substantial tracts of land around Aintree and had been involved with the management of the course since the early years of the Aintree Meeting. In 1949 Lord Sefton sold the course to the Tophams who appointed ex-Gaiety Girl Mirabel Topham to manage it. Mrs Topham built a new track within the established National Racecourse and named it after Lord Mildmay, a fine amateur jockey and lover of the Grand National. The Mildmay course opened in 1953, the same year as the motor circuit which still encircles the track.

The motor circuit was another of Mrs Topham's ideas and it quickly gained a reputation as one the best in the world hosting a European Grand Prix and five British Grand Prix. Stirling Moss won his first Grand Prix on it in 1955 while Jim Clark won the 1962 event.

Aintree Racecourse suffered some lean times in the post-war years and in 1965 it was announced that the course would be sold to a property developer. In 1973 the Tophams finally sold the course to property developer Bill Davies who gave a commitment to keep the race going however he was not a real racing fan. As a result the attendance at the 1975 Liverpool Grand National was the smallest in living memory (Davies had tripled the admission price) and the great race reached its lowest point.

Ladbrokes, the bookmaker made a bold bid in 1975 and signing an agreement with Davies allowing them to manage the Grand National.

Ladbrokes, like all true racing professionals, had a genuine love for the National and were determined to keep it alive. Their task stretched over the next eight years and they set about it admirably but Davies was reluctant to renew their contract. He was determined to sell Aintree.

Racing and the public in general finally realised that after so many years of "crying wolf" the threat was serious and a huge campaign was launched to rescue the race once and for all.

Donations from the public helped the Jockey Club pay Davies' price and in early '83 he finally sold the racecourse. That year the Grand National was sponsored by the Sun newspaper but in '84 Seagram Distillers stepped in to provide the solid foundation on which Aintree's revival has been built.

The last Seagram-sponsored National was in 1991 when the race was won by a horse which chairman Straker twice had the opportunity to buy; the horse's name was Seagram.

The Seagram subsidiary, Martell, took over sponsorship in 1992. Martell backs the whole three-day meeting Grand National meeting. Around 100,000 people will be at Aintree to watch the top horses battle for hounours.

Aintree racecourse has overcome all the obstacles and today enjoys its most successful period in modern times.

Future plans include a new grandstand, a Heritage Centre and a strong ambition to establish Aintree as an international tourist attraction on non-racedays.


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