Grand National Grand Opening Day gets the Crabbie’s Grand National Festival off to a terrific start on Thursday 7th April, with four Grade One races providing racegoers with a feast of top-class horseracing action.
Each day has one race over the Grand National Course, with the six other contests per day taking place on the separate Mildmay Course, which consists of ordinary fences, and the Hurdle and Flat Courses.
The Crabbie’s Fox Hunters’ Chase over the Grand National fences is the major race at the Festival for amateur riders who get their chance to shine on Grand Opening Day.
Apart from the John Smith’s Grand National, no race has a longer history at Aintree than the John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ for amateur riders, which was first staged in 1923.
The Fox Hunters’ Chase used to be over the full Grand National course but was reduced in distance in 1949 to encourage more runners to take part – however the jumps are the same size in both races! Last year it was won by Nina Carberry aboard On The Fringe.
The jockeys in the Fox Hunters’ Chase are all amateurs – so they don’t make their living out of riding racehorses. Amongst the competitors you will find dentists, estate agents, chiropodists, lawyers and other professionals for whom a trip over the famous Aintree Grand National fences can be the highlight of their year, and often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
However, amateurs are also allowed to compete in the Grand National itself – as Nina Carberry has demonstrated on several occasions – and historically the National has been won by an amateur 41 times.
The Fox Hunters’, and the Topham Chase (on Ladies Day) are the only other two races you will see ridden over the Grand National Fences at the festival. Both are great races in their own right, and help build the anticipation for ‘the big one’ on the Saturday.