Grand National History
On Tuesday February 26, 1839, Lottery became the first winner of The Grand National,cementing Aintree betting as a special event in the horse race. 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 furthering the Grand National History in the lore books.
The Topham Years
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 Grand National. In 1949 Lord Sefton sold the course to the Tophams again affecting the history of the Grand National by appointing ex-Gaiety Girl Mirabel Topham to manage it. Aintree betting was on the rise after the war and continued its path forward during the Topham's reign.
A forward thinker and doughty character, Mrs Topham built a new track within the established National course 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 innovations 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 going down the Grand National history as the 1955 winner while Jim Clark won the 1962 event.
The Last Grand National
Aintree betting and Aintree course 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. Thus started one of the longest periods of speculation in the history of the Grand National a British sport - every year brought solemn warnings of "The Last Grand National".
In 1973 the Tophams finally sold the course to property developer Bill Davies who gave a commitment to keep the race going but his heart never quite seemed in it.
The attendance at the 1975 Grand National was the smallest in living memory (Davies had tripled the admission price) and the great race reached its lowest point.
Late in '75 Ladbrokes, the bookmakers, stepped in, signing an agreement with Davies allowing them to manage the Grand National. Cynics condemned the move as bookies protecting their own interests but although the race attracts by far the largest share of betting stakes the result for bookmakers seldom brings a windfall.
Ladbrokes, like all true racing professionals, had a genuine love for the National and were determined to keep it alive yet again changing the history of the Grand National forever. 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 and make Aintree betting a thing of the past.
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. The Aintree Grand National and Aintree betting was about to go the way of the horse and buggy.
Jockey Club win through
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.
Seagram chairman, Ivan Straker, started the ball rolling after reading a passionate newspaper piece by Lord Oaksey who, in his riding days, had failed by just three quarters of a length to win the 1963 National on Carrickbeg.
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 Cognac, took over sponsorship in 1992. Over the course of Martell's sponsorship, the race has again experienced a boom, with record attendances over the last few years. In 2004, the race was to be the very last Martell Cognac Grand National meeting, with Martell's priorities changing and therefore not renewing its sponsorship. In 2004, around 150,000 people were at Aintree to witness the last Martell backed race.
The Great Revival
Aintree racecourse is now enjoying its most successful period in modern times. While many courses rely on subsidies, the Aintree management is very much commercially minded and on non-racedays all of Aintree's grandstands host wedding receptions, conferences and exhibitions.
In the heart of the racecourse the belongs the Aintree Golf Centre, featuring a superb driving range and one of the longest nine-hole courses in the UK.
Future plans include a new grandstand, as well as a redeveloped Parade Ring and Winner's Enclosure. Aintree's ambitious £30million plan will be complete for the 2007 Grand National meeting.Click here for the latest grand national odds