About the Grand National and Grand National Betting
The Grand National is simply the most popular horse race in the world. No other sporting event can match it in betting terms or in the scale with which it grabs the public’s imagination in Britain and elsewhere.
More than ten million people watch it each year in the UK alone and more than £100 million is bet on it. People will bet on the Grand National who never place a bet at any other time. It is one of only ten sporting events deemed so important in the UK that by law must be broadcast on free-to-view terrestrial television. The ‘Grand National Sweepstake’ is an almost obligatory part of British working life and if you ask most people to name a racehorse they will give you the name of a Grand National winner.
To many racing fans this state of affairs is bizarre. The Aintree Grand National is a Grade Three horse race – guaranteeing a level of quality perhaps equal to Hartlepool versus Carlisle in football’s League One. Horses must be at least six years old, which is akin to banning under-35s from the Olympics. The forty or so runners that start the race are asked to carry up to twelve stone in weight to handicap the faster horses, making picking the winner nearly impossible. And the race is run over more than four stamina-draining miles, with seemingly half of all the hedgerow in Lancashire dropped at strategic points around the course to add to the challenge.
In fact it is the cumulative result of these factors that makes the Aintree Grand National such a thrilling spectacle for the housewives and armchair punters who teem into the betting shops on the first Saturday of April each year.
Whereas sometimes horseracing seems to demand an encyclopaedic knowledge of prior race results, training yard form and the family tree of every horse since the two Noah took on the Ark, as well as a comprehensive insight into equine psychology and a mastery of mysterious and often-arcane jargon, the Grand National throws the form book out of the window. Anything and everything has a chance of winning, and anyone can pick a winner, whether through hours of research, by picking a favourite name or colour or simply by sticking a pin in a list of runners and riders.
The unpredictability of the winner is balanced by the correspondingly generous odds. In many races punters can rule out any horse given double-figure odds; in the National such prices are the norm. The last five Cheltenham Gold Cup winners have returned £4.27 to a £1 stake, on average; over the same half-decade you could expect an extra tenner on top of that in your Grand National winnings, and that’s with two of the shortest-priced winners since 1920 taken into account.
This egalitarian mix where anything can win at almost any odds you care to mention that gives the Grand National such mass appeal. No wonder that the BBC discovered that 67 per cent of its viewers had gambled on the Grand National, while only 33 per cent of its audience for the 2007 Derby had bet on that race.
And no wonder the Grand National is the most valuable National Hunt horserace in the world, watched, according to some reports, by 600 million viewers around the globe. If there is one event in the racing calendar that brings horseracing into everyday life, a “people’s race”, if you like, it is the Aintree Grand National.