By William Hill
Last Updated: 31st March 2021
How many fences in the Grand National? 30 is the answer and most jockeys will probably tell you that the 30 obstacles around two circuits of Aintree’s Grand National jumps course are all challenging if the horse they’re riding doesn’t take to the unique spruce-covered obstacles that are the Grand National fences.
Getting home over those Grand National jumps and the extended 4m 2f trip remains the ultimate stamina test for National Hunt thoroughbred horses.
What about the Grand National jumps that are widely believed to be hardest, though? Year in and year out certain obstacles consistently claim victims, so we’ve take a look, fence-by fence, at the history of three of the most notorious Grand National fences.
As the sixth and 22nd obstacle encountered on the way round Aintree, Becher’s Brook looks pretty innocuous when horses take off, but the landing is steep and jockeys must steer their mounts left-handed thereafter.
Becher’s is a 4ft 10in jump on the approach side, but a 6ft 9in drop to reach the ground over it. A good riding strategy requires jockeys to be brave and sit back, so their body weight stabilises the horse as they make this jump.
The Grand National jump names can be peculiar, but most come with history, this fence is named after Captain Martin Becher – a jockey who rode Conrad that fell here during the first official Grand National back in 1839.
Becher took shelter in the water to avoid getting injured by other horses jumping the fence. There have only been five occasions since 1975 where none of the field have fallen at Becher’s Brook.
A pile-up involving eight horses also occurred in 2004. This led to the brook being rebuilt and covered by rubber mats in order to cushion the fall for both riders and their mounts. Aintree officials also had the Grand National jumps course widened in 2009 to include a bypass lane of sorts, giving veterinary staff the discretion to close off fences like Becher’s if needing more time to assess equine injuries.
Bypassing Becher’s Brook during the Grand National happened for the first time in 2011. In light of yet another injury here, Aintree again modified the fence by further reducing the landing side drop.
The Canal Turn
Fence number eight and 24 of the Grand National jumps course is where the track pretty much makes a right angle. While Aintree today has running rails, if horses didn’t make the Canal Turn through almost 90 degrees early in the race’s history they would’ve ended up, literally, in the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. You can see where the name came from.
Jumping an obstacle on the diagonal is a lot easier than it sounds. Doing it with 40 runners (in years past, more) where the course then runs perpendicular to a fence is truly daunting, however, with horses continuing to regularly fall at it.
It took until 2015 for the Canal Turn to be bypassed during the Grand National when vets gave lengthy treatment to the previous year’s runner-up Balthazar King, who injured ribs when taking a tumble.
What is the highest jump in the Grand National? Well, as one of only two fences – alongside the water jump that follows it – that are only taken once on the Aintree Grand National jumps course, The Chair is the tallest and broadest obstacle for horses to negotiate.
With no equine fatalities since 1979, both riders and their mounts clearly give this 5ft 2in fence beyond a 6ft wide and 2ft 6in deep ditch the respect it deserves. The death of jockey Joe Wynne in 1862 was the reason for the introduction of this take-off side ditch.
Back in Grand National years prior to that, a distance judge would sit by this fence and, after horses cleared The Chair for a second time and reached the winning post, he recorded the finishing order from this vantage point.
Would you like to know more about the race? Check out our Grand National Racecourse Guide.