The Grand National fences are part of the iconic spectacle of the world’s most famous race but for almost a decade now Aintree has used different materials to provide a safer horse racing environment for horses and jockeys.
In this latest Demystifying Racing guide, Paddy Power is here to take you thorough everything you need to know about what Grand National fences are made of. You’ll learn how the fences have evolved over the years to be what they are today, and why a change to ‘plastic birch’ was seen as a breakthrough in fence technology.
HISTORY OF GRAND NATIONAL FENCES
Fences have been part of the Grand National ever since the first race was run in 1839. The Grand National is a steeplechase, which means it is run over fences rather than the hurdles otherwise seen in the National Hunt season.
Because of the sheer number of fences jumped in this race the Grand National swiftly became notorious as one of the most challenging horse races on the planet. And with that fame came more spectators and greater prize money.
Over the years some of the Grand National fences have earned nicknames, such as Becher’s Brook and The Chair. The names of Grand National fences are steeped in history and you can read all about them in our other guide!
WHAT ARE GRAND NATIONAL FENCES MADE OF?
Until recently Grand National fences were made of wooden stakes topped with spruce. This offered the horses some leniency when leaping over the fences but the stakes created the risk of a horse falling.
Over the past 15 years developments in technology and a greater understanding of the race have helped make the fences safer. Grand National fences are now made of what’s called ‘plastic birch’. This is a layer of synthetic shrubbery around 15 inches tall that sits on top of a much lower wooden fence, with spruce once again placed on top.
Horse racing betting fans looking from the outside of the fence won’t see much visible difference – but what the plastic birch does is offer horses much more leniency when their legs and hooves move over the jump, thus making it safer for both horse and jockey.
Now, the spruce on top is usually 14 inches in depth and of either the Norwegian or Sitka variety. There is also a toe board on the jumping side of the fence, to prove horse and jockey with a clear indication of where the fence starts. A PVC foam-padded rail stands approximately one-third up the height of the fence for added guidance.
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