The Grand National captures the imagination of millions of horse racing fans every year. But if you’re new to the sport you might not know why commentators talk about charging towards Becher’s Brook or falling at The Chair.
That’s because the Grand National has a remarkable number of named fences over the 4 mile, 2-and-a-half furlong course. Some of these jumps are iconic for the drama they have created over the decades, while others are notorious for being particularly difficult to master.
And Paddy Power is here to bring you a full rundown of every fence at the Grand National, including the backstories to those weird names!
Grand National fences
1 Plain fence – 4ft 6in high
2 Plain fence – 4ft 7in high
3 Westhead – 5ft high, open ditch
Westhead is the first open ditch fence on the Grand National course and is named after Steve Westhead, Aintree’s fence builder in the 1960s and ‘70s.
4 Plain fence – 4ft 10in high
5 Plain fence – 5ft high
6 Becher’s Brook – 4ft 10in high, drop between 6in and 10in on the landing side
The drop at Becher’s Brook has proved difficult for many horses and jockeys down the years. It is named after jockey Captain Martin Becher who was thrown off his horse, Conrad, while leading the 1839 Grand National – much to the surprise of horse racing betting fans watching from the grandstands. The brook itself contains no more than one inch of water.
7 Foinavon – 4ft 6in high
Foinavon fence is notorious for a mass pile-up in the 1967 Grand National that resulted in Foinavon, ridden by John Buckingham, cruising to victory. The incident occurred on the second lap – so the 23rd fence of the race – when the jockey-less Popham Down caused mayhem as horses jumped over. Foinavon was towards the back when the incident happened and Buckingham had time to pick his spot and leap the fence. Others tried to follow but could not claw back the lead as Foinavon stormed to a 100/1 victory.
8 Canal Turn – 5ft high
This is the tightest corner of the Grand National racecourse and requires an immediate left-hand turn once over the fence. It takes its name from the Leeds-Liverpool canal that runs alongside the far west corner of the course.
9 Valentine’s Brook – 5ft high
The brook at the landing side of Becher’s Brook continues along to Valentine’s Brook. Here the fence is higher and there is a ditch on the other side. The fence gets its name from the 1840 Grand National where horse Valentine supposedly vaulted it almost sideways to land hind legs first. Valentine went on to finish third in the race.
10 Plain fence – 5ft high
11 Booth – 5ft high, open ditch
Like Westhead, Booth is named after an Aintree fence builder, John Booth.
12 Plain fence – 5ft high
13 Plain fence – 4ft 7in high
14 Plain fence – 4ft 6in high
15 The Chair – 5ft 2in high, open ditch on landing side
The Chair is possibly the most notorious fence at Aintree. It stands at least 2in higher than any other jump and the open ditch behind means a horse must spread 11ft to clear it. The Chair comes from a practice in the 19th century during heats where a judge would sit at the fence and effectively disqualify horses who hadn’t reached it by the time a heat winner was declared. Failing to reach The Chair meant you could not advance to the next heat.
16 Water Jump – 2ft 6in high, water pond behind
The Water Jump is a breeze for most horses after they have vaulted The Chair and it’s main characteristic – apart from the low fence – is a larger pool of water behind that requires horses to spread 12ft 6in in order to clear the entire jump.
Once the horses have done one lap of Aintree’s Grand National course they set off for a second. However, racing betting fans will tell you The Chair and Water Jump aren’t taken on the second lap, which means the 14th jump is also the 30th and last of the race.
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