The Grand national is often considered the ultimate test for horses and their jockeys – and this is down to a combination of the distance and the fences. The race is run over a distance of 4 miles and 2.5 furlongs, and consists of 30 jumps. There’s no denying that the fences at Aintree are some of the most ruthless in the National Hunt calendar, and completing two circuits of the Grand National course should be considered an art in itself.
However, in its long history – the race was first officially run in 1839 – over the years, some of the fences have become iconic in their own right. Whether named after horses, jockeys or just with interesting back stories, while you ponder over the Grand National odds ahead of the race on Saturday (9th April), we’ll run through the five iconic fences.
Becher’s Brook (fences 6 and 22)
Becher’s Brook is 5ft in height, but with the landing side a lot lower than the take-off side, it often catches runners by surprise. Jockeys often compare it to “jumping off the edge of the world”.
Formerly known as the ‘First Brook’, the fence was named in honour of a former jockey, Captain Martin Becher. He rode in the inaugural Grand National, aboard Conrad, and fell at the fence. He took shelter in the brook as the chasing pack jumped the fence on the first circuit. He reportedly told the on-goers that the water tasted disgusting, without whisky in it. Becher later remounted his horse and fell at the second brook – and ultimately, didn’t finish the race.
Foinavon (fences 7 and 23)
While the fence may be one of the smallest at 4ft 6in, it can still be treacherous. The fence was renamed in 1984, after the 1967 National winner, Foinavon. The horse was sent out at remarkable odds of 100/1 and the story of his victory is one etched in folklore.
Foinavon had been some way back in the field. So, when Popham Down who had unseated his rider, veered to the right, knocking over Rutherfords, a pile-up then ensued. Several horses were hampered – but Foinavon, who had been some three lengths behind managed to negotiate the fence and go on to win.
Canal Turn (fences 8 and 24)
The Canal Turn is known for its 90-degree turn immediately after landing – and it’s where jockeys can often get unseated, due to the chance in course. The fence is 5ft in height.
It got its name because of the close proximity to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal – and in earlier renewals, it was not uncommon for loose horses to end up in the water.
Valentine’s Brook (9 and 25)
Valentine’s Brook is also 5ft in height, with a 5ft 6in brook on the landing side. It was formerly known as the ‘Second Brook’, before being renamed after horse Valentine.
Valentine was a 100/4 chance who gave a debut ride to his owner John Power who had bet on him to be leading at the wall. The duo had established a good lead, however, when reaching the Second Brook, Valentine refused the fence. Such was his momentum, he jumped it in a corkscrew motion, hind legs first and virtually backwards. Power stayed in the saddle and while his rivals made up ground, they were indeed leading at the halfway stage! Valentine later finished third (of three).
The Chair (fence 15)
At 5ft 2in, The Chair is the tallest of all the Grand National fences – and not only is it preceded by a 6ft wide ditch, but the take-off side is much lower than the landing side. It is one of two fences that is only jumped on the first lap (with the second being the Water Jump).
The Chair is positioned in front of the grandstand and takes its name from the chair that once sat alongside the fence. In the earliest renewals of the race, a distance judge would sit in the chair and on the second circuit, would record the finishing order of the horses. This rule was abolished in the 1850s, but remains one of the most popular jumps for spectators.