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Grand National 2018 - Grand National Basics

The Grand National is a National Hunt Handicap Steeplechase which is run at Aintree every April. 

If you’re new to the Grand National, we’ve set out below the key things you need to know before placing a bet.

When is the 2018 Grand National?

This year’s Grand National will be run at Aintree (Liverpool) at 5.15pm on Saturday 9th April 2018.

What makes the Grand National special?

The Grand National is well known for being the toughest test in the horse racing calender.  The horses race over a gruelling 4 miles, 2 1/2 furlongs (4m 2f 74yds), over a range of challenging obstacles.  It also has a rich and interesting history, dating back to 1839.  For more information about the course and the history of the grand national, see our other guides:

A guide to the grand national course

The History of the Grand National

How many runners are there?

A maximum of 40 horses will be finally selected for the race.

Every year hundreds of horses start out as Grand National hopefuls, but only the best make the cut as the field is gradually cut down to the final 40.

The number of runners is gradually reduced through a series of “scratchings”.

The key stages, with typical timings and dates for 2018 are:

  • Entries closed = First week of February (2018: 2 February)
  • Weights revealed = 2 weeks after entries close (2018: 16 February)
  • First scratchings deadline = 5-6 weeks prior to race day (2018: 1 March, 126 horses remain)
  • Second scratchings deadline = 2-3 weeks before race day (2018: 22 March, 96 horses remain)
  • Confirmation stage = 5 days before race day (2018: 4 April)
  • Final declaration = 2 days before race day (10am on 7 April)

The “scratchings” are the process by which the initial entries in the Grand National are gradually reduced from the full set of entries down to a maximum of 40.

How do they choose the horses?

To be allowed to run in the Grand National you need to have proven your credentials as a top quality horse.  Any horse entering the Grand National must meet the following requirements:

  • Age: horses must be age 7 and upwards.
  • Form: horses must have run in at least 3 recognised chases and are required to have finished in the top four of a race of 3 miles or more.
  • Handicap: horses must meet a minimum handicap standard. (for those who want the detail, they must be allotted a rating of 120 or more by the BHA Head of Handicapping.  Horses which are not qualified for a rating in Great Britain or Ireland at closing may also be entered provided the Handicapper is satisfied that the horse’s performances would merit a minimum rating of 120.)

Even if a horse meets these standards, there are no guarantee that they will make the cut.  As highlighted above, an original list of over 100 horses is typically put together before this list is gradually reduced to the final 40 runners.

What is a national hunt race?

The Grand National is one of the most famous national hunt races in the world.  National hunt racing refers to horse racing over jumps; they can be over hurdles, or steeplechases which are over a mix of fences, water jumps and ditches.  The Grand National is a steeplechase race.

Why is it called a steeplechase?

The origin of racing over fences is uncertain, but it is believed to have begun with fox-hunters racing in Ireland in the 18th century.  The first recorded race was in 1752 where a Mr O’Calloghan and Mr Blake bet against each other in a race on horse back from Buttevant Church to the Steeple of St Leger church. It became common for horses to be raced to landmarks such as church steeples and thus the term “Steeplechasing” came into being.

What is a handicap race?

The Grand National is a handicap race.  This means that all the horses carry weights; the aim of handicapping is that the faster horses carry more weight and the slower horses carry less weight.  This makes the race as even as possible so that, theoretically at least, all horses have an even chance of winning.

Who chooses the weights?

The British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) head of handicapping, Phil Smith, chooses the weights.

For most purposes, horses will be rated throughout the year based on their performances; the BHA produce official ratings and that rating will determine the weight. 

However, the Grand National is slightly different. Given the unique nature of the race, the handicapper may diverge from the official BHA ratings and put more weight on factors such as past performance in longer races or in the Grand National itself.

A new formula for handicapping the National was devised in 2001 to “compress” the gaps between horses. Phil Smith, said: "Looking back over the history of the race, we realised that the highly weighted horses had a moderate record, so we thought something needed to be done to try to not overburden the better horses."

For more details on handicapping and ratings, see our guide to handicapping:

Guide to Handicapping