Grand National 2019: Everything you need to know

Last updated at 07:05
Grand National ridersGetty Images

The Grand National is one of the most famous and unpredictable horse races in the world - and it takes place today.

It's a hugely popular event and 600 million people watch it on TV all over the globe.

Lots of people follow it at home, and you and your family might even pick your own favourite horse - often based on its name and colours.

The race is part of a three-day race meeting held in Liverpool, with more than 150,000 people attending.

When did it all begin?

Aintree Racecourse, in Merseyside, has been the home of the famous Grand National since its first running in 1839.

A version of the race took place before this, but 1839 is accepted as the official start of the race as we know it today.

Between 1916-1918 during World War One, the race had to be moved to Gatwick Racecourse. Then, it was called off between 1941-1945 because of the Second World War.

Grand National riders in 1954Hulton Archive
In this photo, riders are taking on the famous Water Jump back in 1954

The race has changed a lot since it began.

The courses and fences have been tweaked over the years - not least to make them safer for the horses and jockeys. The starting line has also moved further away from the main stand to help the horses to remain calmer at the beginning.

But throughout the years, it has always been one of the biggest jump races for horses and riders in the world - and it is currently the longest race in the UK.

The course

The Grand National is held at Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside.

Jockey Davy Russell celebrates winning the 2018 Grand National on on Tiger Roll with a young fan in the crowdGetty Images
Jockey Davy Russell celebrates winning the 2018 Grand National on on Tiger Roll with a young fan in the crowd

During the three-day event, more than 20 different races will take place.

In the biggest race - the Grand National - horses have to complete two laps of the course, covering four-and-a-half miles and jumping 30 fences.

Fences

There are 16 different jumps, known as fences, on the National Course.

All 16 are jumped during the first lap but on the second lap of the circuit the horses only jump 14 of them - so that makes 30 fences in total for the race.

The fences are different widths and heights, and some of them have different names.

Horses and riders jump Canal Turn during the 2018 Grand National at Aintree Racecourse on April 14, 2018Getty Images
Horses and riders jump Canal Turn during the 2018 Grand National at Aintree Racecourse on April 14, 2018

One of the most famous fences is called The Chair, which is the tallest on the course at 5 foot 3 inches.

The ground on the landing side is higher than the side the horses take off from, and there's also a six-foot ditch that horses have to jump over before the fence.

Fortunately, The Chair is one of the two fences that riders only have to go over once, rather than twice like most of the others.

Canal Turn and Becher's Brook are two other extremely difficult fences.

Children measure themselves against the Aintree fence The ChairGetty Images
Children measure themselves against the fence The Chair at Aintree
Controversy

Campaigners and animal rights charities have often complained that the Grand National isn't safe for the horses involved and that the race is too dangerous.

In both 2011 and 2012, two horses died racing in the Grand National race itself and charities like the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said things had to change.

For the last 30 years, the RSPCA has been involved with discussions, research and reviews that have helped change racing there.

Changes to fencesGrand National, BHA, Graphic News
Softer plastic centres were added to fences to make them safer

Organisers of the race have made the fences lower and drops shorter to reduce the danger of the race.

For instance, the first fence at Aintree's Grand National has been widened, so the horses are less likely to bunch together and fall in the rush to get ahead.

Fences used to have deep drops immediately afterward so the horse landed on a surface lower than where they took off. Many of those have been removed, reducing the risk of horses falling, although Becher's Brook still has a deep drop.

They also added new softer plastic centres to the fences in 2013 to make them safer.

Becher's BrookGetty Images
At Becher's Brook, the landing side of the fence is 10 inches lower than the take-off side

But many campaigners say more needs to be done.

There have been no deaths in the Grand National race itself since 2012, but there have been in other races that take part across the three-day event.

Aintree boss John Baker has said they will "never be complacent" about safety, but added that "you can't ever fully remove the risk".

Famous winners

A horse called Red Rum is the only horse to have won the Grand National three times - in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also came second in 1975 and 1976.

Red Rum died in 1995 at the age of 30 and was buried near the winning post at Aintree.

Red Rum being led past spectatorsGetty Images
Here is Red Rum being led past spectators in 1992

In 1993, no one won because there was a false start - some riders didn't realise and carried on so the race had to be cancelled!

George Stevens is the most successful jockey in Grand National history.

He has won the Grand National five times, but given that his final victory came back in 1870, you probably weren't around to remember this!

Ambush IIHulton Archive
Ambush II, who won in 1900, was owned by Prince Edward VII who became King of England less than a year later

The fastest time ever the course has ever been completed in was by Mr Frisk in 1990, who covered the four miles and 514 yards of the race in just 8 mins 47.8 secs.

Katie Walsh holds the record for the the highest position that a female jockey has finished in the race. She came third in 2012 on a horse called Seabass.

This year, two female jockeys will start the Grand National - Lizzie Kelly will be on board Tea For Two (trained by her mum, Jane Williams) and Rachael Blackmore who is one of Ireland's best jockeys will ride Valseur Lido.