If ever a city’s racecourse serves as a metaphor for the city itself, it is Aintree.
Adversity, beaten dockets, a few legends about plough horses who came good to win the big prize, precipitous ditches, a brook that emerges out of nowhere to cross the course, a plush green sward of parade ring, and pretentious corporate boxes looking down on a famous finish, familiar to TV viewers the world over.
Welcome to Liverpool.
For a countryside race course, Aintree is very suburban. More suburban than Fairyhouse suburban. That gives it a unique feel and ease of access that Cheltenham survivors would die for.
Liverpool was invented by King John as a suitable embarkation point for the conquest of Ireland. In fact the reverse happened. And the story of Aintree is part of that horse-tale.
The steeplechase was invented in Cork, but like many of the Irish it emigrated to Liverpool a hundred and fifty years ago and stayed there.
The idea started, like many great Liverpool stories, in a pub. William Lynn, a Liverpool innkeeper, came up with the idea after a few pints of the watery stuff in 1839, a home was found just north of Liverpool in the parish of Sefton, and its present name, the Grand National Handicap Steeplechase, was adopted in 1847.
When the Irish arrived with sledgehammers and built the Liverpool-Southport railway in 1850, they imported another idea from Ireland, the racing train. The rest is history. Punters have been coming ever since to worship at the shrine of the irregular triangle that is Aintree racecourse, and must be covered twice for a distance of 4 miles 855 yards) and a total of 31 jumps.
Becher’s Brook and Valentine’s Brook are only the most famous. The heart-stopping sound of the thunder of hooves is matches by the excitement of watching them negotiate the gargantuan fences.
Not every race is the endurance test that we have come to love in April or May, but all races in Aintree preserve a little bit of the romance, something they don’t understand where courses are flat and horses blue-blooded.
Then there is the small matter of weight. Weights ranging upward to 12 stone 7 pounds, the equivalent of an extra jockey and a half.
The weights, the distance, and the big jumps make this the race for the biggest and brassiest horses, the sort you wouldn’t want to mess with on a Saturday night in a dark alley, but are glad to put your fiver on during a Saturday afternoon looking down from the corporate box.
A bottle of your finest wine and a tip for the 3.45, waiter please.
For all the tradition, the facilities, an accumulation of oddly shaped stands and pavilions are modern. The parade ring is similar to those found everywhere a few bob has been invested by nag-lovers.
The winners frequently have cold blood ( the heavier draught breeds) mixed with thoroughbred ancestry, although an occasional pure thoroughbred gets through. But Aintree is a place for legend and four-legged folklore about plough horses, workhorses, Red Rum, bought as a crippled seven-year-old, and Ted Walsh, who once informed the astonished Brits that he rode the Queen Mother.
Ah yes Aintree. Triangle of dreams.
Royal Birkdale, home to the Open is in the same parish, but that’s an 18-hole different story.
Liverpool is fast becoming one of he most popular cities for that well deserved weekend break.
With low cost airfares and direct ferry services it has become an all-year round location packed with shows and top class sport events, football and horse racing.
Think Liverpool and then think Beatles.
A visit to the Beatles Story museum is a must but do be sure to take the tour bus that brings you round to Strawberry Fields, Penny lane, The Cavern, and the docklands area.
Merseyside has some 120km of coastline of which 107km is internationally important for nature conservation, stretching from the Victorian town of Southport to Wirral.
And did you know that there have been more films made in Liverpool outside of London?
With 10m visitors a year tourism is vital to the city’s economy and the growing trend in tourism reflects how Liverpool has responded to meet requirements that ensure people keep returning.
Two dates to watch out for this year are the Grand National Three day event from April 6-8 and the British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club from July 20-23rd.
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