Can The Grand National Festival Ever Compete With The Cheltenham Festival?

Can The Grand National Festival Ever Compete With The Cheltenham Festival?

We are only just brushing ourselves down from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival blues, yet in just over two weeks time we have another major meeting to look forward to at Aintree, for the world's most famous steeplechase - the Randox Health Grand National.

Often regarded as ‘The Home of Jump Racing’, The Cheltenham Festival - held in early March, is never ever short of excitement and provided us with many more stories last week for the years to come.

Originating in 1860, the event sees some of the best British and Irish-trained horses locking horns for the finals of the respective divisions.

The Festival hosts several Grade One races including The Stayers Hurdle, The Champion Hurdle, The Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

It’s recognised as a crucial event for National Hunt fans and the pinnacle of the season, as they prepare for four days of top-class horse racing, with the best of the best competing against one another.

But can the Grand National meeting - arguably more famous than the Cheltenham Festival internationally, compete with the heights of the most prestigious week in jump's racing?

The Spring Festival at Aintree only lasts three days rather than four, and is only really famous for one race.

aintree races

That one race is the National itself - held annually on Merseyside in the first couple of weeks in April, was first run in 1839, over twenty years before the founding of the Cheltenham Festival.

Run over a distance of four miles and two furlongs, with thirty unique fences to tackle, it is one of the rarest handicap steeplechases around, due to it's excessive test of stamina and longevity for the participants involved.

It is also the most valuable jump race in Europe, with a prize fund of £1 million in 2017, almost double the purse distributed for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

An event that is prominent in British culture, the race is popular amongst many people who do not normally watch or bet on horse racing at other times of the year, attracting far larger crowds to the racecourse or to the television or radio sets.

The course over which the race is run features much larger fences than those found on conventional National Hunt tracks, and are exclusive to the National track at Aintree.

The course is so large in fact, it requires three commentators to be positioned at different areas of the track.

Many of the unique fences, particularly Becher's Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn, have become famous in their own right and, combined with the distance of the event, create what has been called "the ultimate test of horse and rider".

The event is so special and like no other, but many get the impression that it does not compete with the Cheltenham Festival.

One happens so quick after the other, Aintree representatives have done all they can to ensure it is not just about one big race under the spotlight.

tiger roll

Admittably, only so often do you get a World Cup final, or the men's 100 metres final at the Olympics - therefore the same perspective or value is placed for the Grand National: it only comes round once in a blue moon.

However, there is plenty of other racing to look forward to, as most of the Irish contingent head home from Cheltenham, the Aintree provides horses to perhaps try something different in the seasons to come, or to consolidate their place in the division they are in.

There are high-profile Grade Ones such as the Betway Bowl Chase over three miles, the Melling Chase and Aintree Hurdle, which are both over two-and-a-half.

Of course, some of the Irish can stick around, including when last year, the Willie Mullins-trained Min attempted to step-up to 2m5f.

His colours however were lowered by the grey Politologue - who in fairness, his efforts towards tackling the three-mile division have since halted, and he actually finished second best to Altior in the Champion Chase last week which there was no shame in doing.

But it provides further Grade One racing for horses to develop their career. Annie Power - also trained by Willie Mullins, and the mare Apple's Jade of Gordon Elliott's yard, have both made trips to Aintree triumphant ones.

The Aintree Festival is no slouch. There are still stories to be made, and rather than comparing the two festivals together, we should simply sit back and relish both of them.

It won't be long until our favourite jump's stars head for their holidays over the summer.