This page concentrates on Aintree racecourse and the numerous developments that have been made to the course and its surroundings. There have also been numerous changes to the Aintree fixture list which are detailed below.
Aintree opens its doors on 4th April for the first time since the Second World War. Aintree had been requisitioned during the war and had been used as a storage depot with hundreds of American serviceman being stationed there. That Mrs Topham was able to get the racecourse ready for the National meeting when the last troops had left the course in February is nothing short of a miracle and her efforts in getting the racecourse and facilities in a race-worthy condition this year was probably her greatest achievement. The three day meeting as usual was a mixed affair with the Coronation & Liverpool Hurdles being run on the Thursday, the Grand National on the Friday and the Lancashire Hurdle, Stanley & Becher Chases on the Saturday. This is the one and only time that the National is the first race of the meeting to be run over the famous fences. The Becher Chase is a surprise addition as the race was traditionally run at the Autumn meeting. The first post war Autumn meeting takes place between 6th-9th November. As before the war it is a four day mixed fixture with a race over the National fences on each day. The Champion Chase which had normally been run on the day after the National is run on the Wednesday with the Molyneux, Valentine and Grand Sefton Chases run thereafter.
For the first time the National is run on a Saturday. The Foxhunters is re-introduced, and the Becher Chase which is run on the Thursday of the National meeting makes a surprise return to the first day of the Autumn meeting. This replaces the Champion Chase which means that this year we have two Becher Chases and no Champion Chase. The Becher Chase remains part of the Autumn meeting and whilst the order of the four races on the National course during this meeting changes frequently the programme for the four days remains the same for the next four years.
After a year away the Champion Chase returns to the Friday of the National meeting.
In celebration of Messrs Tophams Ltd buying the racecourse from Lord Sefton the National meeting is extended to four days. A new steeplechase over the National fences, the Topham Trophy is run over 2 miles & 6 furlongs becoming the centrepiece of the first day. This is the first new race over the National fences since the Molyneux Chase was introduced in 1929. The Foxhunters is run over the full National course & distance for the last time.
The Champion Chase first run in 1881 is run for the fifty-ninth and final time on the Thursday of the meeting. The Foxhunters is run over 2 miles 7 1/2 furlongs for the first time.
The Autumn meeting is reduced to three days. The Valentine Chase & Molyneux Chase are run on the Thursday. For the Valentine Chase, a race first run in 1885 this is the final edition. The race was run fifty four times.
The notorious Stanley Chase, a race for novices is run for fifty second & final time. A controversial race where it was not unusual for the whole field to fall, it is now considered obsolete with the construction of the new Mildmay course underway. This new course will be designed as an introduction for new horses to the National course with smaller versions of the National fences. The Abbeystead Hurdle, a race for three year olds over the now defunct distance of 1 mile & 5 furlongs is run for the last time at the Autumn meeting. This leaves just two hurdle races at meeting, the November & Prospect Hurdles. The first meeting on the new Mildmay course scheduled for 3rd & 4th December is abandoned due to frost.
The Mildmay course is belatedly opened with a two day fixture in December. This is the first all National Hunt meeting ever staged at Aintree. The Grand National meeting is reduced to three days.
The Mildmay Chase is run for the first time. It will become the main attraction of the Friday of the National meeting and will remain until 1975 the only steeplechase run over the Mildmay course during this meeting. The race is now run on Grand National day as the Maghull Novices Chase and has Grade One status.
The Grand National reverts to a Friday with the Topham & Foxhunters Chase switched to a Saturday. The move which was made in an attempt to halt dwindling attendances is not a success and the race is switched back the following year. Mrs Topham reintroduces the Liverpool Summer Cup, run at Aintrees first evening meeting. This flat only fixture is not a success and there will be no more summer fixtures until 1975.
The first New Year fixture is run over the Mildmay course. The two day meeting extends the number of National Hunt days at the course to four.
The Abbeystead Hurdle is re-introduced to the November meeting. It is now run over two miles and is open to horses of all ages.
A new sponsored handicap hurdle, the Schweppes Gold Trophy attracts a massive forty one runners and is the main event on the first day of the National meeting. Unfortunately, outraged at what is perceived to be Mrs Tophams lack of hospitality to the sponsors the race is moved to Newbury the following year. Mrs Topham clearly missed a trick here as the race goes on to become one of the most competitive betting heats of the jumps season.
In a sign of things to come the Yuletide fixture is held for the last time on 2nd & 3rd December.
JULY 1964 MRS TOPHAM ANNOUNCES THAT SHE IS SELLING THE RACECOURSE TO CAPITAL & COUNTIES PROPERTY DEVELOPERS WITH A VIEW TO THE RACECOURSE BEING REDEVELOPED FOR HOUSING. THIS STARTS THE ERA OF THE "LAST NATIONAL" AND A CLOUD HANGS OVER AINTREE FOR THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS.
The Autumn meeting is run for the final time. The meeting reduced this year to two days is staged earlier than usual on the 29th & 30th October. The thirty third Molyneux Chase is run on the Friday and the eighty-eighth Grand Sefton and fifty second Becher Chases on the Saturday. Forest Prince who will later wow Aintree with his front running display in the National wins the last steeplechase at this popular meeting.The New Year meeting is also staged for the final time.
The three day Grand National meeting is staged but it will remain (with a couple of brief exceptions) the only meeting run at Aintree for twenty five years. The jumps races remain the same until 1975 with the Topham & Foxhunters run on the Thursday, the Lancashire Hurdle, Mildmay Chase (now the only race run on the Mildmay course) and two divisions of the novices Coronation Hurdle on the Friday and the Liverpool Hurdle and National on the Saturday.
To great delight and surprise a one day Autumn meeting is run on 28th October "by popular demand" as announced by Mrs Topham. The Saturday fixture sees the re-introduction of the Grand Sefton under the guise of the "William Hill Grand National Trial". It attracts a strong field of eleven including the 1971 National winner Specify, twice placed Black Secret and the dual Cheltenham Gold Cp winner L`Escargot. Also on the card is the Waterloo Hurdle (a race name revived from the New Year meeting) and also a two mile five furlong event over the National fences, the BP Chase which attracts a five runner field including 1970 National winner Gay Trip. The three flat races include a one off renewal of the Liverpool Autumn Cup. Sadly whilst the meeting attracts a good crowd the venture is not repeated.
THE LAST NATIONAL MEETING IS STAGED UNDER THE MANAGEMENT OF THE TOPHAM FAMILY WITH THE SALE OF THE RACECOURSE TO LOCAL PROPERTY DEVELOPER BILL DA VIES.
The Coronation, Lancashire & Liverpool Hurdles are run for the final time. Despite Aintrees long standing association with jumping, Bill Davies turns his attentions to the flat and stages two flat meetings in June and July. The first two days run on a Wednesday & Thursday are very mediocre affairs with the first day having races named after Shakesperian characters. Run on hard going field sizes are small with the first days card including one race with just three runners and another with two. The second meeting on a Friday & Saturday sees the re-introduction of the Aintree Summer Cup over one mile & five furlongs. All races are started by flag. By all accounts attendances are dire, field sizes are small (of the twenty four races only four attracted double figure fields) and the meetings are not held again.
The National meeting is revived under Ladbrokes management. The bookmakers have come to the Nationals rescue after the unfortunate meetings run by the Davies team. Under the astute leadership of the newly installed clerk of the course John Hughes flat racing comes to an end with four races run on the Thursday. The Knowsley Stakes, a one mile five furlong handicap is the last flat race run at Aintree and the Liverpool Spring Cup is run for the final time. The Friday and Saturday are jumps only affairs which means that for the first time in its history the National is part of an all National Hunt card. The Aintree Hurdle is run for the first time as the Templegate Hurdle.
The Thursday is run as an all National Hunt fixture for the first time. The Foxhunters is slightly reduced in distance and now has the same start as the Topham. A record one hundred and twenty one runners contest the six races.
The Topham Trophy is renamed the Kaltenberg Pils Chase thus severing the last tie with the Topham family. The race will be run in a variety of guises for the next six years.
DECEMBER 1983 - THE RACECOURSE AND THE GRAND ANTIONAL ARE SAVED. THE JOCKEY CLUB BUYS THE COURSE FROM BILL DAVIES AND THE COURSE IS NOW RUN UNDER THE AUSPICES OF RACECOURSE HOLDINGS TRUST
A new steeplechase over the Mildmay course (run in 2007 as the Betfair Bowl) is run for the first time as the Perrier Jouet Cup. This race is designed as a consolation for Gold Cup contenders and is now the highlight of the first day of the meeting.
The Foxhunters Chase is switched to the Friday. Now each day of the National meeting will have a race over the National course.
The former Topham Trophy is re-named the John Hughes Trophy in honour of the clerk of the course who had died suddenly the previous autumn. A National Hunt flat race is held at the National meeting for the first time.
What is now the richest race after the National, the Melling Chase is run for the first time. Highlight of the Friday card it is designed to be a championship race for two and a half mile steeplechasers who at the time do not have a championship race at the Cheltenham Festival.
On 21st November the first additional meeting for twenty years is run. The meeting, run on the penultimate Saturday in November is christened the "Becher" meeting with at its heart a new race run over the National fences. Whilst an old racename is revived the Becher Chase is a new race with a new distance, three miles & three furlongs with the start at the Canal Turn with Valentines being the first of twenty two fences. The new race attracts a disappointing field of nine but amongst the entries are Gold Cup winner Cool Ground and former National hero Seagram. The meeting is held in appalling conditions with the wind and rain lashing the course throughout but it is deemed a success and is now a well established highlight of the first half of the season.
The Becher meeting introduces a second race over the National fences with another new distance. The John Parrett Memorial Trophy over 2 miles & half a furlong starts at the National start but will comprise just one circuit with fourteen fences (missing out the Chair and water jump).
Flat racing returns to the National meeting for one race only. A charity race over six furlongs in aid of the Bob Champion cancer appeal fund is run as the first event on Grand National day. The race is open to jockeys who have won the National and is won by the 1979 hero Maurice Barnes. Aintree stages its first ever jumps evening fixtures with two meetings in May. Neither meeting will feature any races over the National course. The first is a one off special meeting arranged to celebrate Red Rums thirtieth birthday. Six races are run over the Mildmay course all in honour of the greatest National hero of all. Red Rum makes his final appearance at the course he made his own. The first "Ladies" evening is held later in the month .The Becher meeting is extended to two days meaning that seven days racing have been run at Aintree this year. The John Parrett Chase is moved to the Friday but only attracts three runners. Field sizes are worryingly small with just twenty five runners on the first day (a record as far as I am aware) and thirty three on the second.
The John Parrett Memorial Trophy is switched to the Mildmay course. The race had not been popular with trainers having attracted fields of seven, five and three during its lifetime. The race name has now been dropped but the John Parrett Memorial Trophy is awarded for one of the chases at the October fixture.
The National is run on a Monday at 5.00pm following the evacuation of the racecourse on the Saturday after a coded bomb warning from the IRA was received during the third race. The National is the only race on the card meaning that the amateur riders chase and National Hunt Flat race are abandoned. A new race is run over the National fences at the Becher meeting. The Sefton Handicap Chase is run over the Topham & Foxhunters distance and is confined to amateur riders. It attracts just seven runners and is probably the worst race ever run over the National course. With the favourite disappearing at the very first fence and two other runners nearly a fence behind after the water the Paul Nicholls trained With Impunity wins in a canter in a very dull race. The official distances say it all : distance-26 lengths-28 lengths-distance. The race is not run again.
Having suffered small fields as a two day fixture, the Becher meeting is reduced to one day
The John Hughes & the Foxhunters swap days. The Becher meeting is staged on a Sunday, the first Sunday fixture in the courses history.
An additional Sunday fixture is run on 22nd October. As with the May evening meeting no races are staged on the National course. The seven events attract competitive fields and the meeting is covered by the BBC who broadcast three races.
Following criticism over fatalities at the previous years meeting both the John Hughes & the Foxhunters are reduced slightly in distance by half a furlong to shorten the run to the first fence.
Aintree acknowledges the Topham family by re-naming the John Hughes Memorial, the Topham Chase. The October meeting is abandoned due to high winds. This is the first meeting at Aintree lost to the weather since 1954 when the last day of the Autumn meeting was abandoned due to waterlogging.
The Becher meeting reverts to two days. Run over the weekend, the first day sees the re-introduction of the Grand Sefton Chase, run over the Topham/Foxhunters course. The first four races form part of the Betfair Jockeys challenge a competition between two teams of Irish & English jockeys. The competition lasts for two years.
The Liverpool Hurdle, a race over three miles opens the National meeting. This race was formerly run the day before the meeting as the Long Distance Hurdle at Ascot
The October meeting is extended to two days with another name from the past being revived. The Molyneux Chase however bears no resemblance to its former state as it is run over the Mildmay course. A one off additional evening fixture is staged on a Thursday in mid June. The Becher meeting is rebranded as day two of the North West Masters series with the first day run at Haydock Park (another pointless piece of racecourse marketing)
Two additional evening meetings are staged on Fridays in May and June bringing the total number of three evening meetings run at Aintree and nine days sport in total.
The Becher meeting is moved to the first Saturday in December.
Just two evening meetings this year, one in May and one in June. There are now eight racedays.
Aintree on Becher Chase day 2011 (taken by the Grand National Anorak)
The popular "Jump Sunday" when Aintree opened its doors to the people of Liverpool is abolished due to vandalism. In its heyday thousands had flocked to the course on the Sunday before the National meeting to walk the course and inspect the fences. Mrs Topham does allow a small funfair to be set up on the Embankment near the first fence. This is the last time such an attraction is allowed on the course.
All fences except for the Open Ditches , the Chair and water jump are sloped on the take off side.
A housing estate is built on the other side of the Canal at Valentines. If Mrs Topham had had her way originally the same fate would have befell the whole racecourse.
The large chimney which is part of the Old British Raon factory next to the course is removed before this years race. It had been an unwelcome background feature of many photographs taken of the Chair
Lord Seftons private box situated by Valentines is used for the last time. It will remain boarded up until it is demolished after the 1978 race.
To mark his first year in charge of Aintree, new owner , property developer and local tycoon Bill Davies in an attempt to maximise Aintrees commercial possibilities erects a huge advertising hoarding which completely dwarfs the Embankment. Grandly entitled "The Largest Advertisement Poster in the World" it carries several adverts for the leading brands of the day. It is truly ghastly but does at least give an opportunity for a few brave locals to try and get a unique vantage point of the race by hanging onto the top. It lasts for the two "Davies" Nationals but thankfully is removed in time for the first Ladbrokes staged National in 1976.
The old Number Board by Valentines is used for the last time. It will remain in various stages of decay until it is partially dismantled and used as part of an advertisement hoarding which it remains to this day. The old spruce Mildmay course fences are replaced with regulation Birch fences.
The flat course at Aintree is used for the last time on the Thursday of the meeting. The Knowsley Stakes run over 1 mile 5 furlongs is the last flat race run under Jockey Club rules.
The clock on the top of the Number Board in front of the stands is removed.
Lord Seftons private stand and the Canal Turn Grandstand are demolished after the meeting.
The old white winning post on the stands side of the course is removed.
Aintrees unnatractive next door neighbour, the British Raon factory is demolished. The site is now used as a retail park. Aintrees motor racing circuit which has not staged any Grand Prix races for over twenty years but had still been used for Touring Car races is used for the last time as a competetive circuit.
A temporary stand comprising private boxes and restaurant facilities is erected by the start. Such facilies will be added to and get bigger over the following years as Aintree starts to embrace the corporate racegoer.
Aintrees delapidated stands which have been for years the butt of many a joke and criticism and which came to symbolise the general decline of the racecourse in the sixties and seventies are finally demolished in time for this years race. Only the County Stand remains from the original buildings. Replacing the demolished stands are a temporary stand named the Aintree Stand and a new raised viewing area situated opposite the Chair. The last remaining rails from the old five furlong course which ran down the centre of the Mildmay Course have disappeared in time for the meeting.
Philip Blackers Red Rum statue is unveiled by the Princess Royal on Grand National day. The County Stand is rennovated and extended.
The flagpoles which have dominated the skyline behind the Embankment are removed (it had been a very long time since they had all been used). The water jump is used on the Mildmay course for the last time.
Bechers , Valentines and the tenth fence are modified. The brooks of Bechers and Valentines are filled in . The landing side of Bechers is raised and the course widened to lessen the turn after the fence. Whilst the time had come for Bechers to be changed there appears little justification in the alterations made to the other fences. The Mildmay course is also re-aligned which results in the water jump no longer forming part of the course. The Number Board in front of the stands also disappears.
After seven years of relying on temporary stands a new permanent grandstand is opened by the Queen Mother on the first day of the meeting. The stand is named after racings finest ambassador. The Grand National parade is proceeded by a fanfare for the first time. Aaron Copelands "Fanfare for the Common Man" is blasted out over the tannoy.
The starters rostrum is moved to the inside of the course. Bearing in mind the number of false starts we have had since I am not sure this has been a good move.
The original Chair is removed and is re-sited by Red Rums statue behind the stands. A plastic replica is put in its place by the fence. The Fanfare is played live for the first time as Red Rum leads the Grand National parade for what turns out to be the last time.
Red Rum dies in October and is buried by the winning post.
Building has started on houses on the old railway sidings which were situated behind the Embankment. The racecourse is now surrounded by housing on each side.
To celebrate his fiftieth and final National commentary a bronze bust of legendary commentator Peter O`Sullevan is unveiled by the Princess Royal. The statue is situated by the paddock. After the meeting part of the County Stand is demolished to make way for a new grandstand.
The massive Princess Royal Stand with its Cheltenham style flat roof is opened. It has a large betting hall on the ground floor and as well as private boxes it will also house the racecourse offices. It also gives racegoers a covered standing area on top of the stand affording excellent views of the National course.
An all-weather strip is laid on the inside of the Mildmay Course. The National anthem is sung before the parade. This will continue for the last two years of the Martell sponsorship.
After an unprecedented number of fallers at Bechers during the National meeting including nine on the first circuit of the National (there are no fatalities) Bechers is quietly modified. The brook is covered by plastic mats. This significant change is made without any publicity.
The racecourse is forced to go through a massive re-painting exercise as the Nationals sponsors change from Martell to John Smith. Racegoers drink in the Red Rum bar for the last time as it is demolished after the May evening meeting to make way for stage one of the massive re-development which will change the face of the Aintree forever. The old Weighing Room and winners enclosure (which is incidentally the only covered winners enclosure in the UK) is used for the last time at the Becher meeting in November.
Phase one of the Aintree re-development is unveiled. A new parade ring, weighing room and winners enclosure (artificially fitted with a small umbrella-like roof). are opened by Dick Francis at the beginning of the National meeting. The old toilet block and press room at the side of the old weighing room complex have been demolished and the weighing room is now a "trendy wine bar/museum".
Phase two of the re-development is unveiled. It is spectacular, the two new grandstands named after the Earl of Derby and Lord Sefton give spectacular views over the course which make it possible for the first time to completely follow a race on the National course. The winners of all races now parade in front of the stands a la Cheltenham. Even the die hard Aintree anoraks like myself have to admit to being impressed at the new look Aintree.
Following criticism over two fatalities in the National a number of modifications are made to the course. Levelling work is undertaken on the landing side of the first fence to reduce the drop. The height of the fourth fence is reduced in height by two inches to four foot ten inches. Statistically this fence and Bechers have caused the most National fallers. The landing side of Bechers is re-profiled to reduce the drop by between four and five inches. The height of the toe boards is increased to fourteen inches to assist the horses in determining the base of the fence. The new look is unveiled at the Becher meeting.
It didn`t quite work - whilst in my view it was no fault of the fences, two horses were killed during the 2012 National and once again Aintree was faced with growing criticism (in the racing press as well as from the usual suspects). The start had been pretty woeful too. Further changes were made. The start was moved half a furlong reducing the distance of the race to keep the horses away from the noise of the crowd at the start. The preliminaries were also shorted. The formal parade was abolished with the horses parading briefly in front of the stands but in the order they left the paddock, not in racecard order (nice to see my website was consulted on that one). More importantly were the changes to the fences. Having successfully been trailed with four fences during the Becher Chase meeting the core to all fences was altered. The traditional timber frames were replaced with a more forgiving plastic structure allowing the horses to brush across the fence rather than hit the old wooden one. The aim was to make the fences look more forgiving without changing their unique appearance. As all fences remained covered in spruce the differences were not apparent to the naked although very obvious in the races themselves which saw a drastic reduction in the amount of fallers. In the National itself whilst a few horses did unseat their riders. there were only two falls.
To honour A P McCoys last National ride the old weighing room and winners enclosure is renamed "McCoys" which is painted on a rather garish lime green background. The purist in me shuddered when I saw it as it is painted over the old lettering. I hope it is just a one year thing.