Grand National Anorak

The Changing Face of the National

Therehave been many changes to the National over the years. The fences themselves have been subject to most debate but this page will deal with other changes that have been made since 1961

Changes to the National Conditions


The race is open for six year olds and upwards who have won a chase over three miles or finished in the first four in a race over the National fences.


For six year olds and above who have won a race valued bewtween 1,500-2,000 during the previous two and a half years or have finished in the first four in a steeplechase over the National fences.


Minimum chase value raised to between 2,000-2,500.


Maximum permitted field of 40 runners introduced. Entry qualifications reduced to just one win in a steeplechase over the previous two & a half years. Best turned out prize and prize for stable employee repsonsible for the winner introduced.


Trophies introduced for winning trainers & jockeys


Minimum age for runners increased to seven years


Fifth & sixth placed prizes introduced.


Jockey qualifications tightened. Only jockeys who have ridden at least fifteen winners over fences are eligible to take place unless they have special dispensation from the Jockey Club (a bid no doubt to attract foreign runners and riders). Minimum rating for horses introduced of 105.


Breeders prize introduced.


Minimum rating increased to 115.


Minimum rating increased to 120 (this move results in the smallest field in the National for thirty six years)


Minimum rating reduced to 110.


Final forty eight hour declaration introduced. Reserves introduced. Three reserves can be declared . They can run in the race if any of the original intended runners drops out by noon on the eve of the race. No intended runner can now run in any race other than the National once the final declarations are announced. This removes any chance of a horse attempting that elusive Topham/National double. Six year olds now eligible again to run.


All intended runners must pass a vetinary inspection on the day of the race.


All runners must have won at least three steeplechases of some recognised turf authority.


Seventh & eighth placed prizes introduced


As well as alterations to the course entry conditions are tightened up. Six years olds are once again ineligible and the minimum rating is increased to 120. In addition all prospective runners must have by March 20th finished in the first four in a steeplechase of three miles or more. The changes result in a much smaller entry but forty runners still line up on April 14th. Ninth & tenth placed prizes introduced.


Not technically a change to the conditions but this year in an attempt to calm things down a little  the formal parade was abolished - gone was the seemingly endless circling in front of the stands whilst the field got into racecard order. Now the horses parade in front of the stands in the order in which they left the paddock. Much better. You read it here first folks.


Since 1984 when the maximum field of forty was introduced the following number of horses have been eliminated. In 2016 PINEAU DE RE became the first Grand National winner not to make the final cut.

1985 1
1987 3
1991 8
1992 9
1993 2
2000 9
2004 3
2012 5
2013 3
 2019                                                                               26

The improving quality of the National field

The minimum weight in the National is ten stone with no allowances for amateur riders or conditional jockeys. With a minimum weight for the race a number of runners will be running from "out of the handicap" i.e. they will be carrying more weight than the handicapper thinks they should carry. Looking at the number of runners in the handicap is a good way of judging how good a National field is. The last few years have a seen a dramatic increase in the quality of the race which has resulted in horses allotted under ten stone by the handicapper having very little or no chance of getting in the race. Since 2004 only one runner has run from out of the handicap and the minimum weight has increased dramatically.

The table below shows the number of horses running out of the handicap and the lowest original allotted weight of a runner since 1996.

199610/26 9-1
199727/36 8-0
199828/36 7-10
199918/32 7-10
2000 7/40 9-7
200114/40 9-8
2002 8/40 9-12
2003 7/40 9-10
2012 1/40 9-9
2013 3/40 9-11
2015none 10-2

The lowest weighted runner ran in 1995 when It`s A Snip ran when allotted just 6-6 in the original handicap. In 1998 Decyborg, Maple Dance and Winter Belle were all allotted just 7-10 in the original handicap. The following year Back Bar & St Mellion Fairway were allotted the same amount. These horses would stand no chance whatsoever in getting into the race nowadays.

Start Time

The National is now the sixth race on the card . It would appear that the Aintree executive are keen to keep up the level of excitement  and make the National as late in the day as they can get away with to maximise the TV audience. Here are the scheduled start times since 1961. (1997 not included)


Changes to Grand National Day

From 1960 until 1975 the Grand National was still part of a mixed flat & jumping meeting. It was the third race on card following the Liverpool Hurdle run over two miles and a one mile sponsored handicap on the flat. After the National there must have been a crashing sense of anticlimax with three very dull races on the level following the great race. In 1976 when flat racing was finally abolished the National became part of an all National Hunt fixture. The programme for National day followed the same pattern from 1976 until 1991. The day started with the Aintree Chase over two miles on the Mildmay Course followed by the Aintree Hurdle and then the National. After the main event were two minor races for which the professional jockeys were not eligible (to enable the top jocks to get over their exertions and keep any media commitments following the National). The fourth race was a handicap chase for amateurs and conditional jockeys and the fifth an amateur riders handicap hurdle. The last race on the card was a two and a half mile novice hurdle. In 1990 the fifth race was limited to amateurs only.

In 1992 the National became the fourth race on the card with the Amateur riders hurdle being replaced with a two mile handicap hurdle to open proceedings. The remainder of the running order was maintained until 1994 when the Novices Hurdle was moved to the Friday and a National Hunt Flat Race which had previously been run earlier in the meeting was added as the last race on the programme. (No doubt encouraging racegoers to leave the course early !). In 1996 the National was brought forward for one year only (I understand in an attempt to maximise the Asian and Hong Kong audience) and was run at its earliest ever start time of 3.00pm with the handicap hurdle being moved to the fifth race on the card. After the bomb scare of 1997 which saw the amateur riders chase and flat race abandoned the card settled down with just a few changes over the next few years. The Aintree Chase was re-named the Red Rum Chase, the amateur riders chase became a very dodgy novices hunter chase and in 2001 the Grade one Maghull Novices Chase was switched to the Saturday as the second event with the Red Rum Chase moving to the Thurday. In 2005 to accommodate the Royal wedding of Prince Charles the National became the fifth event and the current format was adopted with a new race, a mares National Hunt race introduced to end proceedings. 

In 2009 the format was switched further. The Mersey Novices Hurdle previously run on the Thursday opened proceedings. The fourth race is also changed with the 3 mile handicap hurdle swapping places with the 3 mile and 1 furlong handicap steeplechase which had been run on the Friday. Whether it is wise to have a competitive handicap chase as the race before the National is anyones guess but this remains the the warm-up act. The race after the National, the novice Chase for amateurs disappears from the fixture (replaced by a new novice chase run on the Thursday). This format remained until 2013 when for some unknown reason the Aintree Hurdle was moved to day one and the Liverpool Hurdle which started life at Ascot and had opened the meeting from 2004 took its place.

In 2016 it was announced that the National would be put back an hour in an attempt to maximise the TV audience. The programme for Grand National day is now as follows : -

1.45 : Handicap Hurdle - 3 miles, 1/2 furlong

2.25 : Mersey Novices Hurdle - 2 & 1/2 miles

3.00 : Maghull Novices Chase - 2 miles

3.40 : Liverpool Stayers Hurdle - 3 miles, 1/2 furlong

4.20 : Handicap Chase - 3 milea & 1 furlong

5.15 : GRAND NATIONAL CHASE - 4 miles, 2 & 1/2 furlongs

6.10 : Conditional Jockeys & Amateur Riders Hurdle - 2 miles & 1/2 furlong

The order has remained the same.

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