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Despite most of us never picking up a copy of The Racing Post, we all know how to deal with the Grand National – or, at least, think we do.

The best approach is to remember that the first race, in 1839, was won by ‘Lottery’ – and it’s been a bit of a lottery for us all ever since.

If you are planning on betting this year, it is a good precaution to devise a strategy sometime before the event. Plan with care. The Grand National course (about 5 miles over 30 jumps) is rightly feared as the most competitive and dangerous in the world.

On National Day, you’ll notice a good many people – who know nothing about absolutely nothing about racing per se – will suddenly turn out to possess and exhaustive (and exhausting) knowledge of every single incident at every single fence during every single year of the race’s history…

Test for the presence of these dangerous rivals, who may lurk in the midst of even the blandest office sweepstake, by coming out with one of the following:

“Then, of course, there was the time –

…in ’62 when Flying Scud was caught short at the Chair and forced to run out.”

…in ’25, when Dandy Desmond slipped the field only to end up on the floor at Valentine’s.”

…in ’58, when Goatboy would have walked it if his rider hadn’t ruptured his hemorrhoid at the Canal Turn.”

If there is an enthusiastic response, try a different tack. The classic riding instruction for the race itself is to ‘hunt’ round the first circuit without mounting too serious a challenge, and get in ‘at the death’.

To get round in one piece it is a good plan for riders to know a little bit about the course itself – and the fences – a policy which will pay you equally well. (Note that the obstacles are not particularly huge in themselves. The trouble is that most of them are drop fences, i.e. lower on the landing than the take-off side.)

Becher’s Brook

This fence is named after an eccentric cavalry officer who took an annual bath at this ditch in the early days of the race. He famously remarked that the “water tastes disgusting without the benefits of whisky.” The fence looks nothing much as you jump, but has the steepest ‘drop’ of the lot. It is worst, you can warn, on the inside, despite attempts to smooth out the gradient – though on no account attempt to explain this any further.

Valentine’s Brook

Anyone caught canoodling in Valentine’s Brook on National Day is in for a rude surprise. It was known as ‘Second Brook’ but after 1849 was renamed after a show-off horse named Valentine jumped it hind legs first.

The Canal Turn

This is situated at the far end of the course. Not wishing to waste space on this gentle curve, the architect put in a tiny little fence. Unfortunately, this means that horses have to jump it at 30 – whilst performing a 90 degree turn.

The Chair

This is an extremely tall and very narrow, monstrous, green armchair. It is the most horrible fence on the course and is only jumped once. This is just as well, since not horse once it has sat down in it ever wants to get up again.

The Elbow

The final run-in is a long, uphill gallop with a dogleg turn in the middle called the Elbow – and it is here where the race is either won or lost.

For additional bluffing points, try to remember that:

  • The ‘Aintree Iron’, mentioned in the song Lily The Pink by The Scaffold, is not a fence, but actually the vast, Victorian grandstand area where spectators watch the race.
  • The ‘Foinavon Fence’ is the little one between Becher’s and the Canal Turn, where the field was stopped by loose horses in 1967. In the midst of this confusion, the 100/1 outsider, Foinavon – who was dutifully bringing up the rear – managed to thread his way through and got over it. None of the other horses were able to catch him up.
  • Mention ‘Red Rum’ – the horse who won the National a record three times (in 1973, 1974 and 1977). Everyone knows this. But point out, in an offhand way, the less well-known fact that he is buried at the winning post.

For advice on how to compose yourself at Aintree, keep away from The Finishing Post pub and, instead, buy The Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette.

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