The greatest event in the sporting calendar; a race like no other...
The roar of the crowds, the pounding of hooves...
An unrivalled atmosphere...
All of the above might well sound like a massive cliché, but there really is no other way to describe the Grand National other than completely and utterly spellbinding.
Every single incredible connotation and jaw-dropping description associated with the most famous horse race in the world is totally true. But the true splendour of the Grand National has to be experienced first hand to be fully appreciated.
It's one thing to watch the National on TV, but it's another level of breathtaking captivation to actually find yourself amidst the beating heart of it...
As a lifelong horse lover, attending the Grand National had forever been high up on my bucket list. Last year - in 2022 - I was lucky enough to finally pay a visit.
✨ Last year's blog ✨
Our Aintree day out was supposed to be a one off, however we well and truly caught the National bug! I think we booked our 2023 tickets just two days after the 2022 race, and we have actually just secured our 2024 tickets, too!
We met an 80 year old man on the train home who told us that - Covid aside - he hasn't missed a Grand National in 49 years. He had some remarkable stories to tell, and his contagious passion was electric.
Josh and I agreed that we want to be sitting there, on that train between Aintree and Moorfields, in years to come, telling someone that it's our 49th National.
The Grand National is so much more than just another horse race. It holds unrivalled memories for so many. Quite simply, it represents the most joyful of days - days that remain wonderously timeless through the years, passed down the generations: the arrival of April, Easter, the blossoms blooming, the nights turning lighter, and the whole country gripped by National fervour..
The Grand National has always been a huge part of my life, and a source of immense enchantment. As detailed in last year's blog, my ultimate childhood ambition was to be the first girl to win the National (I reckoned this was entirely possible on my 12.2hh Exmoor pony, too!). I read and watched National Velvet again and again, wishing and hoping with my every fibre that it would one day be my story to tell.
I was horse obsessed, and my dreams made my childhood the most marvellous of places.
Dreams are made at the Grand National, and dreams are imagined simply by watching it. For so many years, the Grand National was my guiding light - a whole realm of blissful childhood innocence and ferocious ambition.
Time has since passed. I'm older now, and while my goals have changed, the magic of the Grand National has never left me.
Even now, that one Saturday in April possesses the power to alight such fierce passion within me. I can't quite put my finger on why, but to this day, the Grand National blesses me with the feeling that anything is possible...
✨ Quote taken from 'National Velvet' -
Mrs Brown: 'I too believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life... You're 12 and you think a horse of yours can win the Grand National. Your dream has come early - but remember, it will have to last you for the rest of your life..' ✨
We arrived in a very stormy Liverpool on Friday afternoon. It was a complete washout - I felt really sorry for all those attending Ladies Day!
The rain was relentless and the feral wind gnashed its jaws down by the Docks.
Why I - someone who is petrified of heights - thought this was the perfect day to go on the big wheel will remain one of life's mysteries forevermore.
I basically paid £12 to sit with my head buried in Josh's shoulder, eyes tightly shut, the whole way round.
"I can't work out if that's just the wind or the wheel is actually creaking,"'Josh mused as we neared the top.
A pre-National 'treat' on the Big Wheel... My face says it all!! 🤣
I love Liverpool. The city's diverse history is endless, and there's so much to marvel at.
I'm also a big fan of the people and their banter! I have always found Liverpool to be such a friendly place.
We enjoyed our second stay at the Crowne Plaza on the Docks, which is a fabulous hotel with second-to-none service. As was the case last year, the hotel was full of National-goers - the hardcore, dedicated type who live and breathe horses.
The suspense ahead of race day was already mounting, and it was wonderful to be immersed in it yet again.
On Saturday 15th April 2023 - Grand National day itself - I woke at 6am. I wanted to make the most of every single second of the day ahead.
In stark contrast to Friday's torrential downpour, the sun lazily stretched over the Docks and the sky exploded with rich vibrancy. In the evolving of the dawn, the day's glory was on display for the taking. It was kind of day that took me back to the sunny April afternoons of my childhood when I'd sit glued to the National, my dreams bubbling over.
I sat on the window ledge of our hotel room watching the morning unfold, listening to the heavenly Grand National theme - 'Champions,' by Carl Davis*. As soon as I hear those opening chords, I'm taken to another place. Every dream I've ever had gently trickles to the forefront of my mind until I'm floating through such warm reminiscence.
(* The musical score 'Champions' is taken from the film of the same name, which tells the phenomenal true story of Grand-National-winning Bob Champion and his miraculous horse, Aldiniti. Probably one of the most inspiring films I have ever seen.)
For me, the day's anticipation really started at breakfast, where the surrounding chatter was dedicated entirely to horse-talk; odds, bets, and stats swapped with the fluency of their very own language.
Aintree ready! 🌼
We arrived at Aintree at half 11, just in time for the Parade of Champions. For me, this was the absolute highlight of the day.
The amazing Tiger Roll was rightfully added to the honoury list, and seeing him back at Aintree was a really special moment. (Did anyone else initially back Tiger Roll because they're a fan of the bread, or was that just me...? 🤣 I actually backed Coconut Splash in one of the pre-National races purely because I like Bounty chocolate!)
Led by Silver Birch, the parade consisted of Mon Mome, Neptune Collonges, Pineau De Re, Alvarado, Balthazar King, Blaklion, Vieux Lion Rouge and last but certainly not least, the clan's newest member, Tiger Roll.
They are all such noble and stunning horses, but Neptunes Collonges has always melted my heart. 🥺 He is such a gentleman, and I adore the fact that he regularly visits Alder Hey Children's Hospital.
The gorgeous Alvarado enjoying the
Parade of Champions ❤️
By now, the sun was well and truly casting its spell.
Every inch of Aintree looked grand, and spirits were high.
Despite the magnitude of the crowds and the drinking culture, we have never witnessed anything but good cheer at Aintree. Even when leaving at the end of the day, there is no pushing, shoving or short tempers.
2023 marks 50 years since Red Rum won the first of his staggering THREE Grand Nationals. One of my favourite places at Aintree is Red Rum's Garden, where his statue keeps a watchful eye over the course he loved so much.
As you walk around the ground, you can feel the presence of the greats who have tred the turf before you: the horses, the jockeys, the trainers. The air shimmers with this beautiful, indescribable nostalgia. Being a part of something so magnificent is a truly humbling sentiment. History and the destiny of the present colliding...
Once again, we had bought tickets for the West Tip stand, which were worth every penny. We had a choice of watching each race from either our covered seats, or next to the fence at the side of the track.
Standing next to the track was a unique experience. The power of the passing steeds echoed in my ears as the ground shook underfoot.
The ambiance up in the stands was equally as exhilarating. As the horses approached, everyone rose to their feet and shouted their encouragement. The noise was wildly deafening and completely thrilling!
It's impossible not to get swept up in the electrifying atmosphere.
View from the course-side by the West Tip ✨
✨ Quote taken from 'Champions:'
Bob Champion: 'There are different sorts of courage. Fighting is the lion's courage, but running is the courage of a horse. Running and jumping. A horse will do anything for you, if he's genuine and he loves you.' ✨
After a glorious day in the sun, it was time for the main event.
'The world is watching...'
My picks for the 2023 Grand National were Longhouse Poet, Lifetime Ambition and Hill Sixteen. I'm the first to admit that I'm the type of person who chooses their horses purely based on 'nice names' - I know nothing at all about odds!
I backed Longhouse Poet again attributable to the writing reference. Lifetime Ambition was chosen because I'd actually had a job interview the morning before the National, and it seemed fitting. And Hill Sixteen was added to the mix with my frequent hill running in mind! (I'd also seen a picture of Hill Sixteen a few days before the race, and he was a real beauty 🥰).
While it's nice to dress up and exciting to place a bet, the true meaning of the Grand National represents things that words can't fully explain.
The Grand National is not so much an event, but a tender, deep-routed feeling, infused by ambition, the rediscovery of long-lost dreams, nostalgia of spine-tingling intensity, and an undying belief in magic. ✨
For one day a year, the world really is watching. For one day a year, we exchange our logic for the currency of magic. Allowing oneself to believe in that magic makes us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams .
🌈❤️ This post is dedicated to and in loving memory of Hill Sixteen, Envoye Special & Dark Raven ❤️🌈
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©