The Grand National

It's a British institution and probably the most famous horse race on the planet. The public love affair with the National has been going on since 1839 when a horse called Lottery won the day. There have certainly been some famous races and winners since, and an estimated TV audience of 600 million will be tuning in for all the drama and tension. The 163rd running of the race is only days away so let's have a look at what makes the National so great.

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There are many great stories surrounding the Grand National, here are a few of the best:

Devon Loch - 1956 saw one of the most famous sporting defeats in history. The leading horse seemed to have the race won when 50 yards out it mysteriously gave a half-leap sending jockey, Dick Francis, sprawling. Miraculously he managed to stay on board but only to be passed in the straight by eventual winner ESB. Since then Devon Loch has become synonymous with the art of clutching defeat from the jaws of victory. Why he made the leap remains a mystery.

Aldiniti - a real heart warming story. In 1981 the jockey Bob Champion, stole the hearts of the nation with his display of courage and determination. In 1979, Champion had been told he had just months to live but he battled back and survived to ride the winner of the National two years later. Since then he has raised millions for charity.

Red Rum is a name that has become synonymous with the National. The jump specialist has passed into folklore after winning the race three times in 1973, 1974 and 1977. His trainer, Ginger McCain, found himself in the winner's enclosure once more in 2004 when Amberleigh House landed the spoils. Red Rum is buried by the winning post at the course and has a life-size bronze statue in his memory.

The race itself is regarded as one of the toughest steeplechases in the world. There are usually 40 horses taking part but often 10 or less actually finish. The worst finish of all was back in 1928 when out of 42 starters only two horses managed to complete the course.

The race has been made a little easier over the years but it is still a terrifying prospect. The names of the jumps are almost as famous as the race itself. The Chair, Canal Turn and Becher's Brook are, by themselves, enough to get the very best jockeys trembling in their irons. Add to this the fact that there are 30 jumps in all and four and half miles to endure and you will see why this is one of the most gruelling sporting events.

It is reckoned the Aintree festival will attract over £500 million pounds in bets with over half of that going on the National alone.

The action gets underway on the 8th of April and winds up on the 10th, the day of the National itself. You can follow all the action live on the BBC.

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