If horse racing is the sport of kings, then the Aintree Grand National is surely the sport of champions, writes Gerry Breen.

The Grand National is widely recognised as the most iconic of all handicapped horse- racing events in the world, and the 172nd annual running of this showpiece steeplechase will be held on Saturday, 6th April, at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool.

This year’s event has attracted a strong entry of a hundred and twelve horses, including forty-seven trained in Ireland. This number will be whittled down to forty runners, the maximum number allowed to take part in the race, and by the time the field comes under starter’s orders, an estimated €160 million will have been wagered on the outcome. Most of the money will be in small bets from people who rarely gamble but who just cannot resist a flutter on the big race.

The race, which will have a prize fund of £1 million, will be watched by about 600 million people around the world and about 70,000 at the Merseyside course.

The Grand National is known as the world’s greatest steeplechase, and it is run over a distance of four miles, two furlongs and seventy-four yards. It consists of two laps of the course with sixteen fences, the first fourteen of which are jumped twice.

The great Aintree ‘chase, which is renowned for its atmosphere and excitement, is guaranteed to test the skill, courage and stamina of horse and rider. It is an incomparable spectacle of breath-taking action during which the thirty fearsome fences have to be tackled at high speed.

It has often been said that you may have the best horse in the world at Aintree, but if there is a pile-up in front of him or if he puts a foot wrong in landing at one of the formidable fences, he will be just another also-ran.

It is one of the most unpredictable races in the calendar and that’s why it is such a favourite with the occasional punter who enjoys a flutter without having to spend hours studying form.

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