Former star jockey Barry Geraghty landed the world’s most famous race on Monty’s Pass in 2003 – read his in-depth guide to Aintree’s unique Grand National course.
The start is important. Getting off to a good start, getting your position, getting to where you want to be at the start of the race is important. Indoors or outdoors, to the beat or back, and looking for the right horses.
The fact that they moved the start of the course, closer to the first fence, is a good thing. There is still some noise there at the start, the adrenaline is still in place, but there is not as much noise as before at the start right in front of the stands.
Also, the fact that there isn’t as much of a route to the first fence as there used to be is a good thing. This means that the horses do not enter the first fence as quickly as they used to.
FIRST CLOSING (& 17th CLOSING)
It’s the speed at the first fence that catches a lot of horses. I guess it’s also an unusual looking fence, a spruce fence, different from the normal birch fences they are used to jumping over.
It is not a particularly difficult fence, but horses can jump over it. There is also more adrenaline for the horses with the great terrain and the ambience. Even experienced horses can be affected.
There is an atmosphere that gets the adrenaline pumping for both horse and rider.
SECOND CLOSING (& 18TH CLOSING)
The second fence is just an ordinary fence. Hope you negotiated the first one safely and settled down a bit, so you just hope to meet the second fence on a good stride and go jump it.
THIRD CLOSING (& 19TH CLOSING)
The third closing is the first big test. It’s a big ditch, it’s similar in size to The Chair, but it’s a fence that probably isn’t recognized as a big test.
It’s a wider fence than The Chair, so in theory you should have more room, but there are still a lot of horses around and it’s still a big fence, it’s a big test.
FOURTH CLOSURE AND FIFTH CLOSURE (and 20TH CLOSURE AND 21ST CLOSURE)
The fourth and fifth are simple fences. These are great barriers, they all are, but you skipped the first three, so you hope you pass the fourth and fifth well.
Then you see the small hedge on your left, and the field starts to move to the right as you approach Becher’s Brook.
BECHER’S BROOK (SIXTH CLOSING AND 22ND CLOSING)
Becher is number six, and it’s still a tricky fence, despite the changes. The fall from the landing side is not as severe as it used to be, but there is still a fall.
In addition, the speed catches up with a lot of horses again. They are going faster than before, because the decline is not as severe as it used to be, and that poses problems.
The other thing about Becher is that the scope usually jumps over him at an angle. The fence turns slightly, so jockeys tend to move to their right before the fence so that they can jump over it from an angle to the left.
This can restrict your field of vision as you approach the fence, as the horse in front of you takes a turn before you do yours.
Add that to the gout and it makes it even more serious.
FOINAVON (SEVENTH CLOSING AND 23RD CLOSING)
Foinavon is the smallest fence on the trail, but it does pose problems. It’s also a bit of a bend, and they tend to tilt to the left, so you may run into traffic problems.
Also, after the fall at Becher’s, the horses can expect another fall, so they can get a bit of a surprise when they hit the ground so quickly on the landing side.
TOUR OF THE CANAL (EIGHTH CLOSURE AND 24TH CLOSURE)
Obviously the turn at the Canal Turn is the most severe of the course, it’s a 90 degree turn, much more severe than at Becher’s or Foinavon.
Runners tilt so they can jump the fence at an angle, save land on the landing side, and that can make it all very tight in the corner.
Everyone is heading around the corner so it can get pretty crowded there.
VALENTINE’S (NINTH CLOSING AND 25TH CLOSING)
Valentine’s Day is also a delicate closing, but it is not as delicate as Becher’s. The field is well distributed at this stage.
You have a bit of room, even on the first track, and that makes things a bit easier.
TENTH TO 12TH FENCES (26TH AND 28TH FENCES)
There is a good long descent along this line of fences on the side of the track, from the bend in the canal until you come back to Melling Road before reaching the racetrack proper.
The peloton is happy to deploy, it’s a straight race and you have plenty of time to come back before having to return to the racetrack.
There is a little time to come together, start to take stock of where you are at and where you want to be.
It’s completely different from any other race in that the first mile is about surviving, then you can start to think about your position in the race.
13th and 14th fences (29th and 30th fences)
You therefore return to the racetrack itself, crossing the penultimate and the last fence of the first circuit.
If you’ve survived this far, if you’ve skipped the fences this far, those fences shouldn’t really be a concern.
You should be in a good rhythm now, the horse knows the fences, he knows what to expect, and both of these fences are good, fair fences with no real holds.
THE CHAIR (15TH CLOSING)
Getting ready for The Chair, there is a funnel effect. It’s a narrow fence so there can be a bit of a scramble for the position.
It’s a big ditch. It is unusual for a modern fence to have such a deep ditch and such a high takeoff board. And there is a slight slope in it, so the fence straightens up a bit.
That, and the fact that it’s a fairly narrow fence, probably makes her look taller than she actually is, makes her more intimidating.
Also, if you have a faller, it can drop a couple of them, because of the narrowness of it.
WATER (16TH CLOSING)
Once you’ve negotiated the chair, the water really shouldn’t be a problem for you. Then it’s on the second circuit and start over.
The first fence of the second circuit is just an ordinary fence. If you are in the running, you will have jumped well at this point.
If you are there, you have a good rhythm, the horse is comfortable with what he is doing, the jockey too.
BECHER’S the second time around, you’re still in the middle of the race, just chasing. You would like to think that you have that rhythm, that you are on a level playing field, jumping barriers when you meet them. It’s a long way to get there, but it’s still a long way from home.
There are still slaughterers at this stage, the horses are starting to get caught because they are under pressure, they are not able to maintain this pace. As a general rule of thumb, if you are traveling well and have jumped at this point, you should be fine.
If you start to take a step back, you ask more questions and your horse is probably starting to make mistakes.
TOUR OF THE CANAL the second time the race starts again, then the cracks start to appear.
The next four fences, plus VALENTINE and all the way to the racetrack the horses are a bit on the stretch, and it doesn’t happen to them that easily. A slight mistake at this point and you are probably gone.
Then you come back to the main track. The horses come to the bridle by turning, but it’s still a long way from it, and by the time you reach the last one, they might be gone.
The race can change a lot even from the turn, from the race to the second to last to the line.
It all depends on how you are going at this point. You see horses fly away in the National, they fly around the ELBOW and they go.
But you see others, who apparently travel well on the second to last and just don’t make it home. It’s a long term home but it’s flat. It is obviously the journey that discovers the horses, not a climb.
He’s been almost four and a quarter miles, farther than most of them have ever done in their lives.
But it’s a great race, it’s one of the highlights of the year for me, it’s one of the best buzzes.
Follow the preparations for the Grand National 2021 on Sky Sports Racing and coverage of the race on Sky Sports digital platforms.