We were treated to a fantastic day at Aintree Racecourse. A guided tour and course walk was followed by a sit-down lunch in a private function room and an afternoon’s racing.
December 8th dawned dry and sunny despite a wet and windy forecast. We were greeted with coffee and mince pies, which was a sign of things to come. We were so well looked after throughout the day. Daniel Cooper, Trainee Clerk of the Course began the tour by taking us to the Parade Ring, followed by the jockeys Changing Room which we very lucky to get a glimpse of. We were there fairly early so it was empty apart from a couple of valets working away. There was an area dedicated to A P McCoy, his saddle, boots, body protector, hat etc. We were then taken to the Weighing Room where a discussion was had about weighing in and out. Interesting facts included that jockeys are allowed a 3lb clothing allowance. When weighing back in, jockeys are allowed to be up to 1lb light due to sweating on a hot day. They are allowed to be up to 2lbs heavy due to rain and mud in wet conditions.
On the way to the stables we were shown how a hurdle is constructed and a discussion was had on materials and colours and how much safer jumps are today than they were in the past.
We were privileged to be allowed in to the stable area. Some trainers are superstitious and like the same stable numbers. Stable hygiene is very strict. Stables are emptied, jet washed and fumigated between horses. We had a talk from vets Jim Tipp and Paddy Macandrew and were shown round facilities including a knockdown box where horses can be brought in anaesthetised. Vets are employed by the racecourse to ensure horse welfare which it was evident is of paramount importance. There are a minimum of 3 vets in attendance per race, more for a long race and as many as one vet per 2-3 fences on the National course. Common injuries include over-reach injuries, tendon injuries, stress and catastrophic fractures, usually cannon bone or fetlock joint injuries. When you consider that the load on the fetlock at full speed is 3 tonnes every stride, that’s not surprising!
Amy Bannister-Bell, who had organised the day, then conducted a course walk and it soon became evident that Amy has an encyclopedic knowledge of Aintree, and the Grand National in particular! The course at Aintree always finishes in the same place, the start obviously differs depending on the length of the race. Fence 3 provides the first test on the course, an open ditch. The Chair is the biggest fence on the course, so called because a judge’s chair used to be positioned at one end. Foinavon is named after a horse who won and was the only one not to be taken out by a loose horse in 1967. He won at 100-1! The fences were big and imposing but horse friendly and certainly a lot safer than they used to be in the past when the course included many more upright fences, natural hedges and doubles! Fence construction and horse welfare is a top priority and improvements continue to be made. Since 2013 all National fences have a flexi brush plastic core and since then no horses have been lost in the Grand National as a result of a fall. It was also interesting to see the Catching Pens, of which there are 3, just on the National Course. Loose horses cannot gallop past those fences but instead are caught in the Catching Pens. Amy and Alice form part of the Catching Team who operate at each of the 5 fixtures at Aintree which run over the National fences.
Just as it started to rain we headed off to Paddock Lodge, a private function room where we ate a delicious lunch. To top it all off there was a raffle in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund which I was lucky enough to win! The raffle raised a fabulous £300. We were then able to enjoy an afternoon’s racing at our leisure. Of particular interest were the 2 races running over the National fences.
What a fabulous opportunity to see behind the scenes at such an iconic venue! Many thanks to Amy for all her hard work in organising such a unique, interesting and enjoyable day.
Report by Tessa Ryley BHSI