Aintree racecourse througout the years
Aintree before racing on Becher Chase day 2011.
This just touches the surface, everything you want to know about the history of Aintree and the racecourse is contained in John Pinfolds excellent book "Aintree the History of the Racecourse". This is a brief precis of developments from 1960 onwards
The popular "Jump Sunday" when Aintree opened its doors to the people of Liverpool is abolished due to vandalism. In its heyday thousands had flocked to the course on the Sunday before the National meeting to walk the course and inspect the fences. Mrs Topham does allow a small funfair to be set up on the Embankment near the first fence. This is the last time such an attraction is allowed on the course.
All fences except for the Open Ditches , the Chair and water jump are sloped on the take off side.
A housing estate is built on the other side of the Canal at Valentines. If Mrs Topham had had her way originally the same fate would have befallen the whole racecourse.
The large chimney which is part of the Old British Raon factory next to the course is removed before this years race. It had been an unwelcome background feature of many photographs taken of the Chair
Lord Seftons private box situated by Valentines is used for the last time. It will remain boarded up until it is demolished after the 1978 race.
To mark his first year in charge of Aintree, new owner, property developer and local tycoon Bill Davies in an attempt to maximise Aintrees commercial possibilities erects a huge advertising hoarding which completely dwarfs the Embankment. Grandly entitled "The Largest Advertisement Poster in the World" it carries several adverts for the leading brands of the day. It is truly ghastly but does at least give an opportunity for a few brave locals to try and get a unique vantage point of the race by hanging onto the top. It lasts for the two "Davies" Nationals but thankfully is removed in time for the first Ladbrokes staged National in 1976.
The old Number Board by Valentines is used for the last time. It will remain in various stages of decay until it is partially dismantled and used as part of an advertisement hoarding which it remains to this day. The old spruce Mildmay course fences are replaced with regulation Birch fences.
The flat course at Aintree is used for the last time on the Thursday of the meeting. The Knowsley Stakes run over 1 mile 5 furlongs is the last flat race run under Jockey Club rules.
The clock on the top of the Number Board in front of the stands is removed.
Lord Seftons private stand and the Canal Turn Grandstand are demolished after the meeting.
The old white winning post on the stands side of the course is removed.
Aintrees unnatractive next door neighbour, the British Raon factory is demolished. The site is now used as a retail park. Aintrees motor racing circuit which has not staged any Grand Prix races for over twenty years but had still been used for Touring Car races is used for the last time as a competitive circuit.
A temporary stand comprising private boxes and restaurant facilities is erected by the start. Such facilies will be added to and get bigger over the following years as Aintree starts to embrace the corporate racegoer.
Aintrees delapidated stands which have been for years the butt of many a joke and criticism and which came to symbolise the general decline of the racecourse in the sixties and seventies are finally demolished in time for this years race. Only the County Stand remains from the original buildings. Replacing the demolished stands are a temporary stand named the Aintree Stand and a new raised viewing area situated opposite the Chair. The last remaining rails from the old five furlong course which ran down the centre of the Mildmay Course have disappeared in time for the meeting.
Philip Blackers Red Rum statue is unveiled by the Princess Royal on Grand National day. The County Stand is rennovated and extended.
The flagpoles which have dominated the skyline behind the Embankment are removed (it had been a very long time since they had all been used). The water jump is used on the Mildmay course for the last time.
Bechers, Valentines and the tenth fence are modified. The brooks of Bechers and Valentines are filled in. The landing side of Bechers is raised and the course widened to lessen the turn after the fence. Whilst the time had come for Bechers to be changed there appears little justification in the alterations made to the other fences. The Mildmay course is also re-aligned which results in the water jump no longer forming part of the course. The Number Board in front of the stands also disappears.
After seven years of relying on temporary stands a new permanent grandstand is opened by the Queen Mother on the first day of the meeting. The stand is named after racings finest ambassador. The Grand National parade is proceeded by a fanfare for the first time. Aaron Copelands "Fanfare for the Common Man" is blasted out over the tannoy.
The starters rostrum for the Grand National is moved to the inside of the course. Bearing in mind the number of false starts we have had since I am not sure this has been a good move.
The original Chair is removed and is re-sited by Red Rums statue behind the stands. A plastic replica is put in its place by the fence. The Fanfare is played live for the first time as Red Rum leads the Grand National parade for what turns out to be the last time.
Red Rum dies in October and is buried by the winning post.
Building has started on houses on the old railway sidings which were situated behind the Embankment. The racecourse is now surrounded by housing on each side.
To celebrate his fiftieth and final National commentary a bronze bust of legendary commentator Peter O`Sullevan is unveiled by the Princess Royal. The statue is situated by the paddock. After the meeting part of the County Stand is demolished to make way for a new grandstand.
The massive Princess Royal Stand with its Cheltenham style flat roof is opened. It has a large betting hall on the ground floor and as well as private boxes it will also house the racecourse offices. It also gives racegoers a covered standing area on top of the stand affording excellent views of the National course.
An all-weather strip is laid on the inside of the Mildmay Course. The National anthem is sung before the parade. This will continue for the last two years of the Martell sponsorship.
After an unprecedented number of fallers at Bechers during the National meeting including nine on the first circuit of the National (there are no fatalities) Bechers is quietly modified. The brook is covered by plastic mats. This significant change is made without any publicity.
The racecourse is forced to go through a massive re-painting exercise as the Nationals sponsors change from Martell to John Smith. Racegoers drink in the Red Rum bar for the last time as it is demolished after the May evening meeting to make way for stage one of the massive re-development which will change the face of the Aintree forever. The old Weighing Room and winners enclosure (which is incidentally the only covered winners enclosure in the UK) is used for the last time at the Becher meeting in November.
Phase one of the Aintree re-development is unveiled. A new parade ring, weighing room and winners enclosure (artificially fitted with a small umbrella-like roof). are opened by Dick Francis at the beginning of the National meeting. The old toilet block and press room at the side of the old weighing room complex have been demolished and the weighing room is now a "trendy wine bar/museum".
Phase two of the re-development is unveiled. It is spectacular, the two new grandstands named after the Earl of Derby and Lord Sefton give spectacular views over the course which make it possible for the first time to completely follow a race on the National course. The winners of all races now parade in front of the stands a la Cheltenham. Even the die hard Aintree anoraks like myself have to admit to being impressed at the new look Aintree.
Following criticism over two fatalities in the National a number of modifications are made to the course. Levelling work is undertaken on the landing side of the first fence to reduce the drop. The height of the fourth fence is reduced in height by two inches to four foot ten inches. Statistically this fence and Bechers had caused the most National fallers. The landing side of Bechers is re-profiled to reduce the drop by between four and five inches. The height of the toe boards is increased to fourteen inches to assist the horses in determining the base of the fence. The new look is unveiled at the Becher meeting.
It didn`t quite work - whilst in my view it was no fault of the fences, two horses were killed during the 2012 National and once again Aintree was faced with growing criticism (in the racing press as well as from the usual suspects). The start had been pretty woeful too. Further changes were made. The start was moved half a furlong reducing the distance of the race to keep the horses away from the noise of the crowd at the start. The preliminaries were also shortened. The formal parade was abolished with the horses parading briefly in front of the stands but in the order they left the paddock, not in racecard order (nice to see my website was consulted on that one). More importantly were the changes to the fences. Having successfully been trailed with four fences during the Becher Chase meeting the core to all fences was altered. The traditional timber frames were replaced with a more forgiving plastic structure allowing the horses to brush across the fence rather than hit the old wooden one. The aim was to make the fences look more forgiving without changing their unique appearance. As all fences remained covered in spruce the differences were not apparent to the naked eye although very obvious in the races themselves which saw a drastic reduction in the amount of fallers. In the National itself whilst a few horses did unseat their riders. there were only two falls.
To honour A P McCoys last National ride the old weighing room and winners enclosure is renamed "McCoys" which is painted on a rather garish lime green background. The purist in me shuddered when I saw it as it is painted over the old lettering. I hope it is just a one year thing.