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Fifty years since Foinavon: how the National has changed

David Mullins and Rule The World clear one of the famous birch fences en route to victory in the 2016 Grand National
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It is 50 years since Foinavon brought the famous fable of the tortoise and the hare to life at Aintree in possibly the most bizarre Grand Ntional of all time. But just how much has the great race changed since that fateful day when the smallest fence on the famous course caused absolute havoc?


The most iconic element of the Grand National are the famous spruce-topped fences, but they've changed plenty since Foinavon's day. One of them has even changed name, with fence seven (and 23) now named in honour of the 1967 winner.

In 2012 the wooden core of many of the 16 fences were replaced with a more flexible plastic for safety reasons, while a number of fences have been reduced in height slightly over the years, landing areas have been levelled off and screening at the canal turn now prevents horses from being able to see the sharp turn. 

The Grand National is the best race on the best day of the racing year

Perhaps the most tinkered with fence is the iconic Becher's Brook, with the landing side now six to ten inches lower than than at take-off. In one of the earliest editions in 1839, when the fence got its name as Captain Martin Becher sheltered in the brook, the landing side was a whopping three feet lower. The landing side was modified in 1954, 1987, 1989 (when the brook was filled in) and 2011.

In 2009 the course was widened at parts to allow horses to bypass fences if necessary.


The race used to be run over four and a half miles but that was reduced in 2013 when the start was brought forward to bring the field closer to the first fence. The official distance is now 4m2f74y.

Qualifying requirements

For the 2012 edition stricter entry conditions were introduced, with horses required to be at least seven years old, have finished in the first four over three miles or more and have a minimum rating of 120. Jockeys riding in the race must also have ridden a minimum of ten winners over fences.


The handicap has changed markedly since Foinavon's day. Even 25 years ago, when Party Politics won the race under Carl Llewellyn, the handicap now bears very little resemblance to today with 29 of the 40 runners racing from out of the handicap - by as much as 23lb.

These days horses rated 140 are not guaranteed a run and whatever scrapes in on bottom weight on Saturday will be comfortably within the handicap. And that is with Phil Smith compressing the top of the weights in order to encourage the best horses to run.


The single biggest change since Foinavon's day is undoubtedly the prize-money. When Foinavon won the race in 1967 his owners may well have won more backing him at 100-1 because he collected £17,000, including a trophy worth £1,000, for winning the race. Saturday's edition is worth a staggering £1 million, with the fifth placed finisher (£26,500) walking away with considerably more than Foinavon's connections pocketed.

The Bank of England's inflation calculator suggests Foinavon's purse would be the equivalent of £283,160.51 in today's money, but that is almost exactly half of the £561,300 this year's winner will walk away with.

Inflation calculators suggest Foinavon's purse would be the equivalent of £283,160.51 but that is almost half of the £561,300 to be won this year
E.W. Terms
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