The Grand National is the horseracing highlight of the year for many. One of the reasons for the Aintree showpiece’s popularity is the huge challenge it provides for horses, jockeys, trainers, and punters.
At a distance of four miles two and a half furlongs around two circuits of Aintree’s Grand National course, taking on 30 of jump racing’s most difficult fences on ground that could be anything from heavy to firm, it is no surprise that more than half of the 40-runner field regularly don’t finish the race.
As with any National Hunt race, a major reason for not completing the course is falling when jumping an obstacle. At the Grand National there are 16 fences on the first circuit and 14 on the second circuit. These fences range in height from 2ft 6in all the way up to the Chair at a lofty 5ft 2in. Runners will also need to clear up to 10ft for the Open Ditches and 12ft for the Water Jump.
Taking these fences at almost 30mph, there is little margin for error. Outside of a mistimed jump or a stumble on landing, there are several other ways that a runner or rider can be taken out of contention. Here we’ll look and the all the different reasons for not finishing the Grand National and how often each of these has happened in recent years.
Grand National Non Finishers By Year
|Year||Fell||Unseated||Brought Down||Pulled Up||Other||Total|
Reasons for Not Finishing the Grand National
The nature of the Grand National means that many horses will fall when attempting one of the thirty jumps. However, this is just one of the ways a horse will not finish. The reasons will be shown in the race results and will also be mentioned in running by the race commentator. Below we’ll explain what each of these terms mean.
When a horse falls, it is because they have lost their footing after making a mistake jumping a fence. They might take off too early or too late and catch the fence with their front or hind legs. They might also land awkwardly on the other side. This will be shown with an ‘F’ or ‘Fell’ in results or reports.
It is important to note that jockeys are not allowed to get back onto their horses and re-join the race after a fall. This is to prevent any chance of further injury to the horse. You may see the jockey leading their horse off the course, but they will not be able to remount until their runner has been checked out by a vet.
Much like when a horse falls, an unseated rider will normally occur when a horse has made a mistake at a fence. Often these mistakes will be less severe than when a horse falls, but they will be significant enough for the jockey to lose their seating. This will be shown as ‘UR’ or ‘Unseated’.
As with a fallen horse, a fallen jockey is not allowed to re-join the race and they will need to be passed fit by a doctor to take any further rides that day.
Brought Down Horses
Although similar to a fall or an unseated rider, a horse which is brought down is normally through no fault of their own. The Grand National has a large field size of 40 runners so horses and jockeys will be riding closely together. If a horse or jockey falls in front of another runner, there is often little time to change course which can result in that horse essentially falling over another. You will see this illustrated as ‘BD’ or ‘Brought Down’.
Despite the unfortunate nature of a horse being brought down, these runners and riders are again prohibited from getting back into the race for safety reasons.
The Grand National can be tiring enough watch, let alone being one of the elite horse that are competing in it. As you might hear trainers and jockeys mention, horses are not machines, and they suffer fatigue during a race, particularly in a marathon contest such as this.
When a jockey feels that their horse is tiring and unable to compete, they will slow them down and pull them up from running to prevent a fall or sustaining an injury. Every jockey wants to win the Grand National but the welfare of their ride is paramount. You will see this denoted as ‘PU’ or ‘Pulled Up’.
Often there will be more horses pulled up when the going is heavier, with wetter ground sapping a horse’s energy quicker. That said, better ground could also lead to a quicker run race which can also thin out the field when runners can’t keep pace.
Other Reasons for Not Finishing
Above we’ve mentioned the main reasons that a horse won’t complete the Grand National. There are a number of other ways a horse’s chance in the race can be ended, these are listed below.
- Refusing – Much like a jockey can decide to stop a race, as can a horse. If a runner is out of stride or tiring, they may simply refuse to jump a fence
- Carried out – Even though many horses lose their jockeys during the race, they may continue to run without them. These runners will normally make their way off course or around fences but occasionally a horse with a jockey will follow them out of the race accidentally. A most unfortunate way to exit
- Running out – If a jockey misses a jump or takes the wrong course for any reason, this is known as running out and their race is over. Horses can also decide run off track themselves usually when mistakenly taking the exit for the stables or another part of the course during a race
- Disqualification – This isn’t seen often in a race as long as the Grand National but if one rider causes sufficient interference to another, usually at the finish to a race, they can be disqualified. Runners can also be disqualified for taking the wrong course or for a number of other offences
- Void race – In theory, if no horse finishes, the entire field takes the wrong course, or it is unsafe to complete the full distance, the race could be declared void. The 1993 Grand National was famously a voided after 30 runners completed the course after a false start. Thankfully this is a rare occurrence
- Left behind – This normally only occurs in flat racing where a horse is left in the starting stalls but could also happen at a the tape start of the Grand National, though this is unlikely
- Hitting the running rails – Again, this is more likely during a flat race when runners can tightly follow a bend but a horse could run through the rails at the side of the course. They will need to stop running if they do so