Muzzle of Racehorse with JockeyThe Grand National is arguably the most famous steeplechase horse race on the planet, and it certainly attracts more betting interest than any other renewal on the National Hunt or Flat racing calendar.

As well as the huge field size, one of the most intriguing elements of the Grand National that drives spectator interest is the fences – some of which are amongst the most challenging that the sport has to offer.

These have somewhat evolved over time, and in some cases they have been given names to coincide with the part they have played in the Grand National down the years – you may have heard about the dreaded Becher’s Brook or The Chair before.

So here’s everything you need to know about the Grand National fences at Aintree Racecourse.

How Many Grand National Fences Are There?

Number 30 Against Grass

All of the horses that contest the Grand National have to complete two circuits of the Aintree track, and in that time they will have to overcome 30 fences if they are to win one of the most prestigious races in the UK.

That set-up requires them to jump 16 fences on the first circuit – the first 14 are then followed by The Chair and the Water Jump, which are only encountered once.

On the second circuit, the first 14 fences are then jumped again to bring the tally up to 30, with the jockeys navigating their way around The Chair and the Water Jump at the end of the second lap.

What are the Grand National Fences Made Of?

Spruce Forest Aerial View

Aintree officials have to get the balance right between making the Grand National a stiff test of jumping, but also doing as much as possible to ensure their welfare is maintained.

In years gone by, natural thorn hedges were used, but these were considered to be not as forgiving as they might be, and a replacement was sought.

Today, the Grand National fences are made out of a combination of Sitka and Norway spruce, which are two species that are now ‘farmed’ in the Lake District.

The foliage is then weaved into a plastic structure – which replaced the old timber make-up – that gives the fences their shape, but also allows some forgiveness should a horse crash through the top of them.

What are the Grand National Fences?

As mentioned, there are 16 fences that make up the famous Grand National circuit at Aintree, and here’s a quick look at each in brief.

Fence 1 & 17

4ft 6in high, 2ft 9in wide

In theory, the opening fence of the Grand National circuit – which is the first to be jumped on both laps – should ensure an easy enough start.

But horses do fall here, and perhaps that has something to do with the roar of the punters sat astride the nearby Embankment – the large slope which has capacity for some 13,000 people.

Fence 2 & 18 – The Fan

4ft 7in high, 3ft 6in wide

Taller but wider than the first fence, the second obstacle is typically amongst the easiest to navigate on the course.

It is sometimes known as ‘The Fan’, named after a horse that refused to jump it on more than one occasion during the 1800s.

Fence 3 & 19 – Westhead

5ft high, 10ft 6in wide

There are three open ditches on the Grand National course and this is the first of them – a decent leap is required to clear its 5ft high summit and take into the account the 7ft ditch on the take-off side.

The Open Ditch is sometimes referred to as ‘Westhead’ – named after Aintree fence builder Steve Westhead.

Fence 4 & 20

4ft 10in high, 3ft wide

A plain fence that was reduced in height by two inches back in 2012, the fourth obstacle – despite being unnamed – is considered one of the hardest to overcome on the course.

To improve safety further, course officials have since completely smoothed the landing surface to ensure that more horses are able to maintain their footing.

Fence 5 & 21

5ft high, 3ft 6in wide

While horses should be into a good gallop by the time the fifth fence comes around, experienced jockeys will know it heralds the start of the first turn at Aintree – and needs a good leap in order to maintain momentum heading into Becher’s Brook.

Generally an easier fence to overcome, the fifth acts as a taster of what is to come before and after the first turn.

Fence 6 & 22 – Becher’s Brook

4ft 10in high, 7ft 6in wide

At just 4ft 10in high, on the face of it Becher’s Brook shouldn’t be that devilish.

But consider the huge ditch on the landing side, which provided the fence with its name when Captain Martin Becher fell from his horse Conrad in the first ever Grand National in 1839.

The landing side is lower than the take-off by around a foot – hence why the race of so many ends here.

Fence 7 & 23 – Foinavon

4ft 6in high, 3ft wide

This plain fence is actually one of the easier obstacles on the track, but because Becher’s Brook has such a disorientating effect with its drop-off on landing it’s easy to see why some horses struggle with the quick run to the seventh.

The obstacle is often referred to as Foinavon, after the horse who took advantage of a major pile-up here on the second circuit here in 1967 to go on and win as a 100/1 outsider.

Fence 8 & 24 – Canal Turn

5ft high, 7ft wide

Five foot high, seven feet wide (with its ditch) and located on a sharp bend to the left, it’s no wonder that the Canal Turn is one of the hardest fences to navigate in the Grand National.

Named after the body of water connecting Liverpool and Leeds, Canal Turn is not only hard to jump but also sees many jockeys unseated as they ask their mount to change direction – in 2002, eight horses either fell or unseated their rider here.

Fence 9 & 25 – Valentine’s Brook

5ft high, 7ft wide

Immediately after the first bend comes Valentine’s Brook, which features an open body of water some 5ft wide on the landing side.

It was named, if you can believe this story, after a horse named Valentine, who reportedly jumped over it hind legs first at the Grand National in 1840!

Fence 10 & 26

5ft high, 3ft wide

There follows three fences on the next straight, and the first of them is this five-footer.

Generally speaking, most jump this cleanly after the chaos that often occurs around the turn, and those involved get a good cheer from the patrons in the Sefton Stand as they pass by.

Fence 11 & 27 – Booth

5ft high, 10ft wide

The next of the open ditches, sometimes known as ‘Booth’ as a nod to Aintree fence-builder John Booth, features a ten-foot from span from take off to landing, and so a good jump is required here.

This fence became famous when Golden Miller, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in 1934, would fall here when a red-hot bookmakers favourite the following year.

Fence 12 & 28

5ft high, 5ft 6in wide

As the horses begin to tire on their second circuit, they are faced by the 5ft high fence that has a 5ft 6in ditch on the landing side.

They then set off on the long run, about half a mile, to the Melling Road which leads to the finishing post second time around.

Fence 13 & 29

4ft 7in high, 3ft wide

The home stretch begins with this fairly easy fence, which acts as nothing more than an annoyance in the run-in for the line on the second circuit.

On the first lap, of course, it acts as part of the warm-up for The Chair, which is now on the horizon.

Fence 14 & 30

4ft 6in high

The final fence on the second circuit, this jump is merely a chance for jockeys to get a hold of their horses prior to The Chair on the first lap.

Generally, this fence poses no problems – it’s rare for a Grand National leader to fall at the last, although Hedgehunter did hit the deck here a year before his 2005 triumph.

Fence 15 – The Chair

5ft 2in high, 6ft wide

The tallest fence on the course, the dreaded Chair tests even the most fluent of jumpers towards the end of their first lap of the Grand National course. It takes its name from the course official who would sit at this vantage point, whose role back in the day was to judge the distances between runners when the race was contested in heats.

The ditch on the take-off side measures some 6ft, and actually sits 6in higher on take-off than landing. It is, without doubt, one of the toughest fences Aintree – and horse racing in general – has to offer.

Fence 16 – The Water jump

2ft 6in high, 12ft wide

If the field can surmount The Chair and get their breath back, they should have no problem with the final fence on the first circuit.

This jump is the lowest on the Grand National course, however there is a 12ft expanse of water waiting on the landing side – taking a splash here can lead to jockeys being unseated as their mount loses balance.