When it comes to horse racing in Merseyside, there are two possible options to consider. Either you can head to Haydock Park, a well-regarded course in its own right, or you opt for Aintree, the focus of this guide, located 15 miles to the west. Aintree is, of course, world famous for being the home of the Grand National, a race it has hosted since 1839.
It is for this race that Aintree usually welcomes a sell-out crowd of around 70,000 hopeful and often glamorous spectators. Although an extremely high-capacity venue thanks to all their various stands, Aintree does also host many lower-key race meetings should you seek a more relaxed atmosphere away from the crowds and chaos of the Grand National meeting.
Some people like to turn a visit to the racecourse into a longer trip, especially if they have travelled a long way to be there. This is easily done by adding an overnight hotel stay before, or after, a scheduled race meeting.
If you want to stay extremely close to Aintree Racecourse, then you are in luck as there is one hotel located little more than a short nose away. The aptly named Stables Inn Aintree is on the doorstep of the racecourse gates making it the ideal venue for anyone who does not want to bother with a post-racing journey.
If you are happy to stretch your legs a little bit, you will find there are a few options within a 30-minute walk including the Park Hotel and Premier Inn Liverpool North. You will also will also find a couple of other alternatives located southwards in Orrell Park. There are only a limited number of possibilities within this radius though so you might not be able to find exactly what you are after.
From the Centre of Liverpool
If this is the case, the centre of Liverpool is bursting full of different options at prices to suit a wide range of budgets. It is easily reachable by car or public transport and has all the major chains plus some luxury and boutique options too. This is a popular destination to head after a day at the races given how much there is to do in the city centre and surrounding areas.
About the Racecourse
If you are considering a visit to Aintree racecourse, it is usually good practice to buy your tickets online in advance to avoid disappointment, especially for the big meetings and certainly for the Grand National. Tickets ordered online will be emailed to you and then it is just a case of printing them out or having them ready on your smartphone when you arrive. Usually, it is possible to buy tickets on the gate on the day (card payment only) but these will not be available if a meeting reaches maximum capacity.
In terms of getting to the racecourse, Aintree is well located for anyone arriving by car or by public transport. If driving yourself, the racecourse is less than two miles off the M57, which takes you right round the outside of Liverpool so you can avoid any inner-city driving (unless you live in Liverpool of course). Upon arrival, you will have access to free car parking providing it is a not a Grand National meeting. For the National meeting, you must pay for parking and do so in advance because there is not enough space for everyone that attends (maximum capacity of around 1,800 cars).
For public transport, a Merseyrail service runs every 15 minutes on race days from Liverpool Central (also stopping at Liverpool Moorfields). The journey only takes 27-minutes and Aintree Station is quite literally across the road from the course, making rail travel an extremely convenient option. The bus is not a long way behind though as the 300, 310 and 345 services will all take you to the front door of the racecourse from Liverpool city centre in little over half an hour. In both cases, a return ticket will not set you back more than around £5.
Aintree features two distinct courses, the Mildmay Course and the Grand National Course. The latter is only used on a very limited number of occasions and it provides a true jumping test, full of challenging fences. It is not just its tough nature which is why it is seldom used however. The other reason is that it has a public road (Melling Road) running right through it. On select race days, the road is simply closed off and covered with fibresand (a surface used at some artificial racecourses) to prevent the horses running a few metres on asphalt.
Most Aintree racing takes places on the Mildmay Course, which is located much closer to where all the spectators are. On this course, you will find both hurdles and steeplechase (National Hunt) events varying in distance. It is an oval course, run left-handed so runners will turn away from the crowd then head down the back straight before looping back around. As there is a very long straight to the finishing post, Aintree sees some fantastic, nail-biting finishes in which you can rarely be sure which horse will end up on top.
To help ensure racegoers can enjoy a seamless experience, it is possible to download an interactive map of Aintee Racecourse via the Jockey Club app. This provides you with information about all the key buildings and where to find them, while also indicating where exactly you are stood. It features a filterable list that will highlight options by category, such as food & drink, betting and entrances.
For most of the year, Aintree does not operate an official dress code. The only main exception is during the Grand National Festival in which sports clothes and fancy dress are not permitted. Outside of this, fancy dress is acceptable (except in the hospitality and restaurant areas) but just be sure to avoid anything provocative. Should you arrive in anything deemed offensive you will not be allowed inside the racecourse.
While there is no dress code in operation, Aintree does encourage people to dress up smartly and this is exactly what most racegoers do. Smarter attire and hats for the ladies are encouraged so should you want to don some of your finer gear, the racecourse is a perfect place for it.
For most race days, patrons have the option to purchase either a grandstand and paddock enclosure ticket or pay the extra money to gain access to the platinum lounge. With a platinum lounge ticket, you will be able to enjoy a covered seating area where you will enjoy a bird’s eye view of the finishing post. A grandstand and paddock enclosure on the other hand will gives you access to whatever public areas are available for that particular day. This is liable to change depending on how busy the meet is but rest assured there will be ample space as this is a high-capacity racecourse.
During the Grand National Festival, all the doors are open and this means spectators gain access to the Princess Royal Stand, the Lord Daresbury Stand, the Queen Mother Stand, the Earl of Derby Stand and the Lord Sefton Stand. Organisers will even set up a temporary hospitality pavilion next to the Grand National start line.
Aintree is one of the UK’s major race tracks and hosts a number of sizeable meetings. Of course, there is no doubt which is number one but the Merseyside venue has more to offer than just the National.
It almost goes without saying that the three-day Grand National Festival is the highlight of Aintree’s racing calendar. The final day (Saturday) always proves climatic as this is when we see the historic Grand National for yet another renewal. Should you want to be present for the big finale, a must for any fan of racing, especially jumps racing, you will need to buy tickets very soon after their release as they sell out months and months in advance.
You do not have to be as quick to pounce on tickets for the earlier two days of the festival but be aware that certain areas are likely to sell out as the schedule is jam-packed with top-class racing. The opening two days of the festival sees eight Grade 1 events including the Aintree Hurdle and Melling Chase. For true racing afficionados these events offer more class than the Saturday card but for casual fans, the Grand National itself is sure to be the highlight.
Although there is plenty of glitz and glamour spotted across the whole meeting, a special effort is made on Friday (day 2) as this is Ladies Day. On this day, Aintree will have their style ambassadors on the lookout for the best dressed ladies with big prizes up for grabs for those that tick all the right boxes. With everything fashion and style related firmly in the spotlight, Ladies Day is renowned for its action both on and off the track.
Even for people not overly into racing, the Grand National meeting and specifically Grand National Day is a superb experience with an electric atmosphere. Not only do you have swarms of people dressed in their finest attire but there is such a buzz around the entire course. Overall, the three-day event welcomes in the region of 150,000 spectators to Aintree Racecourse, with nearly half of these coming for Saturday’s big curtain closer. It is comfortably the biggest meeting Aintree holds each year and the main target for both casual and committed racing fans.
Becher Chase Day
Becher Chase Day in December is a well-attended fixture especially as it sees two races take place over the iconic Grand National fences, including the Becher Chase itself. While a notable meeting due to the races involved, it does not get close to matching the interest levels the Grand National Festival enjoys. As such, it is priced like any other meeting, meaning the Grand National Festival is the only time you will see major price hikes.
The exception is if Aintree have organised some post-racing entertainment (usually live music). These meetings will set you back a fair bit more as you are getting both racing and a concert included with the price of your ticket.
The official opening date of Aintree racecourse is 7th July, 1829. It was all thanks to the determination of William Lynn who owned the Waterloo Hotel based on Ranelagh Street, Liverpool. He approached racing fan, the Second Earl of Sefton, William Phillip Molyneux, to ask if he would be willing to lease some land for racing purposes. When Molyneux agreed, Lynn got to work building the grandstand.
Just a few months later, Aintree Racecourse held its first race, the Croxteth Stakes, which took place over one mile and two furlongs. Hurdles racing followed in 1835 and it proved to be a big hit as the very well-known jockey, Captain Martin Becher, made an appearance. He managed to ride the same horse, Vivian, to victory in two races.
Aintree has generally fared very well since this point although it did suffer something a rough patch during the 1970s. This was a period in which the Tophams (the family that had purchased the racecourse outright in 1949) sold the course to local property developer Bill Davies. Acting a little too greedily, Davies tripled the admission price for the 1975 Grand National, resulting in an awful turnout. Things quickly recovered though when the National meeting was placed under new management, but with Davies still as the owner.
This changed in 1983 though as the Jockey Club bought the course from Davies. Under their ownership, Aintree Racecourse has enjoyed a whole host of major refurbishments. In 1988 the Country Stand was renovated and extended while the brand new Queen Mother Stand and Princess Royal Stand were completed in 1991 and 1998 respectively.
The biggest change came in 2006 though as this saw major redevelopment across the entire racecourse with a new parade ring, weighing room and winners’ enclosure built. Work also started on a pair of new grandstands, the Earl of Derby Stand and the Lord Sefton Stand which opened two years later.