Why the Grand National Is One of the UK’s Biggest Sporting Events

A Staple of UK Sports

Horse racing is one of the biggest sports in the UK. Although football dominates the landscape and has for over a century, sports like cricket, rugby, and horse racing make up a big chunk of the chasing pack. Horse racing, in particular, has always been a hit thanks to the gambling laws in the UK, the dynamic of horse racing, which can result in some significant value, and hundreds of individual events taking place during a weekend. Ardent horse racing enthusiasts in the UK often state that the Cheltenham Festival is a much bigger and better set of races than The Grand National weekend.

Not only is the Cheltenham Festival the oldest in the UK and one of the oldest in the world, recently celebrating its 200th anniversary, but from a competitive perspective, horse racing fans and bettors see it as the biggest weekend in the entire sporting calendar. While The Grand National, as a standalone race, might attract more significant numbers than The Gold Cup or Kentucky Derby, it’s a combination of the Cheltenham and Aintree weekends that have helped fuel and maintain the popularity of horse racing within the culture of UK sports.

 The Strength of the Gambling Industry

Millions of Brits will place a bet on the Grand National as a one-off event. Many people who don’t watch horse racing or pay much attention to it throughout the year will watch the race, and some might even attend. Based in Liverpool in the North West of England, the race brings over 100,000 people to the city and is the lifeblood of the local economy. Online gambling has added another dimension to horse racing, sports betting, and casino gaming. Many economists and business analysts believe the gambling industry is going through a golden age on both sides of the Atlantic.

While other avenues of gambling have often resulted in considerable profit, such as casinos in Las Vegas or poker, blackjack, and roulette gaming in the UK, the internet made the entire experience a lot more convenient. The US is still playing catch up to the UK, and the last five years have resulted in dozens of sports betting and casino companies being able to spread their wings into states where the markets previously didn’t exist. However, the UK has had regulations in place since 2005, with online casino gaming becoming commonplace on TV advertising and hundreds of casinos and sportsbook companies setting up physical shops nationwide.

Due to this seemingly unstoppable rise of the gambling industry in the UK, which has sustained for nearly two decades and survived and even flourished during times of economic peril, there needs to be significant events and sports that can sustain this positive gambling trend – which is where The Grand National comes into focus.

The Size Of The Grand National

While individual games in the UK will draw in more significant numbers, such as the FA Cup Final or the opening event of the London Olympics, the Grand National regularly and annually tops the list as the most gambled-on sporting event in the UK calendar. A couple of years ago, the race broke a record that it had previously set, with over £100 million gambled on the main steeplechase race alone.

At first glance, the amount of money that passes through the hands of UK bookmakers might seem colossal, but when viewing figures have surpassed half a billion for the last few races, it begins to paint a picture of just how colossal this horse race event is. For gambling companies, it is unique because even though more people watch the Premier League globally, the Grand National has a specific tradition of people placing bets, which crosses over into popular culture. So, while Cheltenham might hold the prize for the most significant event amongst horse racing bettors, the Grand National is the pop culture and marquis event that brings in big numbers internationally.

Factors That Drive The Popularity

The race has had a global appeal for decades, and ever since television sets became permanent fixtures in Western homes, The Grand National has been able to match the demand and continue to appeal to people who have a casual interest in the sport. During the weeks before the event, many fans will look at the field, place their bets, familiarize themselves with some of the Grand Nationals of yesteryear, and get right into the mood and spirit of the definitive and iconic steeplechase.

Mainly down to the toughness of the course, the size of the hurdles, and the unique nature of the steeplechase endears it to many people. While some activists have raised understandable concerns about the race, it hasn’t wavered in the face of these protests, with the 2021 race being the most-watched Grand National ever. As far as individual sporting events go, it rubs shoulders with the most prominent and defining UK sports culture events and will continue to do so for many years to come.