Your guide to going to Aintree
With Becher’s, the Foinaven Fence, the Canal Turn, the Melling Road and The Chair, Aintree probably has more iconoclastic features than any other sporting venue in the UK. It also has some of the most modern facilities for racegoers and also some of the least salubrious.
If you a travelling from London, a train leaving London Euston between 9.00 and 10.00 will get you to Liverpool Lime Street in just over two hours. You then have a five minute walk to Liverpool Central to get the Merseyrail train to Aintree. Trains are every 15 minutes but on Grand National day it’s more a case of the train filling up and off it goes.
The journey takes 15 minutes to Aintree station and the racecourse is across the road. It’s here that you will encounter the animal rights protesters who are given a fenced off area from which to make their views known.
To avoid the crowds for the return journey, it’s best to leave before the last race. Don’t be put off by the queues outside the station, they move pretty quickly as, again, it’s a case of a train filling up, departing and another one coming up behind for the next wave of happy racegoers.
Viewing and facilities
The enclosures at Aintree cover a sizeable area of land, much like Ascot and Cheltenham, and the choice of what best suits your purpose and wallet can be a bit daunting.
Five different stands are on offer giving you access to their respective vantage points as well as the parade ring behind the stands and the large concourse in front of the stands.
Each stand has its own dedicated bar and its own badge, but they do not offer seating to watch the racing.
The County Stand Roof is well appointed, positioned just before the winning post, with the water jump to the left and the National starting area to the right.
It’s one of the older stands and you can purchase a badge giving you access to the roof which offers a great view, but it’s uncovered.
Further back down the course, level with the water jump, is the Princess Royal Stand which is a more recent addition and offers partially covered viewing. It’s the furthest stand from the parade ring.
The Queen Mother Stand (annual members) is the second of the two older stands and is sited just after the winning post.
The Earl of Sefton and the Lord Derby terraces are two stands of the same design, positioned at angles to each other overlooking the starting area and divided by the horse walk leading from the parade ring.
One has views back down the home straight and the other looks down the National course from the first fence to Becher’s. They are also the stands closest to the parade ring and winners enclosure.
Each of these stands constitutes “Premiers Enclosure” admission. The Tattersalls Enclosure includes access to the parade ring and winner’s enclosure and the concourse in front of the stands, but offers little or no elevated viewing. The Steeplechase Enclosure echoes the Silver Ring.
Wherever you are, there’s a big screen to bring you the action. But somewhat ironically, the screens can obscure parts of the National course if you want to watch through binoculars from the stands.
Viewing of the tight Mildmay course is excellent, but that too is blocked by some big screens.
Eating and drinking
There’s a range of restaurant packages, starting at around £300pp for a buffet lunch/light afternoon tea at a shared table, with racecourse admission but not to any of the stands, increasing to about £600pp for posh nosh, free bar and a private balcony to view the racing.
Each of the dedicated bars in the stands also offers sandwiches and wraps.
Public bars are located below the stands and throughout the paddock and, annoyingly, many of these serve a single drink option – beer at one, cider at another, and Guinness at another.
On Grand National day Aintree is probably second only to Cheltenham in the number of bookmakers offering the odds, located in front of the stands and along the running rail down to the starting area.
There are tote outlets in each of the stands. A betting shop is located under the Earl of Sefton stand.
Queues abound for each and every betting facility, so it’s best to get on early to avoid disappointed; also wise for the National as favoured horses shorten the closer to off time.
The vast expanse of Aintree racecourse spread out in front of you is a dramatic site and one where the atmosphere is to be savoured. Despite occupying a large area of land, the enclosures are very crowded, so if you’ve booked one of the vantage points in the stands that pretty much becomes your home for the the day.
Exploring Aintree is best done when you arrive whilst it is relatively easy to get around, and that includes the old covered winner’s enclosure famous for the David Coleman interviews with winning connections after the big race back in the sixties. Now, it’s a hugely popular bar.
The stands, though expensive, offer a certain degree of comfort, but beyond the enclosures, many are there for a day out drinking and it can get a bit messy.
That said, Grand National day is unique. Definitely one for the bucket list.