Irish Grand National History

5 Apr 1999: Jockey M.J.P O''Brien celebrates with his horse Glebe Lad after winning the Irish Grand National held at the Fairyhouse racecourse in Ireland. Michael Cooper /Allsport
The first Irish Grand National was run in 1870 at Fairyhouse for a total prize of 167 sovereigns. The winner of the race was a horse named “Sir Robert Peele”. Since 1870, the Irish Grand National has been held every year with no exceptions, bar 1919 (First World War) and 1941 (Second World War).

Legendary winning horses in Irish Grand National history include the likes of The Gift (with two consecutive wins, in 1883 and 1884) and, in the 1900s, Arkle, Flyingbolt, and Desert Orchid.

Steeplechasing

Irish Grand National history mirrors the history of steeplechasing, which was born in England and Ireland in the late 1700s. By the mid 1800s, steeplechases had gained an especially firm following in Ireland.

Steeplechasing developed from rough cross-country races known as “pounding races”, in which riders chose their own routes and the winner was simply the one who out-lasted – or “out-pounded”– other riders. To endure this kind of cross-country race, horses had to be able to handle uneven ground and jumps.

Somewhere towards the end of the 1700s, it became common for racers to agree on the end-point for a cross-country race – more often than not, a church steeple. Agreeing on finishing points for races made for more organised gentlemen’s racing, with less falls and injuries. Aside from money, recorded prizes for steeplechases in the late 1700s included claret, port, and rum! The word “steeplechase” appeared officially for the first time in 1807, in the Irish Racing Calendar.

A distinguishing feature of early steeplechases is that riders were free to choose their own routes to get to the finishing posts. The first known steeplechase for which an actual course was set was held at Bedford, England in 1810. The course was 3 miles, with 8 fences at between 4 and 6 feet. By the mid 1800s, steeplechasing courses had been laid out at many sites, especially in Ireland. Irish Grand National history began in 1870, and the race soon became one of the most popular and prestigious of all steeplechases.

In the 1860s, the Grand National Hunt Committee in England and the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee started to regulate the sport of steeplechasing. In 1889, the Grand National Hunt Committee became the National Hunt Committee – the name by which it’s still known today.

The Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National marks over 130 years of Irish Grand National history.

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