The Grand National steeplechase was first run at Aintree in 1839 and except for the war years and the void race of 1993, has taken place there ever since.
The first winner of the Grand National was Lottery, ridden by Jem Mason. He was unable to repeat the success the following year when the horse refused a jump. Mason, who attended Harrow school and was the son of a horse dealer, was fifty years old when he died of throat cancer at his London home in 1866. He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Mason’s death came two years after that of Captain Martin Becher, after whom the race’s most famous fence, got its name. Becher’s Brook. A veteran of the Napoleonic Wars he was already considering retirement when he took part in the 1839 race. He fell at the first brook and sheltered in the water whilst the other horses jumped over, hence the name given to it. On climbing to safety he was said to comment that the water had tasted filthy without the benefit of whisky. He never raced again and after his death in 1864 he was buried at Willesden Cemetery in North London. This cemetery closed in 1891 and is now in a sadly overgrown state.
The Earls of Sefton owned the land on which Aintree racecourse was developed. The second earl, William Molyneux, laid the foundation stone for the grandstand in 1829. He died at his London home in November 1838, before the first Grand National was run and his grave is in St Mary’s churchyard in Hanwell.
In 1949 Aintree racecourse was bought from the Earl of Sefton. The management was taken over by former Gaiety girl Mirabel Topham. She constructed a motor racing track within the course which hosted the British Grand Prix five times, the last one being in 1962. The Topham family eventually sold the course to developer Bill Davies in 1973 and Mirabel, who died in 1980, is buried in the family vault at Pantasaph Friary in Flintshire.
Mirabel sold the racecourse in the same year that Red Rum won the first of his three Grand National races. Rummy, as he was affectionately known, also won the race in 1974 and 1977 but was retired the following year after an injury. He was a regular visitor to Aintree in subsequent years and died in 1995 at the age of thirty. He was subsequently buried there and his grave is now visited by thousands of visitors to Aintree year as the race continues to grow in popularity.