Irish Grand National

 No matter the Grand National in question (English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish), the occasion always brings out the very best in racing talent. The Irish Grand National certainly adheres to that criteria and is steeped in history, first taking place way back in 1870 where the race was won by a horse named Sir Robert Peel. Interestingly, and unlike the Welsh and Scottish Grand Nationals, the location of the 1870 race is the same as its location today, Fairyhouse, Co’ Meath, Ireland.

The distance of the Grade A  Irish Grand National handicap race is 3 miles 5 furlongs (upped from 3 miles 4 furlongs in 1990) and there are 24 fences to clear. The race, which is for 5 year old horses and older, takes place on Easter Sunday each year and is part of the Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival. It’s a popular event with racegoers, including those from Dublin who attend as part of the ‘Dub’s Day Out’ tradition.

As is the case with the Welsh and Scottish Grand National races, success in the Irish event can often mean good things for a horses prospects elsewhere. While none taking part have ‘done the double’ by winning the Irish Grand National and the Aintree Grand National in the same year, a few have still won both events. Ascetic’s Silver was the first in 1906, and Rhyme ‘n’ Reason, Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde in more recent times.

Leading jockey over the years in the Irish National is Pat Taafe with 6 wins between 1954 and 1966, leading horse Brown Lad with 3 wins in the 70s, and leading trainer Tom Dreaper with a staggering 10 wins from 1942 to 1966.

2018’s winner was General Principle with jockey James Slevin on board, and trained by George Elliot. It was George Elliot’s first Irish Grand National Victory, narrowly beating out rival Willie Mullin’s Bellshill by a head. Prize money for the event was a very healthy €500,000 , with €270,000 of that going to the winner, so not a bad day’s work.

Scottish Grand National

 There is often much excitement generated by the Aintree Grand National, and the same applies to the regional races. The Scottish Grand National is no ‘bolt on’ event either, in fact it first took place in 1858 when it was called the West of Scotland Grand National and consisted of 32 stone wall jumps.

Nine years later the race was moved from Houston, Renfrewshire to Bogside racecourse near Invine. After Bogside closed in 1965 the race moved to its current home in Ayr. At its now home the course is a little longer than it previously was at 4 miles.

Much like with the Welsh Grand National, a win in the Scottish National handicap race is often indicative of wider success. The legendary Red Rum ‘did the double’ in 1974 by winning both the Scottish Grand National and Aintree Grand National. Others achieving this feat (though not in the same year) include Earth Summit and Little Polveir.

Aside from what winning might indicate in a wider context, the prize money alone for the Scottich National is impressive, with the total prize pot at £215,000 in 2018, with £122,433 of that going to the winner. The Festival prize money in total stood at £714,000 over the 15 races held over two days making this the richest jumps event in Scotland and a highly entertaining spectacle. It’s no surprise then that leading trainers and jockeys alike are drawn here to compete.

The 2018 Scottish Grand National winner was 9 year old Joe Farrell (yes, that’s a horse’s name!) ridden by Adam Wedge and trained by Rebecca Curtis. Another trainer that has excelled here in recent years is Paul Nicholls who trained the 2016 and 2017 winner Vincente, with Sam Twiston-Davies riding.

Welsh Grand National

 All Grand National events have a special feel about them, and the Welsh Grand National is certainly no exception to the rule. The race was established in 1895, when the race was held at Ely racecourse in Cardiff. Now taking place at Chepstow racecourse on 27th December, this Grade 3 event understandably has the tagline ‘The Biggest Race in Wales’. The date of the race ties it in nicely with the Christmas season making it a magic event both on course and to watch at home.

There are seven races on the card, and a distinctly Welsh feel throughout (including a performance of the Welsh National Anthem) but the emphasis from both a betting and spectator point of view is on the main event which has a very healthy £150,000 prize. The prize pot ensures that the event, which is for horses aged four and above,  attracts plenty of racing talent.

The Welsh Grand National handicap race is run over a distance of 3 miles and 5½ furlongs and features twenty two fences. The first winner at Chepstow in 1949 was Fighting Line ridden by the legendary Dick Francis. David Nicholson holds the distinction of making it three in a row by riding back to back winners in the 1959, 1960 and 1961. Trainers of the winners of the Welsh National over the years reads like a who’s who of racing greats, Martin Pipe, Jenny Pitman, Paul Nicholls, the list goes on.

Fast forward to the present day, and the 2017 event was a real stand out, with James Bowen winning the race at just 17 years of age on Raz De Maree, a 17-1 shot . Bowen’s brother Sean is a very talented jockey too and James, who was signed by Nicky Henderson, is often described as learned beyond his years and a wise head on young shoulders.

Success in the Welsh National is often an indicator of further accolades to come. Bindaree and Silver Birch won both the Welsh and Aintree Grand National races, and success for Native River in 2016 led to the Irish trained thoroughbred winning the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Japan Cup

 The Japan Cup, first held in 1981, has established itself to be one of the most reputable and distinguished horse races in Japan with a purse of 476 million yen. Tokyo being the venue for the race is one of the fascinating features as the capital city is an intiguing mix of tradition, excitement and technology. The Japan Cup attracts a wide pool of local talent and international runners making for a unique occasion.

During the initial commencement of the race in 1981, horses trained in Japan, Australia, USA, New Zealand, Canada, and India were invited to participate in the race. This trend changed the following year when elite horses from anywhere around the world were invited to take part making the Japan Cup a complete Invitational event.

Horse racing generates unrivaled excitement for Japanese people attending this exciting occasion as is evidenced in the trumpets and loud roars of applause from the enthusiastic fans heard at the start of the Japan Cup race. The on-track attendance at the event was 109, 956 in 2014 and 88, 865 in 2016. The drop in attendance wasn’t related to a lul in interest, but instead due to extreme weather conditions.

The first Japan Cup was won by an American Mare Mairzy Doates trained by John Fulton and Cash Asmussen, triumphing over Frost King trained in Canada. The 2018 race was won by Kitasan Black making it the second horse to gain victory twice in the event. Gentildonna was the first horse to triumph twice in 2013 and 2014, a back to back victory for the first time in the history of the race.

The Japan Racing Association Racing Museum was opened in 1991 inside the Tokyo racecourse which is free of cost for paying race attendants. The gift shops make it possible to keep the legends in the racehorse alive with the purchase of souvenirs in the form of animal replicas. With the emergence of new champions routinely in the race, every proponent is being immortalised in this style due to the profile of this event.