There will be over 600million people worldwide tuning into watch the Grand National this Saturday. To those watching, it may seem like the biggest race in the world (and in many ways it is) but for those involved in looking after the horses each day, the Grand National is just like any other race. The preparation for the race is exactly the same and the horse's welfare is number one, just as it is for any other race during the season.
The care for the horses at the Grand National begins well before that one day in April. I am lucky enough to ride out the reigning champion, Many Clouds, each morning at his trainer Oliver Sherwood's yard in Lambourn. so I know first-hand the incredible care he (as well as every other horse in the yard) receives each day. The workers in the yard absolutely love the horses and work around the clock, 365 days a year, to ensure they are happy and healthy. For me, Many Clouds is my best mate and I care for him like you would expect a best friend to.
Me riding out Many Clouds - picture by Amy Lanagan
I'm not alone. There are over 6,000 people employed to care for approximately 14,000 horses in training across Britain. The care shown to a Grand National winner is exactly the same as the care for a horse who hasn't had a win. The love for these horses is whole hearted and unconditional.
Thoroughbreds are elite athletes and are treated just as any other elite athlete is. Each horse has a whole team working behind the scenes, including (but not limited to) top class vets, massage therapists and even dentists to ensure they are at their happiest and healthiest when they compete and if they're not, they won't run. It's as simple as that. They also train each morning (Many Clouds with me) ensuring they are fit and prepared to race.
To qualify for the Grand National a horse must be at least seven years old and have proven itself over fences, this includes being placed in the first four in a Steeple Chase of just under three miles or further. The jockeys also have to qualify by winning at least 15 races, ensuring there are no novices in this race.
On the day of the race, the horses are monitored around the clock to ensure their temperature is right and they're happy. If they're not, they won't run. Everyone involved with a horse, from the trainer, to the owner, to the person driving the float, cares for the horse's welfare above all else. We would never run a horse that wasn't fit and ready to run. At the end of the day we want a safe journey around Aintree for every horse and rider.
Watch Many Clouds win last year's Grand National from the point of view of jockey Leighton Aspell below.
Footage courtesy of Channel 4