Drinks company Crabbies, have become the new sponsors of the worlds most famous steeplechase, the Aintree Grand National. The company’s name will now replace that of John Smiths, they pulled out of their sponsorship deal earlier this year after being associated with the most exciting event in the jumps calendar for the past nine years.
Crabbies is a popular Ginger based beer beverage which retails in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. The company is hoping that the new sponsorship deal struck with Aintree racecourse and the Jockey Club will raise the profile of the drink amongst its target audience. The drinks brand has commited to the race for the next three years and will increase the prize pool for the competing horses, owners and jockeys to over £1 million (sterling) which is approximately $1.5 million (U.S.).
The Aintree Grand National was first held in 1839 when a horse called ‘Lottery” became the first winner. The race was then known as the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, it was a vastly different affair from the race we know today. The rough course meant that horses and riders had to jump a stone wall, cross a stretch of ploughed land and if they survived that, finish over two hurdles.
The Topham family have been associated with the race since the 1840’s, they owned a great deal of land in the Aintree area and originally leased the land the course was on from Lord Sefton. In 1949 they bought the land outright and the chairman, Mrs Mirabel Topham, built a new improved course.
The Mildmay Course was opened in 1953, it was named after a great supporter of the Grand National and also a well known amateur jockey, Lord Mildmay. In 1954, a motor racing circuit, another of Mrs Tophams ideas was constructed, it still circles the Grand National track to this day. The circuit hosted a European Grand Prix and five British Grand Prix events, it has been unused since Jim Clark won the final event there in 1962.
It’s hard to believe now that this iconic steeplechase was ever in danger of disappearing from the racing calendar due to a lack of interest from sponsors. The Aintree race course fell on very hard times during the 1970/80s, in an effort to save the race the Grand National was run for a while by Ladbrokes Bookmakers. In 1982 a Grand National Appeal was launched to help save the race and buy the race course, however not enough money was raised and the Jockey Club had to step in.
Drinks company Seagram Distillers, became the races sponsor in 1984, they provided the means for the revival and future of the Grand National. The partnership lasted until 1991 when the race was won by the aptly named horse ‘Seagram’, sponsorship then passed to Martell Cognac, a subsidiary of Seagram’s.
Crabbie’s already has a close link to the race, founder of the company, John Halewood, is the owner of Amberleigh House the winner in 2004. No doubt he has some affection for the race and the three year deal is said to be worth an as yet undisclosed seven figure sum. With the future of the race assured punters can look forward with confidence to the 5th April 2014 and the 167th staging of the Aintree Grand National.