Business

Grand National horse race has more than one winner

Ballabriggs leaps to victory in last year's Grand National
Image caption The Grand National race is the culmination of a massive three-day sporting event

With more than 150,000 people expected to descend on Aintree for the Grand National racing festival, which began on Thursday, the horse-racing industry, bookmakers, sponsors and the Merseyside economy are all eyeing an economic boost.

Last year a record 153,000 crowd attended Aintree Racecourse for the three-day festival - a significant increase on the 46,083 people who attended the meeting in 1984.

The highlight, the John Smith's-sponsored Grand National, was last year broadcast to an audience of more than 600 million viewers.

Four-and-a-half miles long and with more than 30 fences, the steeplechase is one of the toughest races in the world.

Sell-out

A total of 40 horses will be participating in the 165th staging of the race on Saturday, which, according to racing executives, is more popular than ever.

Aintree Racecourse is owned by the Jockey Club, the largest commercial group in British racing.

Group chief executive Simon Bazalgette said tickets, which are priced from £20 to £115 for non-hospitality entry, were snapped up some time ago.

Image caption Big crowds are expected again for the Aintree meeting this year

"Grand National Day sold out three weeks ago, which is earlier than ever before, so we've enjoyed unprecedented demand for tickets," he told the BBC.

"Last year's attendance of more than 153,000 across the three days was a record total crowd and we're looking for a similar result this year."

He said that coming on the back of the largest-ever Cheltenham Festival crowd last month, it was an indication of the health of British racing, which he said was "a sport on the up".

"John Smith's remains an excellent headline partner here at Aintree," he added.

"This year's prize fund of £975,000 clearly demonstrates their support and we're working closely with them to see the first £1m John Smith's Grand National soon."

Tourism boost

This is the eighth year of the nine-year sponsorship deal with the brewer.

As part of its sponsorship, it has launched a number of successful initiatives to engage with fans and to further establish its name within the sport - including its Grand National Hall of Fame and its Smithy the Horse character.

However, John Smith's is not the only brand keen to be associated with the race event.

Other commercial partners include Matalan, Silver Cross, the Daily Mirror and Betfred.

Meanwhile, the importance of the Grand National to the local tourism economy can be seen in the fact that in 2011, it was chosen as regional tourism event of the year.

And tourist board officials for the Liverpool city region last year put the value of the race to the local economy at £10m, up from the £8.5m figure in 2010.

Image caption Friday sees the festival's annual fashion parade for Ladies' Day

As well as spending money on travel and accommodation, visitors from across the UK and abroad also spend money in the region's bars, restaurants, shops and visitor attractions.

With more than half the visitors to Saturday's Grand National meeting coming from outside the North West of England, there is also the hope that they will choose to return for other unrelated visits.

The sporting, cultural and entertainment heritage of the region is also celebrated as the big names from music, sport and the arts play their part in the event.

The three days of racing feature a Liverpool Day and a Ladies' Day on the Thursday and Friday preceding Grand National race day, and both these events are also big days on the local social calendar.

This year the Thursday crowd for the Liverpool Day was a record 30,340 people, the first time the day has gone through the 30,000 people milestone.

With Friday, as well as Saturday now sold out, organisers are confident of beating last year's record total attendance.

The event is also popular among the corporate sector, as it gives businesses the chance to entertain clients and network in a prestigious environment.

'Eagerly anticipated'

With the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Everton also on Saturday, bookmakers are hoping for a financially healthy weekend.

it is expected up to £1bn will be wagered by punters on the Grand National and the two weekend FA Cup semi-finals, with Spurs playing Chelsea on Sunday.

William Hill spokeswoman Kate Miller said: "The Grand National is one of the most eagerly anticipated sporting events of the year.

"It's a race that stops the nation, with half the adult population placing a bet.

"Turnover for us, William Hill, will be around £30m on the big race, and across the industry, across Europe, and with two massive football games this weekend, it could be a billion-pound weekend."

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