The race has been run. Pictures and commentary have been broadcast around the world, and millions will have formed an impression of Britain in 2013. Ronnie Cohen asks if more could have been made of this opportunity to publicise UK plc.
The Grand National took place on Saturday 6 April this year at Aintree racecourse, near Liverpool. There were 16 fences and 40 runners. The horses covered almost two laps round the racecourse and jumped most fences twice, a total of 30 fences.
Millions around the world placed bets on the Grand National, one of the most famous horse races in the world, and large numbers of people who do not normally gamble placed a bet. But it was a reminder that many in Britain are still living in an imperial past: the horse racing industry in the UK still uses for measurement an archaic mix of miles, furlongs, yards, feet and hands.
The Grand National race is 4 miles 3 furlongs 110 yards in length, about 7140 metres. Given that furlongs are only used in horse racing nowadays, I wonder how many Britons know how long a furlong is and how many there are in a mile. Elsewhere in the world, devotees of the turf are likely to be even less familiar with imperial measurements.
As well as the length of the race, its other features are also defined in imperial measurements. According to the Aintree and Grand National website, the details for some of the other features of this race are:
- Run-in from the final fence of the steeplechase: 494 yards
- Height of fence 1: 4 ft 6 in
- Height of fence 2: 4 ft 7 in
- Height of fence 3: 4 ft 10 in
- Open ditch in front of fence 3: 6 ft
and so on, until
- Height of fence 15: 5 ft 2 in, preceded by a 6 ft wide ditch
- Height of fence 16: 2 ft 6 in
- Length of Aintree racecourse: nearly two and a quarter miles in circumference
Meaningless for 95% of the world’s population, and not a great advertisement for UK plc as a modern, forward-looking country that embraces the future. It makes us look eccentric and out of step with the modern world, but perhaps that is the image that many of us prefer.
Sources for measurements: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_National and http://www.aintree-grand-national.net/grand-national-fences.php