Irish invade Aintree for the NationalFeb 14 2008

by Ben Schofield, Liverpool Daily Post

A SWATHE of emerald is set to cut across the grandstands at this year’s John Smith’s Grand National.

Figures released about spectators at last year’s race reveal more than a quarter of the crowd was from Ireland or Northern Ireland. Even more are expected this year.

The proportion of Irish punters going to the Grand National has more than doubled over the past two years.

Managers at Aintree Race- course are crediting the city’s improved links with Ireland, and say the proportion should rise further thanks to Liverpool being Capital of Culture.

Managing director Julian Thick thanked the Irish contingent for playing “a massive part in the magical atmosphere” of the event.

Nearly 40,000 out of 150,000 racegoers came from Ireland in 2007, according to The Mersey Partnership.

They filled 26.5% of the grandstand and numbers were up from 18,000 at 2005’s meeting, 12% of the total.

Mr Thick said: “Our Irish visitors play such a massive part in the magical atmosphere at Aintree for the Grand National and we’re looking forward to welcoming more than ever this year.

“So many people have grown up watching the Grand National on television, but only those who attend it can really experience the excitement of one of the most spectacular sporting events in the world.

“Nothing compares with the atmosphere of this race meeting and during Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture it is set to be bigger than ever.”

It is thought more than 600m TV viewers will tune to the three-day meeting over April 3, 4 and 5. A total of £35m worth of upgrades to Aintree’s facilities will greet racegoers this year.

Over the past few years, the course has added two new permanent grandstands, an international equestrian centre and a new weighing room and winner’s enclosure.