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A man who is “passionate” about Aintree and the Crabbie’s Grand National is John Baker, Jockey Club Racecourses North-West Regional Director.
He took charge at a challenging time in 2013, and after a memorable and successful running of the big race he piloted the event for the second time in 2014.
Baker says: “Bringing in a new sponsor and being able to stage the first £1,000,000 Crabbie’s Grand National is a great achievement, and it was very pleasing to host a sell-out on Saturday, when 71,500 people were in attendance.
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“I am absolutely passionate about Aintree, and have been since I watched my first Crabbie’s Grand National while sitting on my grandfather’s knee in 1973. That was the year Red Rum beat Crisp, and I was completely hooked.
“From that you can understand why I am so determined to maintain the character of the big race, while always being prepared to listen to the views of interested parties and remain up front with the media.”
GRAND OPENING DAY FEATURES SPECIAL TRIBUTE
The Crabbie’s Grand National Festival 2014 started off in the best possible way with a record crowd on the first day, Grand Opening Day, Thursday 3 April.
The attendance came to 33,456, 1,116 ahead of the previous record crowd for the opening day, 32,340, seen last year.
The opening day also featured a special tribute to Major Ivan Straker, whose work in attracting sponsorship for the Grand National in the mid-1980s helped to secure the future of Aintree: he was commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque at the racecourse.
Lord Daresbury, who retired as Chairman of Aintree this year after 25 years at the helm, was joined by Major Straker’s widow Tizzy at the official ceremony.
He said: “Ivan Straker gave us such great support with the appeal to raise money to buy Aintree in 1984 and he was instrumental in putting together the sponsorship deal which saw Seagram then Martell sponsor the Grand National for 20 years.”
Reflecting on the tribute to her husband, who died last year, Tizzy Straker added: “He would have been enormously moved and grateful to have such a memorial and very proud of all the development that has gone on at the racecourse to take it forward into the future.
“I know he’d also be thrilled with all the tremendous work done by Peter [Lord Daresbury] and his team here at Aintree.”
The plaque, situated outside the Freebooter Room close to the winner’s enclosure, reads: “Our eternal thanks go to Major Ivan Straker, who, in 1984, introduced Seagram Distillers to Aintree as the sponsor of the Grand National.
“Their financial contribution helped secure the ownership of the racecourse, guaranteed the future stability of the Grand National and underpinned the growing success of the meeting for 20 years.
“National Hunt racing owes a huge debt of gratitude to Ivan.”
SURPRISE PRESENTATION TO LORD DARESBURY
Lord Daresbury, who stepped down after 25 years as Chairman of Aintree Racecourse following this year’s Crabbie’s Grand National Festival, was given a surprise presentation.
The Princess Royal presented him with a plaque inducting him into the Grand National Hall Of Fame, it was announced that the County Stand is being re-named the Lord Daresbury Stand and Grand National winning jockeys over the past 25 years came forward.
The jockeys, past and present, at Aintree today were Marcus Armytage, Paul Carberry, Jim Culloty, Tony Dobbin, Mick Fitzgerald, Barry Geraghty, Richard Guest, Nigel Hawke, Carl Llewellyn, Ryan Mania, AP McCoy, Timmy Murphy, Robbie Power and Liam Treadwell.
The value of the Grand National in his time as chairman has risen from £115,000 to £1 million.
Lord Daresbury said: “All the ups and down have gone by very fast. I have ridden in the Grand National, not very successfully.
“If there is anything that stands out, it is the fact that this is the race that everybody, whether they are trainers or jockeys, wants to win and that is the biggest change.
“I think my successor Rose Paterson will do a terrific job – she has got passion for Aintree Racecourse and passion for the Grand National. I wish her all the best.”
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Allison is the Publisher of Eclipse Magazine. She loves going to the Races and is learning to bet (despite being officially the worst bettor in the History of the Universe), there’s a lot more to learn…