Thousands of spectators return to the Grand National for first time since 2019

Around 150,000 racegoers will descend on Aintree racecourse over the next three days, for the first time since 2019, as the Grand National Festival returns to a live crowd.

The three-day race meeting, which begins on Thursday 7 April, sees the return of crowds to the festival, which was cancelled in 2020 for the first time since the Second World War as the country went into lockdown.

Since then, the public have been invited to the racecourse to receive their Covid vaccinations and for coronavirus testing, but last year racing was held behind closed doors with only a handful of owners and trainers able to spectate.

Despite the rain and the wind, racegoers arrived in their best outfits for the first day of the three-day event.

Dickon White, North West regional director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said: "There has been a real sense of excitement building up over the last few days.

"It's a hive of activity here with last-minute things being put to bed and it is really exciting.

"This is not just about three days for Aintree, it's about the whole economic impact an event like this has for the North West region.

"Everyone benefits, whether you are a hotel owner or you own restaurants and bars, a retailer, even down to the hairdressers, barbers and nail salons.

"All of these people benefit and it is just fantastic to be back."

Mr White added: "We have a sold-out Grand National day which shows people have really been craving live events, particularly live sporting events.

"Come 5.15pm on Saturday we will have 70,000 on the racecourse for the Grand National."

This year, the first day of the festival is called 'Liverpool NHS Day', after the racecourse donated 10,000 tickets to NHS staff for their commitment during the pandemic.

The 10,000 Festival Zone tickets for Liverpool's NHS Day have been split among Merseyside NHS providers, including Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Walton Centre, Liverpool University Hospital Trust, Clatterbridge and Liverpool Women's Hospital.

Thank You NHS sign outside the racecourse. Credit: Liverpool Echo

Workers at Merseycare, St Helens and Whiston Hospitals, Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust, Liverpool's Heart and Chest Hospital and North West Ambulance Service were also invited to claim a complimentary ticket.

Dickon White said: "We look forward to welcoming 10,000 NHS heroes on day one of the event to show our appreciation for everything they have been doing for us and I am sure we will enjoy a fantastic NHS celebration on the day."

Racegoers cling onto their hats in the windy weather. Credit: PA

Grand National 2022 in numbers:

  • 2,000 staff hired from the local area.

  • 200 chefs working in hospitality.

  • 11,500 meals over the three days.

  • Three tonnes of potatoes eaten.

  • 711kg of cheese consumed.

  • 800 metres of additional bar space built.

Getting ready for the Grand National is an important event for many racegoers.

Deana Taylor, owner of Felicity Hat Hire in Liverpool, said: "We are absolutely bombed out. Our opening hours are normally 10am until 4pm but I was in at 8am this morning and we're staying open in the evening to 7pm just to try and meet demand.

"Everybody is going a bit extra this year, they are all really excited."

150,000 spectators are expected at Aintree over the next three days. Credit: PA images

Ms Taylor bought the business last year and said she was told by the former owners the races would be her "bread and butter".

She added: "This is what allows you to buy all your new stock in, so while we are raking it in we're not seeing the benefits because we want to replenish the stock every year and it's all going on that."

The three-day race meeting begins continues on Friday 8 April with Ladies Day and culminates with the world-famous steeplechase on Saturday 9 April.