What will the return of crowds to the Grand National mean to Aintree itself?

ITV Granada Reports' correspondent Andy Bonner reports from Aintree.

It has been a "long time coming" for the local businesses who rely on the Grand National Festival.

The iconic sporting event, which means so much to Merseyside, returns this week - and brings with it an excitement and unique local buzz that has been missing since 2019.

For the local businesses that rely on the annual trade that the event brings, the last two years have dealt a heavy financial blow.

The beginning of the coronavirus pandemic saw the event in 2020 cancelled completely.

Credit: PA Images

It did return last year, but instead of 140,000 spectators, the pandemic sanctioned that the stands should be sparse. 

Just a few hundred socially-distanced trainers and owners were allowed to watch events in person.

But with racing back at Aintree this week, there is lots to celebrate.

One of the pubs most synonymous with the National is the Queen's Arms in Aintree, located right next door to the racecourse.

The pub estimates it takes around "8 to 10" times of its usual weekly income during the Grand National weekend.

Landlord Steve Moore, says the return of the National has been a "long time coming."

He says: “The Grand National happened on April 10 last year. And we were outside listening to the tannoys. There was no people there.

“The fact of the Grand National was happening. No one could come in. And then we opened on the Monday, so we missed it by two days then as well."

Steve is overjoyed that the event is back on finally this year.

"For three days it is just manic, organised chaos", he says.

"Everyone's talking about it. We take phone calls daily. I have done for the last week from Ireland, from London, from from all over the place. You definitely open? What time you're open? Yeah. Come along.

“I think people are just, it's that freedom thing that they can get back out there. And they've missed racing, it is a big racing area as well. But the Grand National especially, they've missed it."

One place that has really missed the Grand National is the Defne Turkish Restaurant in Aintree.

It opened just months before the cancelled Grand National in 2020 so has never yet benefitted from the event - until now.

Altan Nur, Owner, Defne Turkish Restaurant, has not been taking a wage because business has struggled.

He is now £20,000 in debt, struggling with rising prices so has turned the downstairs of his restaurant into a bar for the National in the hope of clawing some of the money back.

Altan said: "We're all excited, our first year is going to be here. And after lockdown and all being disappointed you know?

"This is third time lucky now, isn't it hopefully? For two years we've been suffering.

“We lost a lot of money and now we look forward to for the Grand National, maybe making some money to repair the backward, you know, because we still owe the gas and electric, it builds up.

“We couldn't afford to pay all the bill. Now, I hope we make a good business this Grand National.”

Laura Pye, Chair of the Visitor Economy Board for the City Region says "It's of significant economic value to the city region.

“It's great for our bars. It's great for our restaurants. It's great for our hotels, definitely here in Liverpool but right across the city region.

"Our bars, restaurants and hotels will really benefit from this weekend. And after the two years we had, we really need that benefit of economic impact into the city region, kickstart the visitor economy for what will hopefully be a great summer season for us.

Chief Inspector Matthew Moscrop, from Merseyside Police says "It's great to have people back.

" It's a big event in the calendar around here. I worked there three years ago and it's been a bit of a gap, so it's great to have people back to Aintree.

"We just want people to enjoy themselves, respect others. And if they see something which they're concerned about just to speak to us and we'll do whatever we can to keep people safe."

Credit: PA Images

One tradition thankfully returning this year is the annual visit to Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

Current and retired members of the weighing room made the journey to the Liverpool-based hospital along with 2012 Grand National winner Neptune Collonges for the first time since 2019.  

Reigning champion jockey Harry Skelton, who was joined by his wife and fellow jockey Bridget Andrews, said: “I’ve been coming here a few years now and it is a true eye opener really. 

 “We’ve missed a couple of years but it was great to come back and see the new building go up.  

 “The investment they are putting into Alder Hey to a new mental health ward and the support given to the kids is second to none.  

 “Seeing Neptune Collonges here today at 21 years old is unbelievable. The Hales family have supported this so well through many years and it is a credit to them.  

 “Seeing the kids coming out here today - it is like they have got another Christmas really. They come out smiling with a spring in their step and they absolutely love it.  

 “I think it is an hour well spent in my year. It is a pleasure to see rand give them a bit of happiness. 

 “We are fortunate as we sometimes take life for granted but you see these kids and they are some of the bravest people going.” 

One little girl meets national winner Neptune as part of visit to Alder Hey hospital Credit: ITV News

Among those also in attendance was champion jockey-elect Brian Hughes, who described the experience as “humbling”. 

He said: “It is quite humbling and it probably hits home more when you have your own kids when you see what these families are presented with. If we can make their morning a little bit better we are the ones that are lucky to do that. 

 “We do a job day-to-day that is basically our hobby - these people here have got difficult scenarios in front of them which is very hard for them.  

 “It is great seeing everyone here and they enjoy seeing the old horse here. It is every parents’ worst nightmare that their children gets a serious issue or illness and it is very humbling for us to come.” 

Former jockey Mick Fitzgerald, who is a partron of the charity, has been a big supporter of the project since its inception in 2002.  

The Grand National winner-turned broadcaster said: “I always say with this that this is a wake-up call. What these kids have to put themselves through makes you realise this is what is important.  

“Life is precious and for some of these kids it’s really precious. Now that I have kids you actually imagine what it would be like to have a child here and it would be very scary - that is why I say to all the lads take it all in as it makes you realise what really matters. 

“I’ve been involved in this trip and getting the lads to come for a long time. When you are a jockey you are a hamster on a wheel.  

“When you come to something like this it makes you get off it and realise the outside world is huge and there are things in life that are more important. 

 “I feel if we can do anything to help no matter how small it has to be a good thing. To see the kids’ faces when they see Neptune Collonges is great.”  

Mick Fitzgerald talks to ITV Granada Reports outside Alder Hey hospital following the visit, along with 4-year-old Eloise Maloney and her mum Katy:

While there, they were taken to see the work taking place on Sunflower House, which is the new mental health unit being developed at the hospital before having pictures taken with residents, staff and parents and Neptune Collongnes.  

To mark the milestone visit a glass bowl was presented to The Jockey Club on behalf of the Alder Hey Children’s Charity in front of the ongoing Sunflower House project which is due to be completed later this year.  

The jockeys were taken to see the work taking place on Sunflower House, which is the new mental health unit being developed at the hospital Credit: ITV News

Top tips if you are travelling to Aintree via train

Rail passengers travelling to Liverpool Lime Street for the Grand National are being given top tips to help them get off to a winning start when the world-famous horse racing festival returns tomorrow.

With bumper crowds expected, Network Rail is encouraging railway racegoers to:

  • Plan your journey and check before you travel here

  • Allow extra time to catch your train home – later services will be extremely busy

  • Remember Network Rail's motto of ‘Be safe, be patient, be kind’ when travelling

Following the recent trend of rising passenger numbers, this year's Grand National is forecast to be busier than ever.

Kyla Thomas, Liverpool Lime Street station manager, said: “We’re really looking forward to welcoming Grand National-goers back to Liverpool Lime Street for the first time in three years and it's great to see more passengers travelling into the city at weekends."

Additional staff will be on hand at Liverpool Lime Street station to help passengers over the weekend from Thursday 7 April until Saturday 9 April.

A queuing system will be in use during especially busy periods, but fans shouldn’t need to wait for long with regular services to the racecourse.

Passengers can check their journeys here for the latest travel information.