Grand National revellers brave sub-zero temperatures and 70mph winds at Aintree

Racing revellers stormed back to the Grand National Festival for the first time in three years – and partied through sub-zero temperatures, 70mph winds and driving rain.

Fans dismissed the wild weather as a breeze compared to the ordeal locked down Brits suffered during the pandemic.

They shunned coats, fearlessly flashed dare-to-bare frocks and fought to stop fascinators blowing away as storms lashed the Aintree racecourse.

A record 40,000-strong opening day crowd was swelled by 10,000 HNS heroes specially invited by The Jockey Club as athank you’ for their efforts in combating Covid-19.

The 2020 Grand National was axed completely due to the virus and last year’s (2021) was run behind-closed-doors with betting shops shut nationwide.

Fans were able to unleash their frustrations yesterday as they embarked on a three-day racing fest at which they are expected to sup 300,000 pints, 8,000 bottles of champagne and 25,000 cocktails.

Bride-to-be Rebecca Hall, 29, piled in with 25 pals for a horsey hen party.

The farmer from Blackpool, Lancs, who is set wed fiance Peter Bradley, 29, in June, said: It’s so good to be back at Aintree. I actually felt quite emotional seeing all the crowds back.It’s the first time we’ve all been able to get together in the same place for ages and feels amazing.

"I picked it for my hen do six months ago when we were still locked down and it was a bit of a gamble. But there is nowhere better in Britain for a gamble than Aintree.

"The weather’s rotten but this is a breeze compared to what everyone has been through. It feels like life has begun all over again.’’

NHS hero Irene Axon, 64, senior community fundraising manager at Alder Hey Children's Charity, said: "Nobody has been anywhere for a few years so to come here we're all giddy with the excitement.’’

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Aaron Hobson, 54, a modern matron of developmental paediatrics at Alder Hey Children's Hospital, said it was a "lovely gesture" to receive a free "thank you" ticket.

"Our workload increased over 100% when the pandemic started and it's not slowed down. We expected a spike post-Covid but it's not eased off. So it's spiked and it's carried on. It's very difficult. Staff are tired, so, yeah, it's pressured,’’ he said.

"It's lovely coming to Aintree today – totally unexpected. It's brilliant.’’

Her Royal Highness Anne, the Princess Royal, 71, braved the rain to unveil a bronze statue on the course to ex-jockey and crime writer Dick Francis who died in 2010 aged 89 after penning dozens of books and winning over 350 jump races.

Others at the festival’s opening day included ex-Everton footballer Graeme Sharp, 61, and legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson – who enjoyed a victory in Liverpool when his horse Clan Des Obeaux won the Betway Bowl Chase for the second year in a row.

Fergie was cheered by the crowd in the winning enclosure despite spending 27 years in charge of football rivals United. He joked: "It’s always good to win here on Merseyside – but we’re not used to it. Racing is a part of my life now, more than football now.’’

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Coronation Street star Mikey North, who plays Gary Windass, said: "I love my racing and I've had the first two winners somehow. It is my first time at Aintree. It's great. It's a lovely place to be."

Trailblazing jockey Rachael Blackmore, who tomorrow will try to win back-to-back Grand Nationals on Minella Times, said it was "fantastic" to see fans back. "The crowds bring the atmosphere and that's what horseracing is all about,’’ she said.

"I don't know if last year I could have felt any better with the day I had but it's great to have them back."

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