Aintree Grand National Meeting 2011 

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Vote McCoy as You Think of Spruce!

The Festive season approaches and households up and down the country are getting out decorations and fairy lights to adorn spruce Christmas trees in preparation for the big day.

AP McCoy and Don't Push It

AP McCoy and Don't Push It

Yet spruce plays an important role at other times of the year as well. In the New Year, Aintree places a big order for coniferous evergreens as the racecourse prepares the unique Grand National course for the world’s greatest chase.

Just recall 15-time champion jump jockey Tony McCoy’s winning the 2010 John Smith’s Grand National for the first time on Saturday, April 10, on Don’t Push It with the spruce being pushed off the fences as the horses jumped through it.

McCoy is favourite to win the 2010 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, thanks in no small part, to the victory in the John Smith’s Grand National and his exuberant and emotional reaction to the success.

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year award is decided by viewers voting live during the show (7pm-9pm) which is broadcast on BBC One Television from Birmingham on Sunday, December 19.

The 16 famous Grand National fences have been dressed since 1982 with the distinctive Sitka variety of spruce, which is harvested from Forestry Commission estates in Cumbria and upwards of 50 tonnes of branches will be heading down the M6.

“We normally use spruce from the Grizedale Forest in south Cumbria but next year’s branches might come from a spot near Keswick,” revealed the Forestry Commission’s Andy Bennett.

aintree fence
“The Sitka spruce is a bluer colour than the other species we have - the Norway spruce - and it would look really odd if you put the two types together on a fence.

“If you have a real Christmas tree in your house, it will more than likely be a Norway spruce, although a lot depends on the current fashions.

“People like the Scots Pine at the moment because it is a pretty tree and keeps its needles longer, while some of the fir varieties have also proved popular in recent times.

“The main difference between the trees used for Aintree and the domestic Christmas tree is the size. Most of the trees that we will be felling during the coming months will be pushing 50 years old and will be upwards of 40 metres in height, but it takes one of our machines less than 20 seconds to cut them down.

Mark Shaw, known as “Sprucer” to his friends, has been helping transport the branches to Aintree since 1978, when he joined the racecourse as a member of the groundstaff.

Now in charge of his own company, Southport-based Landcare, the born-and-bred Liverpudlian is responsible for making sure that the iconic Grand National fences look their best.

“The race gets screened all round the world and it is obviously important to get the cosmetics right - the fences make the Grand National,” said Shaw.

“It’s a big job and we start getting ready for the John Smith’s Grand National about nine weeks in advance. A lot depends on the weather - if we have a particularly mild autumn or winter, some of the branches won’t keep their needles very long and we have to make a few return trips.

“Spruce tends to dry out very quickly if it’s windy or the sun comes out. One year, I even had to go up to Cumbria on the day of the Grand National to get some more - it felt a bit strange driving up the motorway to get some spruce at half-past two in the morning!”

All but two of the 16 Grand National fences are jumped twice, meaning that the John Smith’s Grand National winner has to negotiate safely 30 fences over four and a half miles.


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