Over the last month, coronavirus has of course seen sports events cancelled across the land. With horse racing and football making up three-quarters of Britain’s sports betting market, the impact on the industry has clearly been huge.
One of the last big events to have been held was the Cheltenham Festival over four days in mid-March, which attracted a quarter of a million attendees, and the decision to proceed with it has since sparked controversy.
But what of this year’s Grand National?
The Grand National 2020 – what happened?
To give you a feel for the scale of the Grand National and its importance in the racing calendar here’s some background:
- It was first held in 1839 by a hotelier who wanted to attract custom to his inn
- The Grand National handicap steeplechase is the UK’s biggest horse race
- It takes place over nearly 7km at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool
- With 30 fences and two laps, it’s been shown on TV for 60 years
- Many betters include those who wouldn’t generally have a flutter on the races at any other time of year
- It serves as an invaluable link between the sport and the British public.
Arguably the world’s most celebrated steeplechase, the race was due to have taken place on Saturday, April 4, but was cancelled on March 16, the first time it had been called off since the Second World War.
Senior Steward of the Jockey Club Sandy Dudgeon said:
This is hugely disappointing for the many who work in our sport and the many millions who were looking forward to this year’s event, but these are exceptional times.
The 2020 event, which would have been the Grand National’s 173rd outing, had been particularly eagerly anticipated, with favourite Tiger Roll on course for a third win in a row. (The only horse to have actually won three times, Red Rum, was victorious in the 1970s, and is buried next to the winning post at Aintree.)
A virtual replacement
A virtual Grand National took place at 5.15 pm (usual race time) on the day the race should have been run, April 4, with bookmakers using the occasion to raise money for the NHS. There were 40 runners deemed to have been most likely to have taken part for real, and the virtual event used special algorithms and CGI technology. In total, the virtual event generated £2.6m to support the fight against the coronavirus, via NHS Charities Together.
Bookmakers gave odds on all the horses originally due to take part, and ITV showed the Virtual Grand National ‘live’. The computer-generated version was won by Potter’s Corner, ‘ridden’ by Jack Tudor, 17. Indeed, had Tudor been competing for real, the teenager would have been the youngest jockey to have triumphed for more than 80 years. (However, we should point out that, he’d have needed to have won a number of qualifying races in March, by which time racing was already suspended.)
The animated version depicted ambulances careering around the course, shots of thrilled spectators and the like to create a realistic feel. Most importantly, it also entertained punters and gave them something to bet on in the absence of the real thing, with the average stake being £2.
There was even some of the drama that might have been seen in the real thing, with one-time leader Aso taking a fall in the final stages. Indeed, 10 horses fell and four unseated their jockeys.
Runners, riders and winners
The results were as follows:
- Potter’s Corner (18/1) – winner
- Walk-In The Mill (16/1) – runner-up
- Any Second Now (10/1) – third place
- Tiger Roll (favourite, 5/1) – fourth place
- Burrows Saints (12/1) – fifth place
Champion of Champions race
A computer-generated Champion of Champions race took place ahead of the main event, made up of previous Grand Nationals winners, each one ‘racing’ at the level they enjoyed in their prime. It can still be seen on YouTube, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the winner was Red Rum, with a narrow margin of less than a length after he just managed to slip past Manifesto.
The Grand National in 2021
The date of the 2021 Grand National has been set for April 8, and the occasion has been renamed Liverpool’s NHS Day to honour health service staff and volunteers and careers across the region.
These workers will be recognised with 10,000 free tickets to be distributed across Merseyside.
With racing suspended until the end of April, and jump racing until July, Ascot is cancelled, at least as an open event. The Epsom Derby has been officially called off, as has Chester’s May Festival. So the outlook for this summer’s racing remains uncertain.
The sport was waiting to hear this week whether resuming meetings behind closed doors from May onwards would be feasible.
Meanwhile, initiatives like the computerised substitute of the Grand National are to be welcomed as a way of turning a negative situation around. We’re sure there’ll be more virtual events in the coming weeks and months, and at Roger.com, we’ll keep you informed of how you can bet on them.