Potters Corner ‘won’ the Virtual Grand National, a computer simulation broadcast by ITV on Saturday evening in place of the race itself, which has been abandoned along with the rest of the current sporting programme in Britain because of the coronavirus crisis. Tiger Roll, who would have been seeking his third consecutive Grand National success if this year’s race had gone ahead, was placed fourth by ITV’s computer.
The outcome must count as a bittersweet moment for the trainer Christian Williams, who had nursed serious hopes for Potters Corner at Aintree after he won the Welsh Grand National in December. Like all other jumps horses, Potters Corner will not see real action until at least July, jump racing having been suspended until then by the sport’s ruling body.
ITV hailed the outcome as a great moment for the young jockey Jack Tudor, who, in reality, would have needed to ride a few more winners after racing was suspended in mid-March to qualify for a place in this National. Walk In The Mill was second and Any Second Now third.
Earlier, Manifesto was pipped close home by Red Rum in ITV’s ‘Race of Champions’, contested by past Grand National winners, some from the 19th century.
The real Grand National was cancelled, along with the rest of the traditional three days of racing at Aintree, on 16 March, when the Jockey Club decided it could not hope to stage the event in light of government advice against non-essential travel and social contact. Until then, it had still seemed possible to stage the race behind closed doors, but all horse racing was brought to a halt the following day.
While a computerised Grand National is a poor substitute for the real thing, the enormous effort at accuracy made by its programmers has rewarded the Virtual National with some quite prescient results in the past three years. Cause Of Causes, the first ‘virtual’ winner in 2017, was actually second in the race itself the next day, while the computer accurately predicted Tiger Roll’s first success the next year. Rathvinden, the virtual winner of 2019, then finished third in the real thing.
Betting was allowed on the virtual race, with punters limited to £10 stakes, while bookmakers agreed to offer the same set of odds as each other and promised to pass any profit to NHS Charities Together, the umbrella organisation for more than 140 NHS charities.
Meanwhile, the Jockey Club, which owns and runs Aintree racecourse, said it would donate 10,000 tickets to the first day of next year’s Grand National meeting to NHS and social care workers across Merseyside. The fixture will be renamed Liverpool’s NHS Day.