Bookmakers hope the race can once again demonstrate its flexibility by pushing back the date of the Grand National to ensure that bettors in betting shops can take advantage of the annual “celebration.”
The coronavirus has been paid off at the National 2020 – along with so many other major sporting events – and after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday is expected to take place this year just two days before non-essential stores reopen as early as possible .
Race administrators have had to adapt to a series of challenges posed by the pandemic over the past 12 months, first with an interrupted appointment list, then a suspension of attendance for owners and spectators and store closures also impacting revenues.
It’s only recently that the winter weather has brought its challenges as well – but race administrators were quick to develop rescheduling plans to avoid large meetings lost due to the frost.
Ladbrokes Coral PR Director Simon Clare suggests the sport can show more of that pro-active spirit – and give itself a much-needed financial boost – by delaying the Randox Grand National, currently scheduled for Saturday 10 April, so that it can be run with the stores open again.
The National is by far the biggest betting race of the year, with an estimated turnover of £ 300million.
Clare said: “Now that we have seen the government roadmap dates – which are tentative – and the fact that there is a potential for the betting shops to open on April 12, the obvious problem is the Grand National.
“It’s the biggest betting race of the year – the race millions of people enjoy as a national celebration. It was lost due to the pandemic in 2020, and would take place two days before stores open this year.
“This is the only race where the betting shops provide a great service. There are a lot of punters once a year who want to come and bet on the big race.
“There’s the party aspect of the Grand National. It’s the showcase for racing and betting – so we would love to see that happen.”
Clare admits that it may not be possible to delay the race for a few days or up to a week.
But he is pinning his hopes on another example of the ingenuity that has helped the British Horseracing Authority, the Jockey Club and other stakeholder administrators chart a course through the pandemic so far.
He added: “The reopening of stores is great – that’s the most important thing.
“The Grand National is the biggest betting race of the year. It is worth 10 times more than the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is the second largest, in turnover.
“Obviously the race has done an amazing job of being flexible during the pandemic. It has been an incredible effort.
“It might not be possible – but if it can be done, that would be fantastic.”
Bookies have, of course, felt the financial consequences of having to close stores during the closings of the past year.
Clare said: “This is a major source of income for the betting shops which have had a very difficult time and for the race which has done a brilliant job of keeping the show on the road but which has been strongly supported by the Levy Board.
“The Grand National which takes place when the stores are open would give a big injection of money.”
The two Jockey Club racetracks, which own and operate Aintree, and the BHA declined to comment at this time on the prospect of a possible postponement.
Ascot officials, meanwhile, are pondering the dilemma of whether to try to postpone the five-day royal reunion by a week in the hopes of having a full crowd.
In the current state of the roadmap, a limited number would be allowed on the current dates of June 15-19 – but the restrictions could be lifted in their entirety on June 21.
Ascot Director of Communications Nick Smith told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “We were quietly surprised and probably very happy with the level of detail the Prime Minister was able to share (Monday).
“It was certainly a surprise to us that there were so many details about the crowds returning to sporting events so early – so we have a lot to digest.
“It is only natural that the question (to postpone the meeting by a week) should be asked. I think the reality is what the Prime Minister said, is that Stage 4 would be June 21 at the earliest. With Royal Ascot due to end on June 19, if it were to move a week later, that doesn’t leave much room for slippage.
“At this exact moment, keeping in mind all the intricacies of moving a race meeting with Pattern issues and the real uncertainty as to whether June 21 will become tenable, we’re just watching this space.
“I wouldn’t want to run hares to say that there is a plan in the background to move the royal meeting because a) it is too early to think about it and b) there is none at this Stadium.
“I think we have to be realistic. It’s not impossible, and some will say it’s likely, that there will be some slippage in this program – which doesn’t mean it fails, it means just that the natural course of events is not as fast as people would like.
“It’s extremely complicated. To say one week we could plan ‘x’ thousand and the next plan for 70,000 capacities – or whatever – would require huge expense, and if you’re not absolutely sure that you would be able to deliver it a week later would be a very difficult financial risk to take, especially considering what we faced last year and what we are facing this year.
“The very good news is that it seems likely that we will be able to accommodate at least some crowd. We don’t know what the number will be, as the government has detailed what you can accommodate at a stadium – which is seat-based – and the courses don’t work that way. “