THE Grand National as we know it just Aint going to happen.
Racing could be counting the cost of more than £300 million in lost bets, not as the world’s greatest race hangs in the balance.
There’s a real threat Aintree will be called off as crowds are banned in the fight against coronavirus. It would be a National disaster for the sport.
As well as being a massive day in the sporting calendar, the race is vital to the sport’s funding.
Bookies pay a cut of their profits in levy to support racing and losing the biggest race of the year in just 20 days’ time would be a body blow.
With nothing else for punters to bet on, bookies are desperate for the race to go ahead in some form and running the race behind closed doors is the best hope of it happening.
Prospects for sport’s biggest events in the coming weeks hang in the balance with crowds of 500-plus to be outlawed.
The most likely solution is to run meetings behind closed doors but tracks will still need to have an ambulance and medics on course at a time when the NHS is already stretched.
The three-day meeting at Aintree kicks off a week on Thursday.
More than 75,000 are expected to cheer on Gordon Elliott’s Tiger Roll as he bids to equal Red Rum’s record of three wins in the great race.
And 100,000 tickets have been sold for the action on Thursday and Friday too.
Aintree are staying tight-lipped with the sport’s rulers waiting for the government to lay down the law on Monday.
But punters on Betfair are in no doubt. It is 1-5 the meeting is OFF and 4-1 it goes ahead with or without fans in the stands.
The BHA refuses to rule anything in or out at the moment. A spokesman said: “We are monitoring the situation daily and considering a range of options in this rapidly developing situation. Contingency plans are ready as required.
“Until we are told otherwise by the Government there is no change to our policy of business as usual.”
That change appears to be imminent, and racing’s stance could also change as quickly as football did if jockeys or trainers began to start testing positively for coronavirus.
It’s not just Aintree under threat either. There is a big card at Newbury on Saturday and more top action thick and fast.
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Things have already changed in Scotland where tomorrow’s Kelso card takes place behind closed doors with crowds banned north of the border.
Clerk of the course Anthea Morshead is happy to welcome the runners and riders but nobody else.
The action will be beamed into betting shops and on Racing TV.
She said: “It would have been a quiet day anyway on Monday and it will be very strange, I’m sure.”
It’s the same in Ireland where empty Navan was an eerie sight yesterday. The public will be missing from Limerick today too.
That was not the case at Uttoxeter yesterday where over 10,000 fans packed in to Uttoxeter to see Paul Nicholls win a first Midlands National with Truckers Lodge.
Uttoxeter spent £6,000 on hand sanitisers and employed 30 extra cleaners for the day.
Course chief David MacDonald said: “This might be the last major sporting event with public attending for a while and it will have a massive impact on tracks.”
As for little Tiger Roll, it would be gutting if he loses his chance to make racing history.
He warmed up with a solid second at Cheltenham and Gordon Elliott wants decent ground for him at Aintree — if it’s on.
Tiger is owned by Gigginstown stud and boss Eddie O’Leary is appealing for common sense about the National.
He wants the great race to be run behind closed doors if necessary.
He said: “You would delay a National, until when? You delay a Guin-eas and a Derby, like where do you stop?
“Behind closed doors would be the preferred option, if it comes to that. Hopefully it won’t.
“Life has to go on.”