Aintree gearing up for Grand National Festival

Officials at Aintree Racecourse are “grateful” to be preparing for the Grand National Festival from April 8th-10th after missing out in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Grand National was one of the first major British sporting events to be cancelled last spring during the initial lockdown.

Aintree will be a different sight with no racegoers this year, but Clerk of the course Sulekha Varma is just relieved to be racing.

First National for new clerk

Varma was announced as Aintree’s new clerk of the course in December 2019 but she’s had to wait to oversee her first National.

Racing remains ‘behind closed doors’ but Aintree are going to be welcoming owners to the course next week. The Merseyside venue is seeking a go-ahead to accommodate up to six owners per horse, which would be an increase on the standard two per runner in place currently.

Such a development for racing is a big deal, according to Varma.

“After last year’s cancellation, everyone is grateful and pleased to be running the race,” said Varma. “It’s sad we’re not going to have any crowds, but it looks like we’ll be having owners on site, which is huge for us and the whole industry.”

Aintree’s Grand National Festival runs from Thursday 8th April until Saturday 10th April, with the £750,000 Randox Health Grand National the centrepiece.

Grand National 2019

RACING-ENG-NATIONAL Jockeys ride their horses over the water jump as they compete in the Grand National Handicap Chase horse race on the final day of the Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, north west England on April 6, 2019. Tiger Roll put his name alongside legend Red Rum on Saturday winning back to back Grand Nationals in stunning style. The 4-1 favourite, superbly ridden by Davy Russell, took up the running at the last fence and although 66-1 outsider Magic of Light came back at him the nine-year-old had enough to spare to emulate Red Rums feat in 1973-74. Oli Scarff/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

Watering being considered on Merseyside

With drying spring conditions in the Liverpool area, Varma and her team are open to the notion of watering taking place at Aintree this week to help achieve the desired good-to-soft ground conditions for the start of the Grand National Festival on Thur.

Both the Mildmay and National courses was described as good to soft, good in places on Monday and officials are monitoring the situation closely.

“We had 8mm of rain [on Sunday], which was a huge help after a dry period, and that has put us back to good to soft, good in places,” said Varma.

“We’ve got a couple of warm days coming with plenty of sunshine, so that moisture is going to disappear fairly quickly.

“We’re of the view we’ll probably be irrigating by the middle of this week just to keep things on the right side. We’ll keep an eye on things with a view to next week when we have the usual aim of starting the meeting on good to soft.”

Amateur riders return, Irish bubble at Haydock

Amateur riders were prohibited from taking part at the Cheltenham Festival this month under UK government protocols but the changing face of those guidelines means they will be back at Aintree for races like the Foxhunters Chase.

That means leading Irish amateurs such as Patrick Mullins, Jamie Codd and Derek O’Connor are set to make the journey to Aintree, with Mullins already confirming he’ll be riding likely favourite Billaway in the Foxhunters.

Detailed logistical plans are also in place for Aintree, with an ‘Irish bubble’ being created at Haydock racecourse that will see stable staff, trainers and horses located there. At Cheltenham, 166 Irish staff were on site and remained in a bubble on track for the duration of The Festival.

They’ll have a 20-minute commute this time instead but Dr Jennifer Pugh, chief medical officer at the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, is happy with the arrangement and confirmed Cheltenham was a huge success in terms of dealing with the Covid-risks.

“The same framework will be in place at Aintree. It worked very well at Cheltenham,” she said.

“Everyone who went to Cheltenham, they provided negative Covid tests prior to travelling over and everybody tested negative in Cheltenham to be allowed back into Ireland. They all tested negative after five days at home as well.”

Only 10 days out till the Great Race, get your bets in early on Grand National Runners here.

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