UPDATE: Aintree Grand National and Coronavirus – Cancelled or Crowd-less?
We live in uncertain times. The only certainty seems to be that there will be far more uncertainty than we are experiencing at the moment.
With politicians rushing to batten down the hatches and do all they can to stem the spread of Coronavirus, the sporting world is now resigned to the fact that many, if not all major events could be adversely affected by temporary changes in the law restricting the gathering of large crowds in public areas.
Thankfully, the Cheltenham Festival has gone ahead and we’ve enjoyed some outstanding racing. As ever, there have been a number of horses competing at the Prestbury track who would be expected to move on to Aintree in April and take their respective chances in the world’s greatest steeplechase.
Odds on the Grand National being Cancelled
But with the British government now moving from containment to delay, the Grand National is undoubtedly in peril. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says postponing or cancelling mass-gathering events is currently under consideration, but this will not be implemented for the time being.
Betting markets on whether or not the race will go ahead have shifted markedly in the last few days. As recently as last Friday they were still betting 10/11* that the Aintree marathon would go ahead.
Now, given the measures outlined in yesterday’s budget, reports of more Coronavirus cases being confirmed, and the gathering pace of the disease in mainland Europe, the betting has markedly shifted with odds of around 1/5* being offered that the Grand National will be cancelled, and as big as 10/3* that the race will still go ahead.
A Crowd-less Grand National?
It’s not all cut and dried yet though. We’ve already seen a number of major football matches being played behind closed doors in an attempt to ensure that major competitions can be taken through, as near as possible to a conclusion. So, is it reasonable to wonder that the Grand National could actually go ahead, but with the public barred from entering the hallowed grounds of the Merseyside track?
Already facing diminishing footfall at betting offices around the country and, with many areas of the industry struggling to keep their heads above water following changes in legislation that have reduced FOBT machine betting in offices from £100 to £2, the loss of the biggest betting event of the year would be a significant blow to the betting industry, who will surely be very keen for the Grand National to go ahead at Aintree, regardless of whether or not the public are in attendance.
The race itself would remain the same awesome spectacle and online betting would surely go a very long way to making up any shortfall caused by betting offices being temporarily closed. And for all those owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff who have spent months, or even years preparing their charges for the four-and-a-quarter miles and 30 fences of the 181-year-old event, they would surely be content to race without a crowd.
From the point of view of cross-infection, with only racing professionals at the track there would certainly be enough space for everyone to spread out and keep their distance from one another.
The Aintree executive could pipe out crowd noise through the public address system to give some atmosphere to the broadcasting of the race, and the race would still be shown live to more than 500 million people across the globe ensuring valuable income for Aintree and the racing industry as a whole.
It took the first two years of the First World War before the Grand National was suspended through 1916-18, and the first two years of the Second World War before it was suspended again between 1941-45.
Even the IRA threatening to bomb the track in 1997 – I was there, I remember the chaos – didn’t stop the race going ahead a few days later, but with Coronavirus we are going into unknown territory and it’s impossible to predict just what the consequences might be.
Depending on how the situation develops over the next few days and weeks we’ll find out soon enough if the Grand National can be run – whether or not the public will be there. The horses, trainers, jockeys, owners, and punters will be willing the Grand National to go ahead, so let’s hope a solution can be found to ensure we have something to look forward to on the first Saturday of next month.
*Odds subject to change.
If you don’t feel safe to attend the event, or the Aintree Grand National is planned to go ahead without the crowds, make sure you’re ready to watch from home on desktop or mobile. See your Grand National Live Streaming Options here: