When the UK government announced their roadmap for lifting the lockdown restrictions, in amongst the directives was the news that ‘non essential’ retail outlets will be allowed to open their doors from April 12.
That was celebrated by everybody within the betting industry, with an upturn in takings on the high street then feeding latterly into horse racing’s levy fund.
As if that wasn’t enough of a bonus for the bookies, along comes the revelation that the Grand National may be delayed in order for betting shops to be open when the Aintree showpiece is contested.
The idea was first floated by the former managing director of Aintree, John Baker, who suggested that the ‘innovative’ approach from National officials has saved the race in the past – such as in 1997, when a bomb scare forced the marathon renewal to be held over until the following Monday.
Being able to have a flutter at the local betting shop would raise much-needed cash for the coffers at a time when any such investment is most welcome. Around £125 million is wagered on the race each year, and it remains the biggest single betting day on the sporting calendar – particularly so when the bookies are open on the high street.
On Thursday 25th February, The Jockey Club, owners on Aintree Racecourse, confirmed that the 2021 Grand National would not be moved and will still take place on the 10th April.
Many within the sport are fully behind the decision to delay the Grand National in 2021 – perhaps by a week from its current April 10 timeslot to Saturday the 17th. Nigel Twiston-Davies and Evan Williams, who train potential National winning candidates, have already thrown their weight behind the campaign.
“As long as the Grand National is held that’s the main thing,” said Williams, who will saddle the fancied Secret Reprieve.
“But we all have to look at the big picture. If we involve as many people as we can, getting them watching and betting on the race, it has got to be something that is a positive for the whole sport.
“Ultimately, whatever is best for the Grand National is best for the sport, and that should be all that matters. I think we should be trying to get as many people supporting it in as many ways as they can.”
And Twiston-Davies, who has the multiple time Betfair Chase champion Bristol De Mai among his Aintree squad, said:
“It can’t do any harm at all, can it? I think it would give the whole thing a bit of life. In fact, I think it’s a very good idea and, yes, I think it’s something they should do.”
The Betting & Gaming Council, who act as the trade body of bookmaking, called the date change a chance for ‘a truly national celebration’, while acknowledging that if betting shops are open then revenue of up to £1 million could be pumped into the levy fund.
Michael Dugher, the organisation’s chief executive, said:
“Ensuring the once-a-year punters are able to pop into their local bookies to have a flutter, supporting their local high street, on the world’s most famous horse race would help make the Grand National a truly national celebration as we begin to reopen the economy.
“It would ensure that we engage as many people as possible in this great British event, showcasing the fabulous sport of racing. This would also provide a much-needed and timely boost for racing and the high street after such a torrid year for both.”
There is a chance that the date will essentially be switched with that of the Scottish Grand National, originally scheduled for April 17 at Ayr, which could be moved a week earlier. Betting shops north of the border are unlikely to be opened until the end of April at the very earliest.