The biggest and most famous race on the British horse racing circuit was all set to be the event of the year in 2020. The Grand National is always a spectacle, and 2020 promised to deliver us the goods by presenting us with yet another installment in the ongoing rivalry between Ireland’s top horse trainers.
What we got instead was something completely unprecedented. The 2020 Randox Grand National did make history, but it was for all the wrong reasons.
The National Goes Digital
For the first time since 1945, the Grand National was cancelled. Although the 1990s brought their share of controversial moments, such as the postponement of the race in 1997, and the time that the entire race was declared void after a false start in 1993, it’s nevertheless been decades since no racing took place at Aintree in April.
Instead, the national was contested in the digital realm. CGI technology was used to replicate every aspect of the race, and algorithms selected the 40 horses most likely to have run on the day itself. The first-ever Virtual Grand National was won by Potters Corner, 2019’s Welsh Grand National champion, and all profits from the race were donated to NHS Charities Together.
The National That Wasn’t
Less than nine months ago, Grand National fever was palpable throughout the UK’s horse racing industry. The festival’s showcase race was set for April 4th, and the very best steeplechasers from across the UK and Ireland were on course to battle it out over those 30 iconic fences.
Heading up the entrants at the beginning of the season was Gordon Elliott’s 10-year-old, Tiger Roll. After a nail-biting few months, while he recovered from a joint injury sustained during the 2019 season, the Gigginstown Stud star made his comeback at the Boyne Hurdle at Navan, leaving Elliott and owner Michael O’Leary “delighted” with his progress.
Tiger Roll was on his way to achieving the impossible – win the Grand National for the third consecutive time. The two-time winner of both the Grand National and the Cheltenham Cross Country would be making a hattrick attempt to become the first horse in the history of the National itself to win it a total of three consecutive times.
The only horse to have ever won the National three times before was the legendary Red Rum, who was first past the post in 1973, 1974, and 1977.
Unsurprisingly, Tiger Roll was one of the bookies’ favourites to win again this year. However, more drama was to come in February as another favourite, Native River, was forced to pull out.
Native River’s Gold Cup win in 2018 was the stuff of racing history. After being absent from the racecourse for most of 2017, the 10-year-old gelding romped home four and a half lengths ahead of the rest of the field, making punters like Chris Hopgood – who backed him as his Big Race promotion winner – very happy indeed.
2020 was set to be his year. Already a solid Gold Cup horse (he placed 3rd in 2017 and 4th in 2019 in addition to his 2018 prize), Native River had a legitimate shot at winning the National, especially with a 2016 Welsh Grand National win to his name.
However, within weeks of Colin Tizzard confirming that this year would indeed be the year when his classy stayer would make his Grand National debut – and go for the Gold Cup win once again – the sad news broke that he would be pulled out of both due to a knee tendon injury.
The 2020 race being cancelled also meant that we missed out on another installment in the intense rivalry between Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins. It’s a duel that makes every major event on both the Irish and British racing calendars all the more exciting, and a lot was riding on this year’s National for both of them.
Although Elliott had enjoyed recent Aintree wins, Mullins hadn’t produced a champion since 2005, when Hedgehunter was ridden to victory. Both trainers had put forward a stable’s worth of horses for entry, and in the lead up to April, it was clear that they would be dominating the field.
Looking Forward To 2021
Although sadly, we did miss out on some top-notch racing moments this year, we’re just under 7 months away from the 2021 Grand National, which will be taking place on Saturday 10th April. Stay tuned for our best tips and odds when the official field of runners is confirmed.