Potters Corner was given an extra helping of feed on Saturday night after a computerised version of the steeplechaser was first across the line in ITV’s Virtual Grand National. The computer simulation was broadcast in the slot that would normally be occupied by the Aintree race, abandoned along with the rest of the sporting programme because of the coronavirus crisis, and the result was a fillip to Christian Williams, who trains Potters Corner near Ogmore-by-Sea on the south Wales coast.
“Brilliant, wasn’t it?” Williams said. “I watched it with the kids and now my Twitter’s gone absolutely mad and I’ve had lots of text messages, even from people outside of racing who watched it and got excited. It seems like everyone got into it. Things are rubbish at the moment and it’s nice that they did something like that.”
ITV’s computer simulations have been surprisingly effective at foreshadowing the actual National result in recent years, so it might be thought that this outcome would be a bittersweet one for Williams, suggestive of a missed opportunity. But he laughed off any such thought.
“I feel blessed that he won us a Welsh National and a Midlands National last year. He’s been a great horse for us. I’ve just been out to the field to see him now. I thought I’d better give him an extra scoop of nuts after that. We look forward to racing coming back, whenever it does. Hopefully the country can stay strong and we’ll get on top of this thing.”
Absolute heartbreak here in Herefordshire for housemate @charliedeutsch2 as Aso falls with the race at his mercy. @itvracing @AintreeRaces @RacingPost #VirtualGrandNational #Aso #Gutted pic.twitter.com/phpjaFjMWl— Ed Bailey (@edwardwabailey) April 4, 2020
The next few months will be quiet for Williams and all jump-racing trainers, as a return to steeplechasing has been ruled out until at least July. He said that at some point he would begin to plot a winter campaign with the owners of Potters Corner, who include the former rugby star Jonathan Davies. The options are trying to win a second Welsh National or committing solely to Aintree and avoiding the possibility of a hard race in the Chepstow mud along the way.
The winner of the actual National for the last two years, Tiger Roll was the 5-1 favourite for Saturday’s virtual race and his backers were given plenty of encouragement when he was shown in the lead at The Chair fence just before halfway. Davy Russell, who rides the horse, was possibly offended by that, as he has been scrupulously patient for the past two years, waiting until at least the third-last to hit the front.
In view of the aggressive tactics the computer ascribed to Tiger Roll, it was no surprise to see the virtual runner getting ‘tired’ from the home turn. Aso, a 66-1 shot, pressed on at that point, only to fall at the second-last, prompting cries of “Disgrace!” from his regular jockey Charlie Deutsch, filmed watching the race by a housemate.
That allowed Potters Corner to come home ahead of Walk In The Mill and Any Second Now, with Tiger Roll fourth. At 18-1, Potters Corner will have had plenty of supporters but surely not enough to prevent a net profit for the bookmakers and that in turn should ensure a healthy contribution to the health service, as bookmakers had promised to pass any profit to NHS Charities Together, the umbrella organisation for more than 140 NHS charities.
No Welsh-based horse has won the real National since Kirkland in 1905 and ITV claimed additional historical significance for the outcome by pointing out that the 17-year-old jockey Jack Tudor had just become, sort of, the youngest winning National jockey since Bruce Hobbs in 1938. In reality, the inexperienced Tudor would need to have ridden a handful of winners since mid-March, when racing was suspended, if he was to be qualified to participate in this National.
The Jockey Club, which owns and runs Aintree racecourse, said it would donate 10,000 tickets to the first day of next year’s Grand National meeting to NHS and social care workers across Merseyside. The fixture will be renamed Liverpool’s NHS Day.