Davy Russell ponders what might have been for Tiger Roll
Virtual Grand National to be broadcast by ITV on Saturday
Davy Russell celebrates as he rides Tiger Roll to back-to-back Grand National victories last year. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
A ‘virtual’ Aintree Grand National will be broadcast on ITV from 5.0pm on Saturday evening, although it is the current real weather that has Davy Russell pondering what might have been.
The former triple-champion jockey had a historic Grand National hat-trick in his sights with Tiger Roll until racing was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tiger Roll was beaten at last month’s Cheltenham festival behind Easyland in the Cross-Country Chase but that was on much softer ground conditions than the Gordon Elliott-trained star appreciates.
“The way the weather is at the moment the ground would have been perfect for him,” Russell said on Friday.
“He ran a blinder at Cheltenham, on ground that wouldn’t have suited. Easyland, that beat him there, is no bad horse either,” the Cork rider added.
Elliott has committed Tiger Roll towards another National bid in 2021 but with racing on shutdown throughout Europe, Saturday will see a ‘phantom call’ National on ITV.
The event promises to use the latest CGI technology and best information available to produce the most accurate outcome possible in a make-believe edition of the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Betting operators have pledged that all profits raised on betting on the virtual race will go to National Health Service charities in the UK.
An industry agreed policy is that there will be a maximum bet per customer of £10 or £10 each way per horse.
Russell added on Friday: “It’s a great way of creating money for the NHS. It’s great they are distributing the profits that way and it’s pleasing to hear the NHS are going to benefit from it.
“It’s tough times. There are a lot of people sitting at home and hopefully it will give them something to enjoy and watch.”
A ‘virtual’ National was first tried out in 2017. ‘Phantom Call’ commentaries have a long tradition in Australia where commentators perform calls on how they think the Melbourne Cup will turn out.
In other news, Horse Racing Ireland has confirmed Willie Mullins as champion jumps trainer for a 14th time after the 2019-2020 National Hunt season was brought to a premature end on Wednesday due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mullins’s son, Patrick, secured a record 12th amateur jockeys’ title while stable jockey Paul Townend landed the professional riders’ crown for a third time.
Darragh O’Keeffe is champion conditional while Lisa O’Neill is champion lady rider for a third time.