These are confusing times for all of us, but spare a thought for Potters Corner. You couldn’t but think of him back home in Wales on Saturday, perhaps passing the time by working out to a Joe Wicks’ YouTube video or painting his stable or learning to play the piano, or doing any one of those things we’re all meant to be doing in this weather. And then he sees the breaking news on Sky announcing that he’s just won the Grand National. He’d have been wondering what class of mushrooms he’d just eaten in the fields.
What he'd actually won, of course, was "the race that could never be," as Nick Luck, our host for the computer-simulated Virtual Grand National on ITV, put it, although initially it was hard to focus on what Nick was saying because most of us - and be honest - were having a snoop around the living room he was broadcasting from.
This class of snooping has become something of a national pastime now that most people on telly are being beamed to us from their homes, making it all feel a bit like ‘Through The Keyhole’ on steroids. And we do tend to be quite judgemental. For example, “the state of his curtains” went up the cry when one of our own politicians was beamed from his living room last week, followed by “if he paid more than a fiver for that vase, he was robbed”. The man could have been telling us the pandemic was over and we could all go to the pub and we wouldn’t have heard, too busy were we slaughtering his decor.
The Generation Game
You could only admire Nick’s decor, though, and the contents of his living room, among them a piano, a music stand and a rocking horse. Those old enough to remember the conveyor belt on The Generation Game could actually pass some time by recreating the challenge when looking at the likes of Nick’s living room, instead of ‘curling tongs, fondue set, cuddly toy’ it’d be ‘piano, music stand, rocking horse’. And everyone could shout ‘didn’t s/he do well!’ when you’re done. Look, you do what you need to do to get through it.
Anyway, before the main event we were treated to the Race of Champions which featured 40 of the greatest ever Grand National winners, including Lottery who won the first official race in 1839. That, then, makes him at least 181, so while he wasn’t placed, he deserves enormous credit for even making it to the starting line.
Red Rum, need it be said, won, ITV missing a trick by not having an interview with a virtual Ginger McCain because that would have completed the day. It’s as well, though, that they hadn’t an interview with the trainer of Don’t Push It who was leading by seven lengths with just two fences to go, but faded badly, much of the blame being directed at his jockey Tony McCoy. “Can I just say I would not have gone to the front so soon on Don’t Push It,” he tweeted. “So I want no more abuse about giving him a bad ride.” Unapologetic, then.
Alas, the day was not without its controversy. Those who backed Tiger Roll to win his third National in a row were possibly unaware that he was also running in the Race of Champions, which means he ran two Grand Nationals in the space of an hour. Everyone knows that he has a good engine - and he proved it yet again by finishing third in the first race and fourth in the second - but that, surely, was asking too much of him?
The occasion was, of course, meant to bring some light relief, but for some it just deepened the distress. Take Stuart on Twitter, for example. “A virtual Grand National and my horse refused to jump over a hedge.... JUMP YOU COMPUTER GENERATED BASTARD.” And soon after: “All those other horses were generated by a top of the line super computer, mine was generated by an Atari 2600.”
So, not everyone enjoyed it, including fans of Rachael Blackmore who was in with a chance of becoming the first two-legged woman to win the National when she led on Burrows Saint, only to finish fifth. "She will always wonder what might have been," said our commentator Stewart Machin.
“That was as close to the real thing as we can bring you,” said Nick before heading back in to his living room, maybe to have a gallop on his rocking horse to help ease his withdrawal symptoms. Meantime, back in Wales, Potters Corner was playing Chopin’s Etude in G Minor on his piano, all the time wondering how he’d managed to win the National without even leaving the yard.