Use of Grand National reserves to be examined after spate of late non-runners
Aintree and the BHA are to look into the race conditions for the Grand National after a flurry of late non-runners led to confusion over the addition of reserves and a rise in the weights described as pointless.
Because of three non-runners announced after declarations on Thursday three of the four reserves were added to the National field on Friday, but, despite two more coming out on Saturday, the fourth reserve could not be used because it was after the deadline.
With the reserves taking the numbers of the horse they replaced, Thunder And Roses, who had 10st 5lb, became number one in the field in newspapers and the weights rose by 1lb.
Yet on Aintree's official racecard the reserves were listed with their numbers at the bottom of the field, with the weights unchanged.
Aintree managing director John Baker said: "Getting away from having non-runners is always going to be difficult. It's great that when three horses came out we were able to cover them with reserves after we changed the cut-off to 1pm Friday, which enabled us to go into Saturday with 40.
"In terms of communication, I think having reserves on the day is definitely up for discussion.
"With the weights, when all the horses are in the handicap anyway putting them up did just seem a little unnecessary and a bit pointless.
"We'll discuss whether we can change that in future because Blaklion carrying 11st 9lb or 11st 10lb makes no difference to anything else in the handicap."
BHA chief executive Nick Rust also suggested more could be done as he described the three-day fixture, during which police reported only five arrests, as "a wonderful advertisement for the sport".
He said: "There’s obviously a few things we’ll learn from – as is the case every year – including working with the racecourse to ensure the race conditions allow for the inclusion of reserves to be operated in a manner that is the least confusing for the racing public and media suppliers."
Rust singled out Grand National starter Robbie Supple for praise after the big race, previously a victim of recalls, got off at the first attempt.
"He faced some challenges in the Topham on Friday that were not aided by a faulty tape mechanism, but the start of the National was seamless," said Rust.
"Typical of Robbie, he was quick to praise the jockeys – which of course we should, as they acted as great ambassadors for our sport in how they conducted themselves – but he and his team also deserve credit for getting the race away first time."
The second edition of ITV's exclusive coverage of the historic race drew a rise in viewers to 8.5 million, from 8.2m in 2017, and a 60 per cent share of the available audience, which hit a record 62 per cent last year.
The average audience was 5.1m and the average share of overall television viewers was 41 per cent.
The network, which was expected to deliver an upturn in viewers, has yet to beat any of Channel 4's audiences for the National, which over four years peaked at 10m in 2016 and drew other figures of 8.9m, 8.5m and 8.8m.
ITV policy is not to comment on audience numbers, but Baker said: "We always say if the sun shines across the country people do other things.
"I've been reviewing ITV coverage and they do a brilliant job by making it accessible to everyone, conscious it's the once-a-year viewer watching them. They manage it without being too condescending or simple about it. It's exceptional TV from my perspective.
"Audience share was broadly similar to an England game in a major football tournament, so that's fabulous. The National is the people's race and that's why the way it's presented is crucially important. Anyone tuning in yesterday would come away feeling better about racing and more engaged in it."
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