The Grand National is Britain chancing its arm. When the starting tape goes up on Europe’s most valuable National Hunt race at 5.15pm on Saturday the country is expected to have put £250m on the line, according to betting industry estimates.
Around 65% of the adult population will take a punt, including office sweepstakes, on the Aintree race that still manages to bring the country to a standstill.
In betting terms, the race is around four times bigger than the Cheltenham Gold Cup and ten times bigger than the FA Cup final, Paddy Power Betfair press officer Lee Price told IBTimesUK.
On top of this punters betting on the third day of the US Masters in Augusta and seven Premier League games should make for a record breaking £300m gambled on the day.
“All betting record books are expected to be torn up,” said Ladbrokes head of racing Nicola McGeady. “Grand National day itself is set to spark a £250m gamble up and down the country and is the biggest betting day of the entire year.”
While some sporting events have lost their magic, the handicapped steeplechase, which takes place over 4 miles, 514 yards and 30 fences, still manages to draw a worldwide TV audience of 600 million for the ten minutes or so the race lasts.
“The Grand National is a freak,” William Hill media relations manager Rupert Adams told IBTimesUK. “There is no similar event in any other sport. Golf fans bet on golf, rugby fans bet on rugby. But the Grand National pulls in punters who are not racing fans. It pulls in people who do not normally bet.”
The three-day Grand National Festival begins on Thursday, hosting seven races a day. Aintree is expected to attract around 150,000 by the time of the penultimate race, the National, on Saturday.
Longshots have a chance
The chase was first run in 1839 and remains a national institution with horses such as Red Rum, Aldaniti and Devon Loch having a place in public folklore. Even fences such as The Chair, Becher’s Brook and the Canal Turn have become famous.
The 40-strong field will have dreams of following last year’s winner, the Mouse Morris trained Rule the World, ridden by David Mullins, which came in at 33/1.
The race will also be shown on ITV for the first time this year after the channel snapped up British horse racing’s broadcasting rights, taking over a three-year run from Channel Four.
The channel hopes to broaden the appeal of the race still further by using the former Sky football presenter Ed Chamberlin as the anchor host.
The chase has been broadcast on free-to-air TV in the UK since 1960, and was shown exclusively by the BBC until 2012. The BBC also broadcast the chase live on radio every year between 1927 and 2013, but talkSPORT now holds the radio rights.
Britain’s longest horse race demands a runner with a plenty of staying power that is lucky enough to avoid fallers. Fancied horses include Definitly Red, Vieux Lion Rouge and Cause of Causes, but the combination of the chase’s distance and its big field mean that outsiders often feature in the winning spots. Yet another reason why casual punters feel it might be their afternoon.