It’s normally the scene of jam-packed stands filled with punters and guests, but Aintree racecourse looked eerily empty on Thursday as the Grand National prepares to get underway without fans for the first time.
The world famous festival in Liverpool starts with Liverpool’s NHS Day, featuring seven races – the first starting at 1.45pm, but jockeys will hear nothing but silence from the terraces that usually hold around tens of thousands of spectators.
Last year’s event went ahead virtually as a result of the UK plunging into its first lockdown amid the Covid pandemic – using CGI technology and based on the algorithms of the 40 horses most likely to have competed.
The Grand National Festival got underway at Aintree on Thursday with the course deserted as spectators are still banned as the UK gradually comes out of lockdown
The Early of Derby stand – which is usually packed to the rafters – was left eerily empty
It makes quite a drastic comparison to the last festival in 2019 – where tens of thousands were in attendance for the opening day
The world famous faces usually see punters arrive in hordes, with 33,000 arriving for the start of the last event that allowed crowds
The hordes of empty seats makes quite a drastic comparison to the 33,000 fans that were in attendance on the first day of the 2019 festival.
But this year – with the races allowed to go ahead as the UK gradually comes out of lockdown – pictures from Aintree painted a subdued scene.
The Early of Derby Stand that overlooks the racecourse was completely empty, compared to two years ago when it was packed to the rafters for the opening day.
Not a spectator is in sight from the view of the finish line at Aintree on Thursday morning
A lone groundsman in one of the only signs of anyone present ahead of the first meeting
The entrance to the racecourse is shuttered off with the Grand National being forced to go ahead without fans in attendance
A road is closed off to deter punters and spectators from gathering outside the grounds
Elsewhere around the course, the front entrance was completely shuttered off with no guests allowed through the doors, while the road leading to Aintree was also closed to deter any punters from gathering outside.
A lone groundsman mowing the track was one of the only early sign of anyone at the course ahead of Thursday’s first meeting.
Liverpool’s NHS Day will be marked with a River of Light Rainbow Bridge in the city which reads ‘thank you NHS’.
It will be followed by Ladies Day on Friday, with Grand National Day wrapping up the festival on Saturday.
Bristol De Mai heads a maximum field of 40 in the Randox Grand National – but the strongly-fancied Secret Reprieve is only second reserve and set to miss out as a result.
Trained by Evan Williams, Secret Reprieve won the Welsh National in December and has been kept fresh in the hope of a crack at the world’s greatest steeplechase on Saturday.
However, it had been touch and go whether he would make the cut or not and as only The Storyteller was not declared at the 48-hour stage, Secret Reprieve’s connections are resigned to their fate.
Dan Skelton’s Blaklion was the beneficiary of of The Storyteller’s no-show and creeps in as number 40. The first reserve is John McConnell’s Some Neck, with Kauto Riko third reserve and Fagan the fourth and final one.
Ante-post favourite Cloth Cap will aim to give Trever Hemmings a record fourth win in the race following the successes of Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds – and his trainer Jonjo O’Neill is chasing his second National, having won with Don’t Push It.
Bristol De Mai heads a maximum field of 40 but is second reserve and likely to miss out
After their domination at Cheltenham, the Irish battalion bring a strong team in which Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now is well touted.
Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a dream Festival and aims to top an incredible year on Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Times. The Gold Cup-winning stable is also responsible for Chris’s Dream and Balko Des Flos.
Willie Mullins is without the services of Paul Townend, who suffered an injury at Fairyhouse earlier this week. He is replaced on Burrows Saint by Patrick Mullins.
Danny Mullins rides Acapella Bourgeois, and Brian Hayes is on Class Conti – with Sean O’Keeffe on Cabaret Queen.
Denis O’Regan comes in for the ride on Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly, who has run well in the race twice before and has also twice been placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Leading amateur Jamie Codd rides Milan Native, with Sean Flanagan on Tout Est Permis.
LIVERPOOL’S NHS DAY RACE SCHEDULE
1.45pm – The SS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Steeple Chase
2.20pm – The Doom Bar Anniversary 4YO Juvenile Hurdle
2.50pm – The Betway Bowl Steeple Chase
3.25pm – The Betway Aintree Hurdle
4.05pm – The Rose Paterson Randox Health Foxhunters’ Steeple Chase
4.40pm – The Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Steeple Chase
5.15pm – The Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open NH Flat
Source: Daily Mail