Much-admired Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby once remarked that “football is nothing without the fans”.

Officials in other sports will identify with those words — notably horse racing with March’s Cheltenham festival run behind closed gates and the same scenario in place for Saturday’s famous Grand National race at Aintree.

Owners have been allowed back on UK racecourses since March 29 so they will be making the journey to the Liverpool track. The UK government has pencilled in May 17 as the date when larger gatherings may be allowed.

The National did not take place in 2020 because of the virus, but that didn’t stop punters betting on the famous race online and this will again be the case this week.

A maximum of 40 runners will face the starter on Saturday, and they will race over four miles, two furlongs and 74 yards and jump 30 fences. The race is off at 6.15pm (SA time).

With dual National winner Tiger Roll deemed by his owner to be badly handicapped and not in the line-up, the short-priced 7-2 favourite is trainer Jonjo O’Niell’s runner Cloth Cap. He won the 2010 race with Push It Up.

Form experts believe Cloth Cap, 10 lengths winner of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, will reward favourite backers as he is technically 14lb ahead of the handicapper. The gelding won a Listed race at Kelso, but that victory came after the National weights were published.

O’Neill feels his charge will run well but feels his market price is “crackers”.

“I think he will win it and my gut feeling is that he’s got a great chance, but God only knows what can happen in the National so there’s no value in the price. You’ve got to see how the horse arrives on the day and good ground is essential,” said O’Neill.

Cloth Cap’s jockey, Tom Scudamore, who has never won the race, said: “I’d much rather be on the favourite than under the radar on one of the outsiders. He’s favourite for a very good reason.”

If Cloth Cap emerges the winner, it will be an amazing fourth victory in the National for owner Trevor Hemmings. He won the race with Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015).

The beauty of the Grand National is trying to find a good-priced winner and — of the 40 runners — this column is nominating each-way support of three runners — Kimberlite Candy, Lord Du Mesnil and Secret Reprieve.

Lord Du Mesnil, trained by Richard Hobson, is 5lb ahead of the handicapper as his recent win at Haydock also came after the weights had been published. Secret Reprieve, winner of the Welsh National is trained by Evan Williams but still needs three withdrawals this week to be guaranteed a run.

Tom Lacey is the trainer of Kimberlite Candy who knows the course, having twice finished second in the Becher Chase.

No female jockey has won the National but Rachael Blackmore, who excelled at last month’s Cheltenham meeting, will try to change that on Henry De Bromhead’s runner Minella Times.

A final note regarding Manchester United. Their famous former manager Sir Alex Ferguson is sure to be at Aintree on Thursday where his talented chaser Clan Des Obeaux will contest the Betway Bowl Chase.


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