Later Grand National start can boost audience

Jockey Leighton Aspell celebrates on board Many Clouds after winning this year's  Crabbie's Grand National  at Aintree. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Jockey Leighton Aspell celebrates on board Many Clouds after winning this year's Crabbie's Grand National at Aintree. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

The times are a changin’ at Aintree after it was confirmed the Crabbie’s Grand National will next year be run an hour later at 5.15pm. Keith Hamer assesses how the revised starting slot will have an impact on racing and beyond.

* Interesting news, this new National start, but why have they shifted it to a later time?

In a bid to attract an even bigger national and hopefully global audience to what is the most famous jumps race in the world.

Having a 5.15pm start should leave the field open for a larger slice of the TV cake and grab sports fans after the normal Saturday afternoon fare of watching football or rugby. Just seeing the race at a stadium or in a pub could entice new people into racing on a regular basis, be it at home on television or, better still, by going to the races.

* Racing tends to tie itself in knots about change. How will the news go down?

People who work in racing and give their life to the sport will not be too bothered about the switch. It will make little difference to stable staff, trainers and owners, while jockeys would turn up at 5.15am in the hope of winning the Grand National.

* All well and good, but will once-a-year punters really give two hoots?

The later start time gives Saturday shoppers of both sexes more time to pop in to the betting shop and look for the racehorse name that catches their eye or the racing colours they like or what their favourite jockey is riding. As for couch potatoes, they may even find themselves glued to the set to watch something they never even considered before as they tuck into their TV dinner.

* So there’s no downside, then?

Spare a thought for those who work at Aintree on Grand National day - from catering and bar staff to totepool cashiers, as well as those manning the trains and the buses.

They will be on duty for longer with racing scheduled from 1.40pm to 6.10pm compared to 1.30pm to 5.40pm this year. Some racegoers will be even more the worse for wear, too. Aintree and the relevant authorities have been well organised and on the ball in the past, but they will have to be more aware of potential problems in the future.

* Channel 4 Racing has come in for a bit of stick of late for dwindling audiences. Could this be just the tonic they need?

If last year’s audience of a record 8.9million is anything to go by, then the gamble of pushing the race back an hour in the hope of getting more viewers is a racing certainty.

On the global stage, however, it looks a different matter. If 600m people worldwide tuned in this year, it is surely doubtful that figure can be greatly improved upon.

* But what happens if it goes pear-shaped and no-one watches? Is this a project that can go the distance?

If it’s an experiment then it is worth trying for at least three years, but tinkering with the time is definitely worth a go. It won’t spoil the race itself.