Almost five million people tuned in to watch the Virtual Grand National on Saturday afternoon.
With the real thing cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic and racing on hold until at least the end of April, the computer simulation captured the imagination in a special programme broadcast on ITV at 5pm, with the race run at 5.15pm to replicate what would have been the actual start time.
It proved an epic renewal, with the Christian Williams-trained Potters Corner (18-1) clinging on under teenage rider Jack Tudor to hold off the challenge of Walk In The Mill on the run from the Elbow.
ITV said almost a third of all viewers watched the race, with the show peaking at 4.8million – 30 per cent of the overall television audience. Across the programme, an average of 4.3m – a 28 per cent audience share – were watching.
Last year’s virtual race – run as a precursor to the main event – was watched by 737k people and the actual Grand National by nearly 10m.
Bookmakers had helped boost interest by announcing all profits would be donated to NHS Charities Together, the umbrella organisation which represents over 140 NHS charities.
Programme makers Carm Productions were delighted with the broadcast, saying: “What an incredible few days it has been. We first aired the Virtual Grand National in 2017, and we feel honoured that it has been able to stand in for the Grand National at this difficult time.
“Let’s hope it has entertained racegoers and the wider public. We also hope that it has been able to help raise funds to support the NHS at this important time. We would also like to thank ITV and The Jockey Club of their ongoing help and support.”