If the viewing figure for the Grand National is grounds for concern, even though most sports would be happy with 8-million plus viewers, I suggest the following solutions:
1). Make the day of the Grand National GRAND NATIONAL DAY and market it as such. Have Aintree as the only race meeting that day, with perhaps no point-to-points either. This will allow more people involved in the sport to switch on their televisions, not have potential viewers leaving their homes to watch racing at other venues, and allow betting shop staff an earlier finish.
As was said during the television coverage, the Melbourne Cup may stop a nation (I doubt if these days it truly does) but the Grand National stops the world, though obviously it doesn’t, though it does make a substantial proportion of the world look in Aintree’s direction. So why not celebrate our great horse race by allowing all the glow from the spotlight to shine on Aintree. Grand National Day. Let’s celebrate the history of the race. Let’s use this day to celebrate the horse, to raise money for various equine charities. Let the Grand National be instrumental in helping the overburdened donkey in the poor countries of the world. Let the Grand National raise money and awareness for the retraining of racehorses. Use the Grand National to raise funds for research to find cures for what at the moment may be incurable illnesses and injuries.
Allow the Grand National to be a power of good for all horses everywhere.
2) Get the Grand National and the name of its sponsor on to the packaging of any of the following: bread, milk, cereals, beer, brandy etc, or on signage at petrol stations. Promote the race with a competition with a big cash prize and a luxury weekend break at the Grand National, with perhaps accommodation at the Adelphi Hotel and a guided tour of the course with someone of the calibre of Sir A.P. McCoy or Ruby Walsh.
There could be secondary prizes of a day at the Grand National. Or a tour of a top stable. A visit to Moorcroft or Greatwood. Riding lessons. Anything or everything to get people who would not normally look to racing for a day out to at least experience a day at their local racecourse or to take up riding as a hobby.
The powers-that-be, the racing media and the race-fan in general have for too long cowered in defence of the Grand National against an onslaught of ignorance from people with a political grudge against what they see as rich people risking the lives of horses for the sake of selfish entertainment. We, the defenders and protectors of the Grand National, are now on the front foot. Now is the time to go all out to win over the 2 or 4-million people who the sport expected to watch I.T.V.’s coverage of the Grand National but who chose to set their eyes elsewhere.
Perhaps in sizing up next year’s television audience, viewing figures for the Derby (which are alarming low) might go up as well. We might even get across to the general public that our sport serves every social class and is not the preserve of the rich and mega-rich.
The Grand National is the race of the people. So let’s take it to the people. Let’s get the race, the date and time of the race, into every home in the country. Let’s stop crossing our fingers in hope of nothing going wrong and get evangelical in support of what is the greatest sporting spectacle in the world.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.