Punters and humour surround virtual Grand National

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London (AFP)

The virtual reality Grand National is attracting punters and humour alike ahead of it stepping out of the shadows and for once taking centre stage on Saturday.

The world's greatest steeplechase has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic so the virtual version -- which is normally shown on the eve of the race -- has replaced it.

Bookmakers are taking bets on the race which sees Tiger Roll attempt to become the first horse ever to win it on three successive occasions -- late legend Red Rum's three victories were not consecutive.

Bookmakers are to donate profits from the race -- in normal times the most gambled on in the calendar with an estimated 300 million pounds ($369 million) bet on last year's edition -- to the National Health Service.

The virtual National -- which is off at 1715GMT and to be shown on ITV the host broadcaster for all British racing -- has been the butt of good-natured humour from the racing fraternity.

"First ride in the Grand National and I'll be sitting at home myself," said 66/1 outsider Peregrine Run's jockey Kevin Sexton.

Jonathan Burke was allotted 100/1 chance Double Shuffle but the jockey tweeted if it had been the real thing he would have been pushed to ride him.

"Delighted to have made the cut for the virtual Grand National but have to report I won't do the weight (10 stone 4 pounds -- 65 kilogrammes)," he said.

In terms of punting Definitly Red -- who was brought down in the real 2018 National when well-fancied to win -- is all the rage certainly with Ladbrokes punters.

Nominally the mount of recently crowned champion jockey Brian Hughes he is 14/1 though Tiger Roll is still favourite at 5/1.

Last year's runner-up the game mare Magic of Light is fourth best backed horse, her odds of 18/1 significantly lower than the 66/1 she went off at in 2019.

"With all profits going to the NHS, it is wonderful to see so many embrace the fun of the Virtual Grand National," said Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes.

"Manchester United and Liverpool fans haven't wasted any time in backing Definitly Red, but as expected Tiger Roll fans are also coming out in force to support their virtual hero."