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.

It proved an epic renewal, with Potters Corner clinging on under teenage rider Jack Tudor to hold off the challenge of Walk In The Mill on the run from the Elbow.

Any Second Now was third and dual National hero Tiger Roll a gallant fourth. Burrows Saint was fifth, but Aso was the hard-luck story, coming down two out when bowling along in the lead.

The victory completed a National treble for Potters Corner, after victories in the Welsh National and Midlands National.

Williams, based in Ogmore-by-sea in the Vale of Glamorgan, said: “I’m delighted, it’s great and great to cheer everyone up in tough times – I think even people from outside of racing were tuned in.

“It was something for people to cheer on, people are stuck in their houses and it probably got a good viewing. It was something to watch together and have a bit of banter leading up to it.”

Asked what he was thinking on the famous run to the line, he said: “Potters Corner stays very well, he won the Welsh National and the Midlands National and in the Welsh National they closed on him at the death as well, so I had a fair idea they might do it like that from the Elbow.

“I didn’t think they’d let him past, he stays very well and if it’s done on the computer and stats I doubt they’d let anyone outstay him up the run-in.

“Jack needed two extra winners to ride in the (real) race, but when racing got stopped three weeks ago and I had a fair idea I had two or three chasers that I thought could win for him if we needed it. I’d have been surprised if I couldn’t have got him qualified in time.”

Williams reported the real-life Potters Corner is enjoying life at home in south Wales.

He said: “He’s such a laid-back character, he’s in the field with two foals – two quite valuable foals from France – and he’s quite a calming influence. They use him as a bit of a guide, as he’s such a good, kind horse.

“We’re not too bad, we’re just praying everyone is safe. The sooner we can get back racing the better, but there’s no panic. If we can get back (jumps) racing by July 1, then brilliant, but if it’s not right, it’s not right.

“It’s not in our hands, the Government will call it. We’ll go through rougher spells probably in the next week or so, but hopefully if things can plateau out maybe we can have a little bit of positive news and racing has a chance of coming back, hopefully.”