Thursday, 02nd Apr 2020
The date of April 4, 2020 was highlighted on millions of calendars, not just in Britain but across the globe, marking the occasion of the world famous Grand National at Aintree.
As we know, this year the event has become a casualty of the UK’s war on Coronavirus after being officially cancelled on March 16 – but thanks to digital technology all bets are most definitely not off, as a Virtual Grand National will take place at the same time as the actual race was due to be run.
In fact, the organisers have considerable experience in this area, having run a virtual event since 2017, and so far the digital race has provided a good indicator of the result of the Grand National itself.
The first Virtual Grand National was won by Cause of Causes, which just hours later came a close second in the real race. In 2018 Tiger Roll won both the virtual race and the real race, and in 2019 the computerised contest placed three of the top five finishers, including winner Tiger Roll.
While Aintree Racecourse will be bereft of the usual horses and crowds on the day, a race featuring the 40 horses and riders most likely to have run in this year’s National will be shown ‘live’ on ITV.
Even the burning question of whether favourite Tiger Roll could have triumphed at the 2020 event and become a historic three-time back-to-back winner will be answered.
The race will be staged by Inspired Entertainment, which has been recreating international sporting events for over 15 years, building up a global following of players via more than 40,000 retail channels and over 100 websites in 35 countries.
For this year’s big race the horses and riders will compete over Aintree’s 30 Grand National fences (albeit virtual), and using state-of-the-art CGI technology and algorithms, the final result will be based on data such as the runners’ form and going preferences.
The event will be broadcast in a Virtual Grand National TV special at 5.15 on ITV, with Nick Luck, Richard Pitman (who on Crisp came second to Red Rum in 1973) and other guests coming together to provide comment and analysis.
The big question of course is about betting, and the answer is yes, betting will take place – and in a noble response to these unprecedented times, bookmakers will be donating profits to the NHS Charities Together group.
This initiative has been backed by the Betting and Gaming Council. Chief Executive Michael Dugher has said that while the lockdown on sporting activity is unavoidable, the Virtual Grand National will be the nearest thing to a major sporting event that can be enjoyed by everyone.
He also expressed his delight that members had “stepped up” to support the NHS in its efforts to combat Covid-19 by donating race profits to NHS Charities Together.
It has been agreed with the NHS Charities group that stakes will be limited to £10 per horse, per customer for the event, or £10 each-way per horse.
It was also announced on Thursday that Aintree has donated 10,000 tickets for next year’s Grand National festival to NHS staff and carers on Merseyside.
Thursday, 8 April 2021 has been designated by The Jockey Club as NHS Day, and tickets will be distributed next year.
As part of this year’s Virtual Grand National TV special there will also be a race of champions, featuring double winners Red Rum and Tiger Roll.
Richard Pitman described it as the “dream race” and the one that everyone would want to see, as the two double winners compete with 38 other legendary horses over Aintree’s famous fences.