Grand National Cancelled in Favour of Virtual Race Amid Coronavirus Crisis

31 March 2020

One of horse racing’s most prestigious events was set to take part on April 4th this year, as it does every year, however, due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, it was announced that the event will be canceled. Not long after the UK Government announced a nationwide lockdown, ITV revealed that the Grand National will still go ahead, albeit in virtual form.

Virtual Grand National

Organizers have turned to technology to save the day and we now know that a virtual Grand National will take place on April 4th at 5pm (BST). The race will feature 40 runners who were considered to ‘most likely’ take part and the overall winner will be determined by special algorithms.

Many are skeptical when it comes to technology, however, this isn’t the first time a virtual race has taken place. Back in 2017, virtual racing was tested and the algorithms from this one was incredibly close to those in the actual racing event. Then again in 2018, algorithms were spot on with its prediction of Tiger Roll being the overall winner. In 2019, this same system predicted three of the first five race finishers accurately – so it’s certainly worth a shot.

History Repeating?

Executive producer Rob McLoughlin, a former director of Granada Television said: “We use the latest CGI technology and algorithms and were ready to go ahead as a forerunner to the big race, but now we want to cheer the nation up and ask the computer if history could have been made.”

“In 2017, Cause of Causes won the Virtual Grand National and came a close second in the real race hours later,” explained Steve Rogers, chief commercial officer for virtual sports at animators Inspired Entertainment.

The 2018 result was breath-taking as Tiger Roll won both in almost identical circumstances and the computer chose three of the top five finishers, including the Tiger, in 2019.”

Not the First Time!

Virtual racing has surged in popularity over the last couple of years with punters looking to lay bets on dog racing, motor car racing and now horse racing. The technology has been around since the early 2000’s when the foot and mouth epidemic resulted in the Cheltenham Festival (and other sporting events) being canceled.  But there are some differences between virtual and the real thing – virtual racing is ultimately determined by a random number generator, whereas in real life, anything could happen.

The event has been developed with Inspired Entertainment’s animation team from Manchester. Steve Rogers of Inspired said: “We were in disbelief for days afterward. The races stand out on their own as sport and entertainment even without the extra ingredient of attempting to tell the nation where their favorite may finish.”

 It’s all very last-minute with bookies still undecided whether to offer bets on the event.