The Randox Health Grand National might be off. but a virtual alternative is set to benefit horseracing fans and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
Like all live events, the Grand National was canceled due to the new coronavirus. However, with the racing event attracting so much attention in both the UK and abroad, the organizers been creative.
On Saturday, live commentary and virtual racing will combine. The innovation means the world’s best-known jumps race happen in a different way. What’s more, the event will provide some entertainment for those on lockdown and, importantly, raise money for the NHS.
Coronavirus Lockdown Forces Grand National to Innovate
In addition to a global TV audience of 600 million, 150,000 racegoers visit Aintree every year for the Grand National. However, with the threat of infection high and the UK on lockdown, the racecourse is closed.
To compensate for the loss of the live race, national broadcaster ITV will screen an alternative on Saturday at 5pm (BST). In a press release sent out by racecourse owner the Jockey Club, fans were urged to stay at home and enjoy a virtual race (see demo video below).
The race itself will be a digital representation of the real thing. Every entrant has been recast in a virtual format using CGI technology. Additionally, each horse’s vital stats have been fed into a computer program.
Using this data, the software can predict how each horse will fair, based on its strengths, weaknesses, and racing conditions. In the end, this generates a random, virtually unpredictable result.
Virtual racing isn’t a new concept. ITV pundits use the simulations as part of their pre-race build-up. Because the virtual races are able to play out different scenarios, they’re used as a way to assess the prospects of each entrant.
British Horseracing Giving Something Back
Since the technology was introduced in 2017, the simulations have been surprisingly accurate.
“In 2017, Cause of Causes won the Virtual Grand National and came a close second in the real race hours later. In 2018, the computer chose three of the top five finishers,” Steve Rogers, CEO for virtual sports at Inspired Entertainment, told the BBC.
This year, the simulation will become the main event. Because the technology produces a random result, horseracing fans can bet on the Virtual Grand National.
Winning wagers will be paid out accordingly. However, as a gesture of goodwill, British bookmakers have pledged to donate all profits to NHS charities.
In addition to the main race, the Virtual Grand National will feature a Champion of Champions showdown, as well as other activities such as Ladies Day (see video below).
In keeping with tradition, female horseracing fans can put on their best outfits and strut their stuff. This contest will be done via videos and pictures, but the Style Award winner still gets a VIP package for the 2021 Grand National.
The 2020 Grand National might not be like any other. However, in true British style, the organizers have maintained a stiff upper lip and found a way to provide some entertainment during trying times.