It is with much sadness and frustration that the second half of the UK and Irish horse racing campaign has been devastated by the coronavirus outbreak.
Chief among the losses has been the Grand National, which has been cancelled altogether rather than just merely postponed in a move that will cost the bookies £100 million and the racing industry a significant chunk of that.
Some consolation will come from the fourth annual staging of the Virtual Grand National, a unique event in which the Aintree spectacle is replicated using a state-of-the-art algorithm and the latest Ultra HD and green screen video technologies.
In its three hostings so far, the Virtual race has been an excellent arbiter of what was to unfold in the Grand National proper, and while we won’t get to see the best National Hunt marathon-runners locking hooves in 2020, this unique creation from the team at Inspired will at least be an entertaining watch if nothing else.
The ITV Racing team are fully behind the Virtual Grand National, and they will be broadcasting the race to the nation at 5:15pm on ITV1, with full race build-up courtesy of Nick Luck and the team.
A good few million viewers are expected in a live sporting event that could bring the UK together at such a dark time, and in great news for horse racing punters shorn of betting opportunities in recent weeks, many of the leading bookies have confirmed they will be offering a full race winner market with each way places also paid in traditional fashion.
In a hugely welcome move, they have also confirmed that all profits generated will be donated to the NHS Charities Group, who are of course doing a phenomenal job of treating those afflicted with COVID-19 while risking their own health.
Michael Dugher, the chief executive of the Betting & Gaming Council, said:
“The virtual Grand National will be the closest we can get to creating one of those moments when we can all come together in celebration, not just for the world’s greatest sporting events, but for the NHS heroes working on the front line to keep us all safe.
“Millions of us love a flutter on the Grand National. For many, it’s the only time of the year they place a bet. This year, the big winner will be our NHS.”
It is believed that the major betting firms have met via the Council, and they have reportedly agreed to offer the same odds across the board to ensure that the maximum amount of money is raised.
Tiger on the Prowl
Despite being denied the opportunity to do so for the traditional race, punters can still have a flutter on Tiger Roll, vying for a historic third consecutive Grand National win, should they wish – it will just be a digital version of the Gordon Elliot superstar that you are betting on!
Previous editions of the Virtual race have predicted Tiger Roll’s win in 2018, and while a year later they had the champion stayer just behind Rathvinden in second. In the inaugural running back in 2017, the winner of the virtual race was Cause of Causes – he went on to finish second at Aintree in the Grand National proper.
So would Tiger Roll have gone on to claim a landmark hat-trick? Tune in on Saturday to (sort of) find out.