In Depth

Virtual Grand National 2020 guide: runners, betting odds, start time, TV channel

Tiger Roll is the favourite to win the CGI version of the big race at Aintree

Horse racing fans will be glued to their TV sets on Saturday when the “Grand National” is held at Aintree in Liverpool. 

Not the real National of course - or the real horses. That’s because the big race at Aintree is one of the many major sporting events to have been cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.   

The event that viewers will be tuning in for this weekend is the Virtual Grand National - the computer-generated version of the world’s most famous steeplechase. 

In a special show starting at 5pm on Saturday ITV will broadcast the Virtual Grand National and the Race of Champions. 

Two-time defending champion Tiger Roll was denied the chance of making it a hat-trick this year, but the thoroughbred will feature in both events.

According to Oddschecker Tiger Roll is the clear favourite to win the Virtual Grand National. However, the bookies believe that Red Rum will get the better of him in the Race of Champions.

Here we look at the history of the virtual race plus the TV details, runners and betting odds.

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Virtual Grand National

Inspired Entertainment

What is the virtual National?

The virtual version of the Grand National has been held since 2017. Created by Inspired Entertainment, the race will feature 40 horses and use CGI technology and algorithms to generate a result. 

GrandNational.org.uk reports that Inspired uses “past form, the views of a panel of experts, the going and weather conditions to assess the likely outcome, but the computer makes the final decisions”. 

Rob McLoughlin, the executive producer of the Virtual Grand National, said: “We use the latest CGI technology and algorithms and we’re ready for Tiger Roll to be a forerunner but now we want to cheer the nation up and we’ll ask the computer if history could have been made. 

“It’s very sad not to have the real race but Inspired’s virtual race is fascinating and has proven since 2017 to be incredibly accurate.

“It is brave to preview the most unpredictable race of all, but also great fun. In 2018 it was astonishing to be able to tell the country who would win - and to do it in almost identical circumstances. 

“In these difficult times we want the public to simply enjoy the race that sadly never was and think about what might have been.”

What were the past results?

In 2018 the same horse - Tiger Roll - won the virtual and actual National while in 2017 Cause Of Causes won the virtual but finished second in the real race. Last year Rathvinden was the virtual race winner and placed third in the actual race.

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

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

McLoughlin added: “In 2019 Tiger Roll was placed second and the winner Rathvinden came third so the computer has been remarkably accurate. 

“I think the use of virtual technology and AI [artificial intelligence] ahead of great sporting events will become the ‘norm’ in the future.”

McCoy: a great initiative

Jump legend AP McCoy, the 2010 Grand National winner on Don’t Push It, says although it’s a shame the main event is off the virtual race is a great initiative, especially with betting profits going to NHS Charities Together. 

The William Hill ambassador told The Sun: “I know how much this race means to everyone so it is a great shame this year’s race cannot be run. Believe you me, it meant everything to me to win it.

“It may not be quite the same on Saturday but I think the virtual race is a great initiative and fantastic the money will be going to good causes at a time like this.

“I hope the public will get right behind it and support it. These are tough times and I hope the virtual national will be a bit of fun and the chance to raise money for charity. We will certainly be watching.”

Champions go head-to-head 

The Race of Champions CGI event will see 40 legendary horses race over the Aintree jumps. Three-time winner Red Rum and current back-to-back winner Tiger Roll will go head-to-head with 38 other champions. 

Aintree legend Richard Pitman said: “It is the dream race, the one everyone will want to see, the legend and the competitor head-to-head and it can only happen as part of this ITV special. 

“Both were trained for the flat, both are small and both have found a natural home over the Aintree jumps, so to see them compete with 38 other famous legends over the real course and famous fences will be magnificent.”

Rogers added: “My team have been working round the clock to make this year even more realistic than ever, and we can’t wait to screen the Red Rum versus Tiger Roll match. It’s terrific TV.”

Can Tiger Roll beat Red Rum? 

Oddschecker reports that the bookies make Red Rum the “odds-on favourite” to beat Tiger Roll in the Race of Champions. Red Rum is priced at 1/2 while Tiger Roll is priced at 3/2.

Ed Jeanes says: “It will be interesting to see how the computer sees these two greats faring, when they battle it out on Saturday. The legendary three-time winner, Red Rum, arguably the most famous horse of all time is back to take his crown from the current champion.

“Tiger Roll, the current back-to-back winner was denied a shot at the hat-trick this year, but can he get the better of Red Rum this weekend?

“The bookmakers think it will be a tough ask, clearly believing Red Rum’s incredible record in the race will favour him when they lock horns.”

Tiger Roll has won back-to-back Grand Nationals at Aintree Racecourse

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

What TV channel are the races on?

In a special programme starting at 5pm, ITV 1 will broadcast the Virtual Grand National and the Race of Champions. The Virtual Grand National will start at 5.15pm - the time slot usually allocated for the real main event at Aintree. 

NHS the big winner from bets

Punters will be able to place online bets on the Virtual Grand National and the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has confirmed that all profits will be donated to NHS Charities Together, the umbrella organisation which represents more than 140 NHS charities.

The initiative has the backing of BGC members including bet365, William Hill, Flutter Entertainment, Sky Bet, GVC, BetFred, Betway, BetVictor, JenningsBet and Inspired Entertainment.

Stakes will be limited to £10 per horse per customer for the event or £10 each way per horse. In addition, the Tote will be providing a pool on the race and donating profits to charity.

In his prediction David Brayshaw of GrandNational.org.uk said: “One can be pretty sure that the result will be pretty accurate so, this year, I’m taking Burrows Saint to beat Tiger Roll with Kimberlite Candy and Beware The Bear third and fourth.”

Virtual Grand National: runners and odds

Oddschecker reports that the 40 horses for Saturday’s Virtual Grand National have been confirmed. Tiger Roll is the clear favourite at 5/1, ahead of Any Second Now (10/1) and Burrows Saint (12/1).

Betting odds

Prices according to Oddschecker 

  • Tiger Roll: 5/1 
  • Any Second Now: 10/1 
  • Burrows Saint: 12/1 
  • Definitly Red: 14/1 
  • Walk In The Mill: 16/1 
  • Kimberlite Candy: 16/1  
  • Magic Of Light: 18/1 
  • Potters Corner: 18/1 
  • Elegant Escape: 20/1 
  • Anibale Fly: 20/1 
  • Bristol De Mai: 20/1 
  • Ok Corral: 25/1 
  • Alpha Des Obeaux: 25/1  
  • Ballyoptic: 25/1  
  • Talkischeap: 25/1  
  • Pleasant Company: 28/1  
  • Yala Enki: 28/1 
  • Vintage Clouds: 33/1  
  • Acapella Bourgeois: 33/1  
  • Sub Lieutenant: 33/1  
  • Beware The Bear: 33/1  
  • The Storyteller: 40/1  
  • Jury Duty: 40/1  
  • Total Recall: 40/1  
  • Top Ville Ben: 45/1  
  • Lake View Lad: 50/1  
  • Death Duty: 50/1  
  • Dounikos: 50/1 
  • Jett: 50/1  
  • Kildisart: 50/1  
  • Peregrine Run: 66/1  
  • Crievehill: 66/1 
  • Valtor: 66/1  
  • Ramses De Teillee: 66/1  
  • Saint Xavier: 66/1  
  • Aso: 66/1
  • Shattered Love: 66/1 
  • Tout Est Permis: 80/1 
  • Warriors Tale: 80/1  
  • Double Shuffle: 100/1

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