The Virtual Grand National, produced by Manchester’s Carm Productions, will take centre stage on TV this weekend, with all betting profits going to NHS Charities.
With the actual race postponed because of coronavirus, the virtual race is being broadcast by ITV from 5pm on Saturday. It has been staged for the past three years with little fanfare, but on Saturday it is expected to draw a large share of the TV audience.
The Betting and Gaming Council said a maximum bet of £10 win per horse, or £10 each way, would be allowed. The viirtual race will have the field of runners who would have taken part in the real race, but in CGI form.
Executive producer Rob McLoughlin, of Carm Productions, is a former director of Granada Television who grew up in Maghull, near Aintree.
He 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.”
The programme will be led by the former Channel 4 Racing frontman Nick Luck, who will be assisted by the experienced Richard Pitman and Alice Plunkett. Stuart Machin will provide commentary.
Former jockey Pitman, who joined the BBC racing team in 1975, said: “It’s great because it is so life-like. Horses fall like horses do, you have horses pulling up, horses unseating riders. They go into great detail — they even look at the riding styles of the jockeys.
“The most amazing thing is that Stuart Machin commentates on it off a small screen, with 40 runners. How he does it I don’t know. It’s brilliant. It’s so real, people could easily think they were watching the actual race.
“The field will be as accurate as is possible to what would have been the final field in the real thing. Trainers have also been asked who the jockeys would have been on each horse to make it as close to reality as they can. The predictions have been incredibly good over the three years that we’ve done it.”
The team that produces the Virtual Grand National uses state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery, helped by a team of gaming experts, combined with complex mathematical algorithms.
Steve Rogers, chief commercial officer for Virtual Sports at Inspired, the company that generates the Virtual Grand National, added: “Information about the horses is fed into the software, which helps to determine the probability of their potential finishing positions.
“This probability is based on their past form and performance in other races. Layered on top of this, an element of AI [artificial intelligence] is involved in how the horses move around the course, how they jump fences and how they interact with each other. Then, as always with the Grand National, there is an element of unpredictability.”
The Virtual Grand National broadcast will also pit Aintree legends Red Rum and Tiger Roll against each other, and 38 others, in a Race of Champions.