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The Virtual Grand National

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Punters are always looking for an edge to help them select the right horse in any race and to beat the bookmaker’s odds. But it takes a great deal of time to analyse the horses’ form and so it was inevitable that software would emerge to assist gamblers to predict the outcome of races.

Predictive Software

Back in the 1990s this type of software became available for home computers including the ground-breaking Atari ST and it actually worked – to a certain extent, at least. It was a time-consuming bore to upload all of the relevant details to the computer but it could then process the data quickly and suggest the most likely winner of a race. Naturally, the software wasn’t always right but it could at least identify horses which were good bets because their odds did not reflect their winning potential.

In other words, if the software revealed that the favourite for a race was the most likely winner, it wasn’t providing much insight. But if it suggested that a 10-1 shot was a great prospect then it was time to place a bet!

Horse Racing and Virtual Reality

Technology marches on and more complex algorithms are now possible. To make things even more interesting, in 2017, ITV decided to partner predictive software with CGI technology to produce the Virtual Grand National. They broadcast this virtual race the night before the actual Grand National and it made for interesting viewing. Cause of Causes won the virtual race but the horse came second in the real Grand National the following day. The computer managed to predict three of the top six finishers – not bad at all.

Predicting the Winner of the Grand National

Fast forward to 2018 and ITV broadcast the Virtual Grand National a second time, again the night before the real race. Carm Productions in Manchester created the VR concept in association with Inspired Entertainment. Timeline North at MediaCityUK completed the post production.

This time the computer predicted that 10-1 shot Tiger Roll would win the race – just. Anyone who saw the broadcast would have been suitably astonished the following day when none other than Tiger Roll won the Grand National by a short head. Uncanny!

Lucky Gamble or Serious Insight?

Personally, I only heard about the Virtual Grand National after the real race had finished this year. Had I known about the broadcast I certainly would have watched it being a huge fan of the historic race. I hadn’t watched the 2017 Virtual Grand National either, but I was very amused when I saw the result it had predicted. I had placed a bet on Cause of Causes for the 2017 race and so my thinking was clearly in tune with the software. Hilariously my pick this year was Tiger Roll!!

So, is the Virtual Grand National unbelievably clever or is it, in reality, no better than an amateur enthusiast like me? Having spent just a few minutes analysing the horses in the two races, I made the same predictions as the computer. Nonetheless, if the Virtual Grand National is run next year, I am definitely going to watch it!


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