The late John McCririck, who died from lung cancer in July, 2019, at the age of 79, was a horse racing pundit, television personality and award-winning journalist. Instantly recognisable by his signature deerstalker hat and sideburns and renowned for his brash, eccentric style, McCririck was, for much of his career, one of the most familiar faces in British horse racing. McCririck made his name as the face of Channel 4 Racing, which he joined, from ITV Sport, in the mid-Eighties.
A former bookmaker, McCririck delivered animated betting news, complete with appropriate tic-tac signals, direct from the racecourse betting ring. He continued to work for Channel 4 Racing until October, 2012, when he was sacked, as a result of ‘audience research’; McCririck claimed age discrimination and took Channel 4 and production company IMG Media to the Central London Employment Tribunal, seeking £3 million in damages, but lost. McCririck was also a skilled investigative journalist and earlier in his career, while at ‘The Sporting Life’, he won ‘Specialist Writer of the Year’ and ‘Campaigning Journalist of the Year’ at the British Press Awards.
The Grand National in variably attracts whole host of once-a-year punters dreaming of striking it rich by backing an outsider at hugely rewarding odds. However, such wishful thinkers would do well to remember that, in 172 runnings of the celebrated steeplechase, just five horses have won at treble figure odds. The last two 100/1 winners were Mon Mome (2009) and Foinavon (1967), while further back in Grand National history Caughoo (1947), Gregalach (1929) and Tipperary Tim (1928) also scored equally unlikely victories. It is also worth noting that Tipperary Tim and Foinavon took advantage of mid-race pile-ups and Gregalach and Caughoo were part of the two largest Grand National fields in history, 66 and 57, respectively.
Four horses have won the Grand National at odds of 66/1, the last being Auroras Encore (2013), while the last of the four 50/1 winners was Last Suspect (1985). Seven horses have prevailed at odds of 40/1, the last being Royal Athlete (1995) but, interestingly, all four 33/1 winners, the last of which was Rule The World (2016), have been victorious since the turn of the twenty-first century. So, percentage-wise, in 172 runnings of the Grand National, just 24 winners, or roughly 14%, have been returned at odds of 33/1 or longer. If we also consider 25/1 winners, of which Many Clouds (2015) was the last of fourteen, the number of winners increases to 38, or roughly 22%.
Obviously, the many imponderables dictating the outcome of any horse race mean that picking a winner is not altogether straightforward. Indeed, even successful punters cannot expect to correctly predict the result of every horse race on which they place a bet and losing runs are inevitable.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the importance of luck in running, picking a winner essentially boils down to a handful of factors, most, if not all, of which can be determined by analysing the form book. You can often make an educated guess about ability or, in the case of unraced, promising or progressive horses, potential ability by reference to the pedigree of the horse in question and its recent recent performances on the racecourse. Furthermore, certain organisations, including Racing Post and Timeform, publish ratings that express, in Imperial pounds, the ability of each horse in the eyes of their private handicappers, which can be extremely useful for comparison purposes. Recent form, say, within the last six weeks or so, indicates that a horse is likely to fit and ready to do itself justice.
Beyond that, the fact remains that most horse races are won by horses that are attempting little, or nothing, more than they have achieved in the past. Beware of any marked disparity in class, distance, going, value and weight; winning horses inevitably rise in the weights, according to official ratings allocated by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), but the weight a horse carries ultimately affects the speed at which it can gallop.
Perhaps the best known virtual horse race is the Virtual Grand National, which was first introduced in 2017, but took centre stage in 2020 after the real-life Grand National was called off due to the coronavirus. Like all virtual horse races, the Virtual Grand National is a computer simulation; computer-generated imagery (CGI) is employed to create a faithful rendition of racecourse, runners and riders and the result is determined by a sophisticated, step-by-step list of rules, technically known as an algorithm.
As in a real-world race, the odds offered on each horse are inversely proportional to its theoretical chance of winning, but the outcome is determined by a regulated random number generator (RNG). As the name suggests, a RNG is designed to generate a sequence of numbers without any discernible pattern but, in a virtual horse race, the favourite has a higher ‘weighting’ in the RNG – and, therefore, more chance of winning – than the second favourite and so on throughout the field.
The Virtual Grand National may be the best known virtual horse race, but virtual horse racing is everyday occurrence with bookmakers, on the High Street and online, in Britain. In fact, virtual horse races, Flat or Jumps, typically take place every few minutes, with win, each-way, forecast and tricast betting available.