Can I bet on virtual horse racing?

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.

What is the virtual Grand National?

As the name suggests, the virtual Grand National is an animated version of the Grand National developed by Inspired Entertainment, Inc. The virtual Grand National was televised in 2017, 2018 and 2019 as a precursor to the National ‘proper’ but, in 2020, assumed greater significance after the actual race was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic; at the time of writing, the virtual race is due to be broadcast on ITV at 17.00 on Saturday, April 4.

The virtual Grand National apparently employs the latest computer-generated imagery (CGI) technology, and special sets of rules, a.k.a. algorithms, to determine the result, but is due to play out in real-time, with commentary from Stewart Machin. So far, the virtual Grand National results have been close to the actual Grand National results but, granted that the proof of the pudding is not in the eating, so to speak, the popularity of the virtual race in its own right remains to be seen.

To anyone desperate enough to have watched or, worse still, to have bet on, virtual horse racing, the virtual Grand National offers little or nothing new. In the absence of final declarations for the National, choosing the forty runners ‘most likely’ to participate may prove problematic. In any case, rendering data as an animation, or ‘cartoon’, based on complex algorithms has been done often enough before, with less-than-stellar results.

Update: The simulated 2020 Grand National race was won by Welsh trained 18-1 shot Potters Corner (with Tiger Roll fading into fourth place) and drew a peak television audience of 4.8m. Christian Williams, trainer of the real Potters Corner was said to be clearing on the victory with her family at home.

“There was great excitement in the house,” said Williams. “The children were on their toy horses and it was great watching the race and seeing our horse come through to win.”

The race raised a total of £2.6 million for NHS Charities Together.