Virtual Sports Hits the Big Time with ITV’s Grand National Coverage

Written By Ian John on April 9, 2019

This past weekend saw one of the biggest horse races of the year take place at Aintree, Liverpool as a total of 40 runners and riders competed in the Grand National. Tiger Roll was the winning horse, becoming only the fifth horse in the history of the race to win back to back Grand National races, the first since the legendary Red Rum to do so.

However, if you had tuned in to ITV Sport’s coverage of the Grand National on Saturday afternoon, then you could have been forgiven for thinking that you had tuned in to a Virtual Sports betting site by mistake as prior to the live racing coverage on the channel, ITV viewers were treated to a special event, a Virtual Grand National.

It was not the first time that ITV had used Virtual Sports to give fan a preview of the race. Last year, the channel operated a similar Virtual Grand National race in the run up to the National and it proved to be so popular that it was brought back for a second year.

Possibly because that the Virtual Race run a short time before the actual race predicted accurately that Tiger Roll would win the 2018 Grand National!

What was the 2019 Virtual Grand National?

If you have used Virtual Sports betting on sites like Betway or Bet365 Sports before then you will be aware that Inspired are the company behind the Virtual Sports Betting alternatives on these sites. It was Inspired that ITV turned to in order to produce their Virtual Grand National for 2019, but how would it work?

Of course, Inspired could not simply port over a version of Virtual Horse Racing and then run the race. The Virtual Horseracing software is very different to a Grand National Race, so what Inspired did was modify their software parameters to match that of the Grand National.

So, the Virtual Grand National we saw on TV at the weekend featured far more realistic graphics than you even get on a sports betting site (which is no mean feat as the graphic for Virtual Sports are generally excellent). Not only that, but the company had used digitised images from the actual course and its surroundings to ensure that the race was not only the right length, but that the course looked exactly the same as it does in the real race.

All 30 of the fences around Aintree were also accurately represented with the different heights and widths of the fences used to give an accurate representation of the Grand National Course.

The effect of this was stunning and when the Virtual Grand National race was shown on television, the only time that you could really tell that it was a virtual race and not real was when the horses jumped over the fences as the animations were not quite as smooth there as in the rest of the race. However, for the rest of it, it looked (and with official commentary by the ITV Racing commentary team) and sounded just like the real thing.

The effect was simply stunning and Inspired can only be thrilled with how their software produced another fantastic Virtual Grand National. However, it didn’t quite get the result right for the 2019 race as it did for 2018.

Virtual Grand National 2019 Result

  1. Rathvinden
  2. Tiger Roll
  3. Jury Duty
  4. Anibale Fly

Grand National 2019 Official Result

  1. Tiger Roll
  2. Magic of Light
  3. Rathvinden
  4. Walk in the Mill
  5. Anibale Fly

However, I would say that having predicted three of the top five in the real race, although not in the correct order, the Inspired team did a good job with entering the parameters for each of the contenders. Especially when you consider how unpredictable the Grand National can be to try and predict the winner from.

How did Inspire enter the data for each horse?

In truth, the TV show never went into great detail about the kinds of data that Inspired used to enter for each of the 40 Runners in the Virtual Grand National. We do know thatit will likely be a far greater amount of information that would generally generated by the software in a standard Virtual Horse Race and it would need to be to reflect the differences between the horses running on the day.

All ITV said was that a large amount of data for each horse running, the jockey riding and the course was used to produce the field and then the result was down to some complicated mathematics and processing which produced the winners as you see above.

The Legends in the Race of Champions Grand National

In addition to preparing and running a Virtual Grand National for the 2019 race, Inspired also produced an entirely different Virtual Grand National for ITV Sport which the channel broadcast before their Virtual Grand National 2019.

This new race was a legends race, which pitted some of the most famous horses in Grand National history throughout the years to see which of the horses would be the winner.

A similar race was run last year and saw L’Escargot earn the win ahead of Red Rum, but this time around it was Aintree legend Red Rum that cruised to victory with his great rival Crisp in third.

Was this a big success for Inspired and Virtual Horse Racing?

After receiving favourable reviews back in 2018, there is no doubt that the 2019 Virtual Grand National and the Race of Champions will have certainly impressed viewers this year too. In terms of inspiring people to give Virtual Sports betting a try, this coverage in front of millions of viewers on ITV was arguably the best way to bring this particular form of betting to a wider audience.

It also bodes well for the future of Virtual Sports as the technological advances that Inspired used to produce the races for ITV Racing could be the impetus for the next generation of Virtual Horse Racing games, with perhaps a focus on specific races or indeed, history legends from the past competing against each other.

For fans of Virtual Sports though, it was great to see it feature so prominently in one of the biggest sporting days of the year and that can only bode well for the future of the Virtual Sports industry.

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Ian John

Ian John is an expert across many realms of online gambling, both in US and international markets. Based in the UK, Ian covers sports betting, poker, and the regulated online casino and esports betting markets for a wide number of industry-focused publications.

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