ITV gambles on Virtual Grand National

By 30th March 2020 No Comments

With no live race this year, broadcaster puts predictive event centre stage

Iconic racehorse Red Rum is to face off against current star Tiger Roll as part of a virtual Grand National to be staged by ITV next Saturday.

In a bid to entertain racing fans vexed at the cancellation of this year’s event, Carm Productions will host the event at 5pm on Saturday 4 April.

ITV has held virtual meets on ITV4 since 2017 but with no live race this year, it forms the centrepiece of its main channel coverage.

As well as the 40 horses and riders who were most likely to run in the Aintree spectacular, it will include a Grand National Race of Champions that will pit past winners against each other.

It will answer the key question in racing: could Tiger Roll have won the 2020 race and entered the history books as a three times back-to-back winner?

Aintree legend Richard Pitman, who rode 427 winners in his career, will join racing broadcaster Nick Luck and guests for the Virtual Grand National TV special.

The concept was created by broadcaster Rob McLoughlin of Carm Productions, a former director of Granada Television, and the animation is created by Inspired Entertainment.

“We use the latest CGI technology and algorithms and we’re ready for Tiger Roll to be a forerunner but now we want to cheer the nation up and we’ll ask the computer if history could have been made,” said McLoughlin.

“It’s very sad not to have the real race but Inspired’s virtual race is fascinating and fun and has proven since 2017 to be incredibly accurate.”

Previous iterations of the Virtual Grand National have proved close to the real-life events, with the virtual version calculating Tiger Roll’s 2018 win in almost identical circumstances and the computer choosing three of the top five finishers in 2019.

“In these difficult times we want the public to simply enjoy the race that sadly never was and think about what might have been,” said McLoughlin. “I think the use of virtual technology and AI (Artificial Intelligence) ahead of great sporting events will become the ‘norm’ in the future.”

Chris Cowey will return as director along with producer Mark Alderton and Peter Eaton as advisor.

This article first appeared on Broadcast. Words by Joanna Tilley

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