The Virtual Grand National celebrates NHS workers as it returns for 2021

Can the computer predict the outcome of the most unpredictable race of all?
The Virtual Grand National celebrates NHS workers as it returns for 2021
Friday 9th April ITV4 at 8pm
Saturday 10th April at 1pm ITV and ITV Hub


The Virtual Grand National, one of the most popular sporting and television events of 2020, is back on television this April ahead of the most unpredictable of races – celebrating the NHS and revealing how the public’s support for the VGN has helped patients and medical staff across the country.

The programme, which includes the popular Grand National Race of Champions virtual race developed by Inspired Entertainment, will return to our screens this year on Friday 9th April at 8pm on ITV4 before being screened on ITV (main channel) at 1pm ahead of its exclusive, free to air coverage of the real race on Saturday 10th April. It will also be available on the ITV Hub.

The virtual TV special uses the famous Aintree jumps and course, in partnership with The Jockey Club, as well as stunning CGI animation powered by AI technology and algorithms to see if a computer can outwit the experts and the bookmakers to name the possible finishers.

The VGN has been screened since 2017 and was propelled into the spotlight in 2020 when the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree was cancelled as the country entered its first nationwide lockdown.  It became a huge fundraiser for NHS Charities Together and in Ireland, raising more than £3.0 million for NHS Charities and £300,000 for medical charities in Ireland.

The TV special featured the 40 horses and riders who were most likely to run in the Aintree spectacular, and 4.8 million watched as Potters Corner took the title at the Virtual Grand National on ITV.

“The generosity of the racing family was superb,” said Ellie Orton, CEO of NHS Charities Together. “The money raised has been supporting front line and other staff. Without the backing of Carm Productions, Inspired Entertainment, ITV, The Jockey Club and the bookmakers, this would never have happened. People dressed up, participated and they forgot the immediate crisis. It was wonderful, and we look forward to showing how staff and others have benefited.”

With the return of the historic steeplechase, racing fans are curious to see how accurate this computer-generated race is in comparison to the real thing  – and it has had a good track record so far.

“In 2017, Cause of Causes won the Virtual Grand National and came a close second in the real race hours later,” said Steve Rogers, Chief Commercial Officer for Virtual Sports at Inspired, which produces the animations and is a world leading maker of virtual sports.

“The 2018 result was breath-taking as Tiger Roll won both in almost identical circumstances, and the computer chose three of the top five finishers, including Tiger Roll, in 2019. 2020 was simply off the scale in terms of the public’s response and the attention on social as well as traditional media. We are thrilled to have been part of this project from the beginning.”

The TV concept was created by broadcaster Rob McLoughlin OBE of Carm Productions, a former Director of Granada Television who grew up in Maghull (the town alongside Aintree) where the first National was run in the 19th century. Looking back on last year, Rob describes the experience as “absolutely phenomenal” and said that the team “felt honoured that we were able to stand in for the Grand National during a difficult time.”

“Now we’re back again and so is the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree, so all eyes will be on how the winner of the 2020 Virtual Grand National, Potters Corner, will perform in the real race,” said McLoughlin. “We will be previewing the historic race on the Friday night, and the big question is; can the computer predict the outcome of the most unpredictable race of all, or will it be outwitted by our field of experts?”

Nick Luck returns as presenter with commentary from Stewart Machin and analysis from Richard Pitman, who rode 427 winners in his career and almost won the National on Crisp. Alice Plunkett of ITV Racing will be providing her unique insights.

Chris Cowey (Bowie at the BBC, The White Room on C4 and Top Of The Pops) is the director, along with producer Mark Alderton and Peter Eaton as advisor, (his family won the race with Amberleigh House, and he sponsored the real Grand National as part of the Crabbie’s brand).