Friday 9.15pm 8th April ITV 4, plus 1pm Saturday 9th April ITV and the ITV Hub
Arkle, the greatest steeplechaser in history, is about to tackle the famous Grand National fences for the first time.
The Irish Grand National and three-times Cheltenham Gold Cup winner never competed in the most celebrated race of all. But now he gets his chance.
It will happen – virtually – in The Grand National Race of Champions, shown during ITV’s popular Virtual Grand National 2022, which will be broadcast ahead of the real race on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th April 2022.
The virtual TV special, in partnership with The Jockey Club, uses the famous Aintree Racecourse jumps as well as stunning CGI animation powered by AI technology and algorithms, created by Inspired Entertainment – world leaders in virtual sport.
In 2020 the Virtual Grand National raised millions for the NHS when it replaced the real race on ITV due to Covid-19. NHSCT (NHS Charities Together) raised £100m within six weeks and credited the programme with raising its profile and showing the public how to donate directly to the NHS.
Arkle will be joined by National Hunt legends like Desert Orchid, Dawn Run, Tiger Roll and Kauto Star, as they compete against twenty Grand National winners, led by the legendary Red Rum.
Producer Rob McLoughlin, who grew up near Aintree and devised the TV format said:
‘It’ll be fascinating to see horses like Arkle, Best Mate and Dessie get their shot at the big Aintree fences. They never ran in the ‘real’ Grand National, but thanks to the latest computer technology, we can see them in virtual action. They’re all brilliant horses, they won at Cheltenham, they won the King George, but this will be a real test of their stamina and jumping ability.’
‘I can’t wait. This show has become a much-see TV programme. Its results for the “predictor race” have been so close since 2017, and last year it placed three of the top five finishers, including Rachael Blackmore on Minella Times. In 2018 it told the world how Tiger Roll would win, and he did so just a few hours later in almost identical circumstances’
Steve Rogers of Inspired Entertainment, which creates the CGI races for the TV special, said:
‘The team have been working on this virtual race and on the race prediction algorithm for months. We use the latest technology including AI software to create the most life-like representation. In 2017 the winner of the Virtual Grand National came second in the real race, in 2018 Tiger Roll won both, and the computer has been very close on the final position of other runners and riders.’
Charlie Boss, Chief Commercial Officer of The Jockey Club, said:
‘We are always looking for ways to engage new audiences in British racing, and the Virtual Grand National and Grand National Race of Champions are exactly that. Hopefully it will inspire record numbers to watch the Randox Grand National on ITV and see a new champion crowned, as well as how close the algorithms get to predicting that champion.’
The full list of runners is as follows:
The Challengers: Arkle, Best Mate, Burrough Hill Lad, Captain Christy, Cue Card, Dawn Run, Denman, Desert Orchid, Flyingbolt, Florida Pearl, Frodon, Kauto Star, Kicking King, Long Run, Master Oats, Mill House, Native River, Pendil, See More Business, Sprinter Sacre.
Previous Winners: Aldaniti, Ballabriggs, Battleship, Corbiere, Don’t Push It, Foinavon, Garrison Savannah, Golden Miller, L’Escargot, Manifesto, Many Clouds, Minella Times, Mr. Frisk, Neptune Collonges, Party Politics, Red Rum, Reynoldstown, Rhyme ‘n’ Reason, Tiger Roll.
The 40-strong field was drawn up with the help of Aintree legend and former Grand National jockey, Richard Pitman, who admits the virtual race is going into ‘uncharted waters’:
“The mix of newcomers is intriguing, as none of them have raced over this distance or faced these fences. Experts will have their own favourites, yet the advanced technology decides the result of this clash from the archives between the proven Aintree horses and these untested additions.”
Richard is keen to see how the race unfolds. ‘I expect a mass charge over the first three fences, then you might see the likes of Frodon, Best Mate & Native River take up the running. You’ll probably have 10 or 12 horses still involved two fences out, before stamina takes a hold and the field thins out.’’
As for the eventual winner, Richard’s hedging his bets. ‘Best Mate and Desert Orchid are the “people’s horses” and both should be up there. There’s Red Rum, of course, and don’t discount Golden Miller – he won five Gold Cups and a Grand National between the World Wars. But for me, Arkle is the one they’ve got to beat.’
The Race of Champions will be run at 9.15pm on Friday April 8th on ITV 4, and at 1pm on Saturday April 9th on ITV as part of The Virtual Grand National and will be available on the ITV Hub.
For more information please contact Kate Byford at firstname.lastname@example.org / 07816294055 (m)
Note to Editors:
Produced by Rob McLoughlin’s Carm Productions, The Virtual Grand National was first screened in 2017. In 2018 it successfully predicted the winner, Tiger Roll. In 2020 it stood in for the real race, drawing 4.8 million viewers on ITV and more worldwide. It raised more than £3m million for NHS charities and Irish health charities and within six weeks NHS Charities Together (NHSCT) claim it helped to raise an astonishing £100m.
The races are created for Carm by Inspired Entertainment one of the world leaders in virtual sports.