4.8m viewers watched The Virtual Grand National on ITV as this unique concept replaced the real race in April 2020. 12.7m people saw the race as it was screened or highlights that evening on BBC News (BBC1) or ITV News. It was covered by Sky News; CNN worldwide and BBC World. 20m people saw the build-up on social media and the nation dressed up and drank champagne like the real thing!
£2.9m was raised by the bookmakers (who donated their betting profits) as it became a gaming event for the first time and donated it to NHS Charities Together and health charities in the Republic of Ireland.
The press went wild as Potters Corner galloped home and Red Rum won The Grand National Race of Champions.
The Sun, Daily Mirror and Financial Times carried front page stories as The Daily Telegraph hailed the ‘Amazing Quality’ and Richard Pitman (Aintree legend) declared to CNN that ‘the animation is extraordinary’.
It was named ‘Standout Charitable Effort Of The Year’ in the ERG Gaming Awards.
Rob created the TV concept and Grand National Race of Champions. The VGN race was devised by Rob and Steve Rogers of the world leaders in virtual sports, Inspired Entertainment. The first TV special in 2017 saw Cause of Causes win the VGN ’17 in an exciting finish and go on to come second in the following day’s Grand National.
The animated horses run over the real course. The programme is presented by Nick Luck, former Host of Channel 4 Racing with Richard Pitman and Alice Plunkett and commentary is by Stewart Machin. A Panel of Experts including Bob Champion, winner on Aldaniti and Lydia Hilsop attempt outfox the computer.
In 2018, Tiger Roll did the ‘double’ winning both races.
The 2018 TV special also saw L’Escargot controversially beat Red Rum in The Grand National Race of Champions devised by Rob.
Special versions of the concept have now been developed for play online and in shops along with Race of Champions slot and scratch games which are enormously popular with some of the leading bookmakers globally.
The concept was developed in association with The Jockey Club.
Ahead of the 2021 Virtual Grand National, veteran jockey Bob Champion and Rob McLoughlin were interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Click here to hear the interview.