The Virtual Grand National: How does it work, can I bet on it and when is it?

While the coronavirus pandemic continues to derail some of the most popular sporting fixtures in the UK, all is not lost for horse-racing fans.

The 2020 Aintree Grand National is one of the many high-profile sporting events – along with Wimbledon, Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics - that have been cancelled.

But the virtual version of the famous race will go ahead as planned this weekend on terrestrial television – and proceeds will go towards the fight against Covid-19.

So what exactly is the 2020 Virtual Aintree Grand National and how does it work?

Here’s what you need to know:

What is it?

The real course won't be run but there is a virtual alternative. Credit: PA

The 2020 Virtual Aintree Grand National is a race that will involve the intended runners from the real thing, re-invented in CGI (computer-generated imaging).

It’s not actually a new concept - this weekend marks its fourth consecutive year.

But of course with the public rightly adhering to social-distancing rules, the virtual race can expect far greater attention than it has ever enjoyed.

The virtual race is run over the same Aintree course, with 30 fences to clear before a winner is crowned.

How does it work?

The virtual version takes into account the likely weather conditions. Credit: PA

Designers have fed many algorithms into the race, including the likely weather conditions, recent form, form on the track, weight, age and more.

It’s hoped that all of this data combined will produce the most likely winner of the real race if it were to run.

Past results suggest the algorithms are not far off.

In each of the past three races, the virtual winner finished in the top three in the real thing.

This year’s participants have not been confirmed yet, but the Grand National website says: “We can safely say they’ll probably be the virtual versions of the Grand National 2020 runners themselves.”

Why is this happening?

Proceeds will go towards NHS charities. Credit: PA

The obvious answer is that this may be a timely substitute for horse-racing fans who were looking forward to a trip to Aintree.

But this year the virtual race organisers are keen to do their bit in the effort against Covid-19.

The race, run by most leading UK bookmakers, will donate profits to NHS charities.

“It’s been agreed with ‘NHS Charities Together’ that stakes will be limited to £10 per house, per customer for the event, or £10 each-way per horse – plus, the UK tote will also be providing a pool on the race, with all profits also going to charity,” the website explains.

When is it and where can I watch it?

Nick Luck (right) will lead coverage. Credit: PA

The 2020 Virtual Grand National will be shown live on ITV at 5.15pm on Saturday, April 4.

Presenter Nick Luck will lead the ITV Virtual Grand National horse racing coverage, with commentator, Stewart Machin, been given the job of calling home the CGI-animated runners.

There will also be thoughts, views and tips provided by the team.

Repeats of the race will be shared on streaming channels, the Grand National says, and those backing a horse may be able to watch a live stream through the bookmaker of their choice.