In the past year we have got used to virtual versions of almost everything. Virtual meetings on zoom, virtual shop assistants, virtual house viewings and so on. But a virtual sporting event? What’s that all about? The Grand National is the greatest horse race in the world. Run at the famous Aintree course in Liverpool, it first took place in 1839 and is run by 40 horses over 30 fences spread across 2 circuits of the course. The race distance is around 4 miles and 2½ furlongs, making it particularly long. In addition, the fences are much bigger than those normally used, with some of them being famous in their own right such as Becher’s Brook, the Chair and the Canal Turn where horses and jockey must jump a fence and immediately make a 90-degree turn! There really is no other race like it. If you have never seen it, make sure you change that this year. The Virtual Grand National began in 2017. It is a video representation of how a sophisticated computer model thinks the race may unfold, but this is no cheap and basic animation. Watch the Virtual Grand National and you will have to keep reminding yourself that you are not watching real horses and jockeys, and real fences being rearranged as horses fly over and through them! The result of the virtual race is not left to chance either. The computer uses a whole host of factors to predict how the race might pan out. Data on the records of jockeys and horses, the weather and course conditions are all factored in. Of course, just like the real race, there is a healthy element of chance involved too – the favourite can fall at the first in both the virtual and real races! In 2017, the very first year of the virtual race, the virtual winner came second in the real race, and in 2018 Tiger Roll won both the virtual and real races, with the two races having many similarities. Can the virtual race predict the 2021 winner? We will have to wait and see. You can read more about the virtual race and watch the video of last year’s virtual race here. To complete the Grand National experience, there will be commentary from Stewart Machin and Richard Pitman, and you can even have a flutter on the virtual race, with the proceeds from losing bets going to NHS charities. Over £3m was raised by the virtual race for this great cause in 2020, together with another £300k for Irish health charities. As an added bonus, there will also be a virtual race of champions, featuring Aldaniti ridden by Bob Champion on the 40th anniversary of their famous victory, and a host of other great Grand National horses from across the years. The Virtual Grand National, proudly sponsored again by app2vox, airs on ITV4 at 8pm on Friday 9 April, on the ITV hub from 9pm on 9 April and is repeated before the race itself on ITV at 1pm on Saturday 10 April.