Virtual Grand National preview: What could’ve happened in Aintree showpiece?

Published on: April 3, 2020
Author: Jamie Clark
2020 Virtual Grand National preview

The 2020 Virtual Grand National is being broadcast on a special ITV Racing programme at 5pm this Saturday.

Forty of the most likely runners from the real-life entries in Aintree’s world-famous steeplechase have computer generated versions of themselves taking part.

The Merseyside venue has been lovingly recreated by Inspired Entertainment who have staged a virtual Grand National in each of the last three years.

Each of the past winners has placed in the first three in real life. UK and Irish gambling authorities have allowed bookmakers to take bets on the race.

You are limited to stakes of £10 (or £10 each-way) per horse. Place terms are a fifth of outright odds for five places.

All proceeds made by the bookies from the Virtual Grand National go to NHS charities at this time when healthcare professionals are at their most stretched.

Which could the algorithms and probabilities favour? Using the real-life Aintree handicap and weights, just as statistical data modellers have done, let’s take a look at some potential punts.

Top weight tough for Tiger Roll

Dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll heads the weights and betting on the virtual equivalent at 5/1.

Trained by Gordon Elliott for owners Gigginstown House Stud, the 10-year-old is a modern day Aintree icon.

No horse since Red Rum had won the Grand National in consecutive years, but Tiger Roll defied recent history and etched his name into sporting legend 12 months ago.

In the last two Virtual Grand National races, he has finished first and second. That means Tiger Roll has done even better in real life than predicted.

This versatile horse is a one-off, but now has top weight of 11st 10lb and a special Grand National rating of 170 to overcome. Romanticism isn’t one of the ingredients that goes into statistical modelling.

Given the way that Easysland surged away from Tiger Roll in his Cross Country Chase hat-trick bid, it may be he is now vulnerable to younger and unexposed horses.

He wasn’t coming into the real Grand National in the same form as previous years, and that must surely be factored into algorithm calculations.

Tiger Roll is opposed on that basis, and the fact he is worse off at the weights from those re-opposing from last year who finished in-behind him.

Magic Of Light could go one better

Jessica Harrington trained the game and gallant mare Magic Of Light to be second at Aintree last year.

Although the nine-year-old was an unfancied 66/1 then, she is much shorter in the Virtual Grand National betting here at 18/1. That is because she has continued to run well against her own sex.

Magic Of Light has won the same race at Newbury over fences and Grade 2 Warfield Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot, both over 3m, in each of the last two seasons.

It is easy to forgive her that last run in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan when trailing in last of eight.

Magic Of Light disappointed in her preps for the Grand National last year, then belied her odds to be beaten just 2 3/4 lengths by Tiger Roll.

She now meets the Aintree legend on 4lb better terms in this Virtual Grand National. In handicap terms, it gives Magic Of Light a chance of reversing that form at the revised weights.

Robbie Power is also taking the ride. He knows what it takes to win a real-life Grand National after success on Silver Birch back in 2007.

Magic Of Light is one to consider backing each-way here at nearly four times the price of old rival Tiger Roll.

Walk In The Mill is Virtual Grand National value

Virtual Grand National preview: What could’ve happened in Aintree showpiece?

Form over the Aintree fences is surely a big factor in the stats behind the Virtual Grand National, so that makes Walk In The Mill of obvious interest.

As well as finishing fourth in the real-life race 12 months ago, Robert Walford’s stable star has won the past two renewals of the Becher Chase.

Walk In The Mill simply loves the Grand National fences. He sneaks into this virtual race off joint bottom weight of 10st 4lb.

He carried that around Aintree in real life last year, but is now 5lb better off with Tiger Roll.

Although on that run he has 16 lengths to find, Walk In The Mill brings his own handy piece of form.

This season’s Becher saw both the runner-up Kimberlite Candy and fourth horse home Definitly Red come out and win since.

Walk In The Mill doesn’t represent one of the big guns of National Hunt horse racing in this, but he has to be respected on his record over the course.

Odds of 16/1 reflect that and also look a bit of each-way value in a Virtual Grand National where a case can be made for quite a few.

Stats suggest Burrows Saint too young

Seven-year-olds have a poor record in the real life race, yet Burrows Saint is a leading contender from the Emerald Isle at 12/1.

Trained by Willie Mullins for Rich and Susannah Ricci, he landed the Irish Grand National last Easter in some style.

There is, however, a major difference between the big Fairyhouse handicap and the world’s most famous steeplechase.

Burrows Saint has no experience of the Grand National fences and that may count against him in the data model here.

It was surprising to see him miss an engagement in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse, as Mullins often uses that February race to ready his leading Aintree contenders.

This ultimate test of stamina may come too soon for Burrows Saint. His rapid progress last term to win the Irish Grand National may just have been because he was a well-handicapped horse.

Although he gets 14lb from Tiger Roll, Burrows Saint could be worth opposing on this occasion. He is one to keep an eye on for the future, but not this Virtual Grand National.

Other Mullins mounts in the race include Acapella Bourgeois and Total Recall who have both bounced back to form this season.

They are both available at bigger odds than 2018 runner-up Pleasant Company, but he is now 12 years old and vulnerable to younger horses.

McManus quartet a mixed bag in Virtual Grand National

Leading Irish owner JP McManus has four contenders here. Any Second Now is the shortest price at 10/1, but it’s been 20 years since trainer Ted Walsh won this in real life.

This eight-year-old is unexposed as a stayer and won the Kim Muir at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival off a big weight.

The Virtual Grand National demands a lot more than most of his subsequent performances, for all Any Second Now comes into this off the back of a win.

There is more to like about the aforementioned Kimberlite Candy. Since chasing home Walk In The Mill in the Becher, Tom Lacey’s charge absolutely bolted up in the Classic Chase at Warwick in January.

One For Arthur used that race as prep for Grand National glory back in 2017, having placed over the Aintree fences previously.

That makes Kimberlite Candy well worth considering each-way, especially as he meets Walk In The Mill off just 4lb worse terms.

Anibale Fly represents the very shrewd yard of Tony Martin, and it looked in real life as though connections were laying him out for a big tilt at the Grand National.

This 10-year-old has placed fourth and fifth at Aintree, having finished third and second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the last two seasons. Anibale Fly didn’t go to the Festival there this year.

He also gets a massive 13lb swing in the weights with Tiger Roll from real life 12 months ago to this Virtual Grand National race.

It gives Anibale Fly every chance of reversing form, and he is well worth an each-way wager at 20/1.

McManus’ quartet is completed by Ok Corral but there are stamina doubts. Nicky Henderson has never won the Grand National either.