Sunday 5 April 2020

Criticism of Virtual Grand National 2020

The impact of the Coronavirus has transformed horse racing. 

If you don't follow thoroughbred horseracing, it hasn't transformed it for the better. Racecourse meetings abandoned. Just a few corners of the globe continue without a problem. How long before they succumb to the virus, too? 

Mighty horse races have fallen by the way. No bigger than the Grand National. 

Many looked forward to seeing Tiger Roll attempt a historic third consecutive victory at Aintree, going one better than the legendary Red Rum. 

That record-breaking attempt will have to wait until 2021. 

So this year, the Grand National was left with one option: The Virtual Grand National. 

By all accounts, a race with the same runners and riders but computer-generated and the result decided by an algorithm.

I wasn't sure what to think about the race. 

In some ways, it was better than nothing. Or is that the case?  I am not keen on virtual horse or dog racing. Perhaps it could be considered a worthy option in these times of literally no sport.

The taking place of the Virtual Grand National could be seen from different points of view. 

The positives: It was something better than nothing. It could try and replicate the most famous horse race in the world. People could take part in the sweepstake or bet with bookmakers. In addition, all profits from the race would be given to NHS Charities. They are all fair points to why the race deserved to be aired on TV. 

The negatives: Why was it given permission to be aired on TV and the reason behind it? Sure it could be viewed as simply an alternative to the real thing. But many have criticised it being promoted on TV as an alternative to betting on real horseracing. Sure, that isn't happening at the moment but this promotion could well see punters consider virtual racing in favour of the real thing when both are on the table. This wouldn't happen to me or anyone I know who loves their racing. However, it could be tempting for those new to the game or just looking to bet on whatever they can feast their eyes. The problem with virtual horse racing is that it is akin to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT) because they simply take a percentage from each and every race. They aren't skill-based so longterm punters cannot win. 

Also, virtual racing is owned by the big four bookmakers, often exclusive to their shop. I doubt any of this money goes back into the horseracing industry. It goes straight in the bookmakers' pockets. They already take a huge share of horse racing revenue because they control much of the media rights and give a small amount back. They are considered more of a parasite on the back of horse racing than a benefactor. 

Virtual racing, if becoming popular, would be another nail in the coffin of living/breathing horseracing which has been struggling for cash over the years. 

For many, the virtual Grand National was a few minutes fun on a Saturday which lacked sport in a world where Coronvirus drowns out the cheers of sporting triumphs. This time it was the Grand National which fell short on spirit. A canned cheer manufactured by a computer programmer. While those who love horse racing fear the promotion of a race that has little to do with sport and implications that could have an impact upon the sport we love if favoured by punters as a viable alternative. 

Here is the truth of the matter. 

A quote from an informed horseracing advisor:

''My local bookies has the Grand National running round Daily!! 40runners...different results etc etc... Am so disappointed because all it does is prey on the vulnerable let alone newcomers to our sport. As you eluded to profits from computer generated gaming goes straight to the bookmakers' pockets... I've stood in my bookies in amazement almost every four minutes a 'virtual' is going off... It's the very reason I go to the track more often than not just to escape the 'arcade' mentality the high Street bookmakers have created!!!'' 

Author: Jason Coote

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