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History In The Making

3 minute read

Cox Plate legends together for the ultimate virtual race.

Daily Telegraph, published Wednesday 21st October 2020, Author, Ray Thomas, Page 26.
Daily Telegraph, published Wednesday 21st October 2020, Author, Ray Thomas, Page 26.

The Ladbrokes Greatest Ever Cox Plate is shaping as the greatest two minutes in Australian virtual racing history.

Having partnered with Moonee Valley Racing Club and Racing Victoria, Ladbrokes enlisted Inspired Entertainment to bring to life the virtual race to celebrate the 100th running of the Cox Plate on Saturday.

The UK-based virtual sports developer combined its pre-eminent software and meticulous graphic design with supplied racing analytics to complete the Australian-first project.

Birdseye drone footage of the Valley, which Moonee Valley Racing Club had as part of its $2b redevelopment project, was used by Inspired to replicate the circuit.

Using verified speed maps and the 2018 and 2019 Cox Plates as reference points, Inspired was able to digitally replicate the way a Cox Plate is traditionally run—fast and uncompromising.

The race will he broadcast live on 7Two, and across Ladbrokes' digital platforms, on Friday night as the "Ladbrokes Greatest Ever Cox Plate".

The star-studded 14-strong field of champions to contest the race includes Frankel, one of three international wildcards, Winx and Phar Lap.

Each runner was designed and rendered individually to build the silks and specific markings, as well as lifelike muscle definition and size.

"It is always a challenge when developing virtual representations of such iconic and well-loved horses," Inspired Entertainment's Steve Rogers said.

"Fans know their markings, the silks worn by the jockeys and their racing patterns intimately, so it has been a lot of work from our team to develop a race that is fitting of the occasion.

"Typically when we undertake a project of this scale, we would like to be able to get our team on the ground and model out the details.

"Obviously, because of COVID-19 this wasn't possible. But we used a lot of archival footage, and both we and Ladbrokes are very pleased with the result."

Inspired this year delivered virtual versions of the Kentucky Derby and Grand National to global acclaim.

Ladbrokes executive director of corporate development Karl deKroo said the authenticity of the virtual race was paramount to its credibility.

"The snippets that we have seen look amazing, honestly, you could blink and think you're watching an actual Cox Plate," deKroo said.

"And then to have such iconic horses including Phar Lap, Tulloch and Kingston Town, running alongside Winx and Might And Power, for a racing fan, it is enthralling.

"We can't wait to see how it unfolds."

Ladbrokes, which has offered a novelty betting market on the event, has seen the first 500m of the virtual races to verify racing patterns and the look of each of the runners.

"It needed to be really authentic to how a Cox Plate looks and feels and how it races. that was important for us," deKroo said.

"Inspired Entertainment had a lot of experience in this space, but the racing patterns of English racing and American racing is quite different to Australian racing.

"They don't mind if they're sitting six-wide the circuit in the UK, but here that would look ridiculous if that's how the pattern panned out.

"For instance, if Might And Power goes out the back, instead of straight to the front, you lose all credibility in the process; similarly if Winx was to lead. So we needed to make sure those elements were accurate.

"But from there we have no idea what happens. Not surprisingly, most of the market is behind Winx, so our trading team will be riding this race almost as closely as the real Cox Plate the next day."

Having been a part of the expert panel to assemble the final field, Timeform Australia chief executive Gary Crispe then had the unenviable task of rating the "formidable" list.

Phar Lap was by far the hardest to compare with modern greats Frankel and Winx, largely due to the lack of accurate information being compiled when Big Red dominated the turf.

"You have to piece it together ... the further you go back, it does present a challenge, so all you can do is look at the facts and from there do the best you can," Crispe said.

Timeform's global ratings take into consideration multiple data points, including overall form, historical race results, times, weights and the quality of the opposition.

Fortunately, due to the emergence of Black Caviar and Winx more recently and thirst for comparisons, Timeform had a mountain of Phar Lap evidence that Crispe was able to draw on.

"Going back to horses like Phar Lap, we do have bits and pieces of information around the opposition he met, so we can adequately come up with a picture of where we think he should fit," said Crisp, a noted racing historian.

"My personal view is he's still the best horse to race in Australia by a few pounds, and if you look at his record, it would be pretty hard to argue anything else, really."

Crispe was forced to make some similar evidence-based assumptions about American dirt legend Secretariat and, to a lesser extent, Japanese super sire Deep Impact.

"Secretariat did present a challenge but all you do at the end of the day is assume he's going to reproduce a (peak) performance in a theoretical race," Crispe said.

"We had a pretty fair idea where he sat at the 2000m and were able to work from that value."

Despite the inherent difficulty of comparing champion eras, one thing surprised Crispe when the Timeform algorithm revealed the confidential ratings for the Ladbrokes Greatest Ever Cox Plate ... how even the field actually was, under the conditions.

"I'll be as anxious as anyone to see who wins." Crispe said. 

Article taken from Daily Telegraph, published Wednesday 21st October 2020, Author, Ray Thomas, Page 26.

Racing and Sports