With 40 runners in each year’s Grand National finding the winner is as much to do with luck as skill. So many runners mean luck in running is going to be at a premium and that’s before you factor in the unique test the Liverpool course has to offer. 30 fences in total must be jumped, some, like Becher’s Brook which are a real test for a horse. So many runners over such a demanding course makes finding the winner of the Grand National a tough task but there’re some key stats and trends which will narrow down the 40 big field.
The age of each horse running is a critical factor when trying to determine the Grand National winner. The rule of thumb here is, the older the horse the better – within reason of course. The fact is older horses have a much better record in the race than their younger counterparts. However, that’s not to say young horses haven’t been successful in the National either.
So what’s the ideal age? Truth be told there is no ‘ideal’ age but you want a horse aged 9 or above. Aintree’s Grand National course is a massive demand on a young equine, both physically and mentally and some just can’t cope. An older horse is physically and mentally stronger with more experience. In the last ten year’s only three single figure aged horses have won the National – all nine year olds. Ten-year-olds have the best win record, but 11 and 12 year-olds can’t be ruled out completely.
Weight is another factor when trying to assess a horse’s chances of winning the Grand National. It’s a fine line when picking a horse with the right blend of class and a nice racing weight. Let’s get straight to the facts. Only two horses have won the Grand National carrying 11 stone 5lbs or more since the mighty Red Rum way back in 1977 – Don’t Push It in 2010 and Neptune Collonges last year. No horse has won the Grand National carrying 11 stone or more (apart from the top two) since Hedgehunter did so in 2005. The weight issue is on a fine line and stats would say carrying 11 stone or under is the way to go. However, there is a possibility that weight may no longer make such a massive difference in the National as it once did, given that Phil Smith, the senior handicapper, has changed the way that weight is allocated. The result is that a lot more horses are jammed up towards the top of the scale than used to be the case and so horses carrying bigger weights is now the way forward.
There has been an urban legend floating around for years with regards stamina and the Grand National. Many said that a two and a half mile steeplechaser would make the perfect Grand National horse. False! You need a horse that has won over or beyond three miles and we must go way back to 1970 when Gay Trip won his National to buck this trend.
Stamina is a key part to the Grand National; your selection must have won over a trip of three miles or further, simple as.
None of the last ten winners had fallen more than twice over fences in their whole careers. Jumping is an integral part of the Grand National and poor records seem to be punished given the test.
As you may expect novices have an awful record in the race. 1958 was the last time a novice was successful over the famous birch when Mr What went on to score.
Each of the last ten winners had at least ten starts over fences. Experience plays a huge role in negotiating the Grand National course. Amberleigh House and Hedgehunter had competed strongly in previous Nationals before going on to success. Course and distance form is priceless!
All of the last ten winners have had a rating of 136 or higher.
A top quality jockey is paramount to a horse’s success around Aintree. A look at the roll of honours list of the last ten years tells you this. Names like Tony McCoy, Timmy Murphy, Ruby Walsh, Graham Lee and Barry Geraghty, just to name a few.
Get an edge
Always note trainers and jockeys descriptions of horses in interviews, stable tours etc. These can give a valuable insight into a horse. Grand National wise, characteristics like bravery, good jumping, maturity and well handicapped are just some that spring to mind.
Working from the top of the handicap horses will be added to a shortlist, maybe a long list if they fit the bill.
Imperial Commander has no experience of these fences which would put me off, but given his class and the fact that the last two winners of this race had no National fence experience he’ll be added.
What A Friend too cannot be totally discounted given his class.
Weird Al is a horse with plenty of problems and so is not for me.
Prince De Beauchene is pretty high in the handicap for what he’s achieved over fences especially in direct comparison to those directly above and so is passed over.
Quel Esprit is similar to Imperial Commander et al and is another dark, classy horse with no fence experience that can’t be easily discarded.
With the class of horse going up in recent years I’d be very surprised if Big Fella Thanks could win this off his current mark and at the age of 11 – although his course experience will stand him in good stead.
Roberto Goldback has no course knowledge and his mark looks too stiff for him to win.
I must apologise to followers of Seabass who I gave no chance of staying last year. He ran a cracker and now back as a 10-year-old he must have a big chance despite his new, higher rating. Ballabriggs, a former winner, is now back on his National winning mark and so too, will make the list.
Sunnyhillboy was cruelly denied in this last year when picking up an injury during the race. He has a higher mark now, but is another who has a chance given his course exploits.
Teaforthree is maybe a year too young and has no course experience so looks risky. He is a very fluent jumper though so he scrapes in.
Across The Bay doesn’t strike me as a National horse.
At the age of eight Join Together can’t be considered, but if one horse was to buck the age trend this year I think it will be him. He has course experience and a touch of class.
Bob Lingo won’t be winning!
Colbert Station represents formidable connections, but he hasn’t got enough experience to win.
Tofino Bay is a novice and so is overlooked.
Forpadydeplasterer would be a trend buster in the distance area so he’s not for me.
On His Own is a horse that should make every shortlist.
Paul Nolan’s Joncol is another Imperial Commander et al type horse so gets in.
Lion Na Bearnai, Balthazar King and Bostons Angel are three horses I simply can’t have winning this race.
Cappa Bleu, Oscar Time and Always Waining are a trio with quality National fence experience so they will be included.
Quinz and Tatenen are another two horses that won’t be winning.
Beshabar will have to overcome a lengthy time off the track and so is passed over. Treacle, Lost Glory, Saint Are and Swing Bill all have various age and class doubts to overcome.
Magnanimity is one who would have trip concerns as would Quiscover Fontaine.
Becauseicouldntsee has fallen in the last two Nationals and others look stronger. Now in the silks of J.P McManus Wyck Hill is sure to get a look in from plenty, but a lack of racing wealth will surely find him out.
Chicago Grey is one that will make the shortlist though.
Dessie Hughes’ Rare Bob hasn’t won in two years and so it’s hard see him getting his head back in front here.
Harry The Viking is another who looks too young and inexperienced.
The Rainbow Hunter will find it tough. Those are the top 40 horses entered and nothing looks appealing further down.
In trying to narrow down the field I think it makes sense to break the field up into horses with sufficient Aintree experience and those without. After running through the above list, 12 stand their ground – seven with course experience and five without. The former group consists of Seabass, Ballabriggs, Sunnyhillboy, On His Own, Cappa Bleu, Oscar Time and Always Waining. The horses without ideal Aintree experience included are Imperial Commander, What A Fired, Quell Esprit, Teaforthree and Chicago Grey.
Of those on the with experience Oscar Time and Always Waining are the easiest of the group get rid of. Oscar Time is now 12 and his recent form reflects his age. Always Waining made the list simply because of his experience of these fences, but stamina and may be class will prove to be an issue. The remaining five we’ll keep on our side just for now before moving on to those who have little or no education of this Aintree test.
While What A Friend is a decent horse on his day but he does have his own way of doing things which just mightn’t suit this race. For that reason we’ll move on. Similar comments apply to Chicago Grey and for me his style of jumping won’t hold up over these obstacles. Quell Esprit’s best form sees him dictating and while he is a sound jumper in the main (has fallen twice) the whole experience may just get to him. At the age of 12 I just can’t see Imperial Commander winning this off top-weight. I can see Teaforthree running a big race, but his price and proximity in the weights to other fancied horses means I’m willing to leave him go especially as he has no course experience.
That essentially means I’m keeping Seabass, Ballabriggs, Sunnyhillboy, On His Own and Cappa Bleu onside. With Ballabriggs now a 12-year-old I’m going to rule him out first. He looks to be carrying a little bit too much weight this year too and while he has a nice weight swing with those ahead of him in last year’s race age may just find him out in terms of winning. The rating allotted to Seabass this year looks like it might be too much for him in terms of winning. He’s another who will be carrying a bigger weight and given his jumping was a little bit suspect at times last year it may just find him out. I’d love to see Sunnyhillboy win after last year’s last gasp loss, but he now carries 13 pounds more on his back and that will surely stop him given his problems.
The two for me are the unoriginal selection of On His Own and Cappa Bleu. Both have enough Aintree experience to aid their chances of winning. The two also represent trainers who historically have done well with what they have sent to the race. Hopefully the ground is not too soft as it would deter their chances. Hopefully both can go well and all horses and jockeys come back safe and sound.
1pt win On His Own @ 7-1
1pt win Cappa Bleu @ 12-1