Love it, or hate it – the Grand National is the most punted on race each year and one we all feel obliged to have a crack at it.
With the race being first run in 1839 then it’s also a contest steeped in history and, therefore, if you like your stats there are also bundles of key trends that have built up over the years.
So, what are the key pointers to note when scrawling down the final 40 runners?
For example – the last 7 year-old to win the Grand National was back in 1940, yet year-after-year punters will continue to part with their cash on horses of that age. While at the other end of the age spectrum, no horse aged 13 or older has won since 1923, or even been placed since 1969 – but, yet again, these horses will still attract money.
These are the horses the bookies love, as history tells us they very rarely win, yet the ‘once-a-year’ Grand National betters will not bother to take onboard key stats like this.
Of course, all horse races are puzzles for us all to try and solve but with 40 runners racing over a 4m2 1/2f trip this is arguably the hardest conundrum to unravel. However, if you are armed with a few key trends then these can help put a line through certain horses that simply don’t have the same make-up or profiles of recent winners and with these we can quickly whittle down the 40 runners to a more manageable size.
Yes, it’s also a race that requires a lot of luck. We can all spend hours trawling through the runners, the past form and the key trends only to see your fancy be wiped out at the first fence by another faller!
Therefore, for this very reason – it’s not a race – in my opinion – to take too seriously and it’s certainly not one to go mad on in terms of betting stakes. Not only are there 30 tricky fences to tackle that – don’t forget – the bulk of the field have never seen before, there is also a 4m 2½ furlong trip to see out and 39 other horses for your selection to avoid.
For those of you that know me I do like the trends though and even though I’m prepared to take this race with a bit of fun I still like to try and put as much past history on my side as possible – then after than I’m happy to let lady luck play it’s part.
So – let’s take a look at some of the main runners
BLAKION was fourth in the 2017 Grand National and has been popular in the betting ever since. Yes, he landed the Becher Chase here back in December – beating another popular National horse – The Last Samuri by 9 lengths. Of course, having experience of these fences is a big plus but let’s cut to the chase – he’s not for me! Why? Well if he couldn’t win the race 12 months ago carrying 11st1lb then why is he going to this time with 11st9lbs on his back? That’s 8lbs more and he’s also now rated 161 as opposed to 152 last year. Okay, many will feel he’s a better, stronger horse and being another year older at 9 then is now at the peak of his powers.
Add in a recent wind operation then there could be room for improvement. However, he also heads here off the back of a very tough race at Haydock, when beaten 54 lengths in heavy ground. But another main stumbling block for me is that in the last 33 years we’ve seen just one past winner or placed horse from the previous year’s race……..and 76 have tried. With 11-9 to carry he’ll also be looking to become only the third horse since 1978 to win with more than 11-5 on his back! He’s simply got too many negatives for me.
MINELLA ROCCO ran a blinder to be second in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup and if finding that level of form certainly brings a lot of class to the race. However, he’s not really built on that since and did you know he’s actually only won once from 13 races over fences? That victory came in the 4m race at Cheltenham so we know he stays but it also came over 2 years ago! With 11-10 to carry then he’s another that will be looking to become only the second horse since 1974 to win with 11st10lbs or more………oh, and that was the mighty Red Rum, who carried 12st to victory! As you can probably guess he’s another of the main runners I’m ruling out.
ANIBALE FLY has a very similar make-up to Minella Rocco but, on a plus, has more recent decent form to take into the race. We last saw this 8 year-old running on well to be third in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup and was only beaten just over 8 lengths. With the Grand National weights out before that race then many feel his mark of 159 looks very attractive – if he could the handicapper would surely reassess him and give him more weight. Having said that, he’s still a horse that has 11st7lbs to carry and will also be going into unknown territory regarding the trip – the Gold Cup (3m2f) is currently the furthest he’s been.
With two of the last three Grand National winners aged 8 then he ticks that trend and certainly brings a lot of class to the race. It is also worth pointing out he did fall heavily two starts ago at Leopardstown, which would be a concern over these fences. So, another that is sure to be popular with punters but also another I’m prepared to overlook.
THE LAST SAMURI has been a stalwart of recent Grand Nationals, having run in the last two. He was 16th last year but many punters will remember him finishing second in 2016 as the 8/1 joint favourite. In fact, he’s raced over these fences four times as he’s been second and third in the Becher Chase before too, so certainly brings plenty of course experience to the table. He’s rated 2lbs lower than 12months ago but it’s worth pointing out he’s still a massive 10lbs higher than when runner-up in 2016. He only carried 10st-8lbs that day but has 11st-7lbs to lump round this time. Yes, a recent third in the Cross Country race at the Cheltenham Festival was a cracking run and he should be spot-on for this.
He’s certainly one to consider but, for me, he’s more of a horse that will get round, and perhaps place, rather than actually win. I’m a firm believer that you only get one crack at the National and if he’s failed to win the race twice before – and, don’t forget, he completed both times, then he’s one of those that might just have had his opportunity.
TOTAL RECALL has already had a cracking season and it might not be over yet. From the Willie Mullins camp that won this in 2005 with Hedgehunter, he was in the process of running a big race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last time until falling three out. Yes, it’s unlikely he’d have won that day but there was every chance he’d have grabbed third. Therefore, that form links him in closely with Anibale Fly and would surely be another that would be rated higher if the handicapper could reassess him. With 11st-4lbs then he gets in just under the key weight trend and since 2010 we’ve seen three winners carry 11-5, 11-6 and 11-9 so his burden of 11-4 is a winnable racing weight.
His chase mark has also been slightly protected by running over hurdles this year while having won the Ladbrokes Gold Trophy Chase (Hennessy) back in December then he’s another that brings plenty of class to the race. 3m2f is the furthest he’s gone to date but is a horse that runs as if he’ll stay the trip. Okay, many will feel that coming into race off the back of a fall isn’t ideal but prior to that he’d been a sound jumper and the Mullins camp are sure to have brushed up on that area in recent weeks. At 9 years-old he’s at the perfect age – 4 of the last 13 National winners were aged 9 – while the only Willie Mullins-trained winner of this race was – you guessed it – also 9. Of the fancied runners then he’s certainly one I like more and, therefore, the first to go on the shortlist.
TIGER ROLL was last seen winning the Cross Country race at the Cheltenham Festival and since then has been very popular in the betting for the National. He’s taking the same path as his stablemate – Cause of Causes – did 12 months ago and that horse ran a cracker to be runner-up in this. At 8 years-old there could even be more to come and whereas most of the others at the head of the betting have some stamina question mark – he doesn’t. He won the 4m race at the Cheltenham Festival in 2017 so basically stays all day. He gets in here off a mark of 150, which looks very attractive and that means he can race off an eye-catching 10st12lbs.
The experienced Davy Russell, who will be looking for his first win in the race, gets the leg-up and having negotiated his way round the tricky Cross Country course at Cheltenham then that’s a good very good indication he’ll handle the Aintree obstacles too. He’s a horse that acts on most ground too and with proven stamina then he’s another I’ll be adding to my National portfolio this year.
Best Of The Rest
The other key trend I always like to apply to the race is the days last ran.
With a massive 26 of the last 27 Grand National winners having raced no more than 55 days ago then this is too big a stat to overlook. Yes, there are quite a few runners that are on 56 days so I’m prepared to give these the benefit of the doubt, but there are also several fairly well-fancied runners that fall down on this trend – including Gas Line Boy (98), Pleasant Company (79), Ucello Conti (79), Minella Rocco (69), Warriors Tale (77) & Raz De Maree (98).
If you want to take this stat a bit further than it might pay to note that 21 of the last 27 (78%) winners actually last raced 34 days or less ago – Tiger Roll (31) and Total Recall (29), who are two already on my shortlist, get a thumbs up here too.
I’ve already touched on the two key age brackets to avoid too – 7 year-olds, plus any horses aged 13 or older. Bless The Wings (13), Raz De Maree (13) and Baie Des Iles (7) are three that fall down here.
Vieux Lion Rouge was sixth in the race 12 months ago – beaten 27 lengths – but actually races off the same 10st12lb weight and is also officially rated a pound higher this time. Based on that, then it’s hard to get too jiggy about his chances with 27 lengths to find from last year.
Saint Are is another popular Grand National horse that will be running in the race for a fifth time. His form figures read well too – 9-2-PU-3. So, having been runner-up and third in the race before then this 12 year-old certainly has the credentials to be placed again. He gets in here with a pound less in weight (10st9lbs) than last year.
Seeyouatmidnight would be a huge winner for the small Sandy Thomson yard and he’s got a lively chance too. He’s lightly-raced for a 10 year-old with just 16 runs but has already been placed in a National when third in the Scottish version back in 2016. He’s had his issues with only four runs since but should be a lot fitter for a recent run at Newbury – his first for 364 days! With 10st10lbs to carry then he’s got a nice racing weight and is another that has been known to race up with the pace so this will help keep him out of trouble. Certainly not one to rule out lightly.
I JUST KNOW hails from the Sue Smith yard that won the race in 2013 and with just 10st7lbs then he gets in with a very light burden to carry. He’s raced 10 times over fences and has only been outside the top three twice. He’s won over 3m6f in the past too so the trip should be fine but it is worth pointing out he’s racing off a 14lb higher rating than when last seen running over fences. Connections have given him a spin over hurdles recently though (March), which should have him spot-on for this and being a recognised front-runner at least he’ll be out of trouble from fallers. I think he looks an interesting contender of the outsiders.
VINTAGE CLOUDS is another from the Sue Smith yard that catches the eye of those at a bigger price. Yes, he’ll need some ahead of him to come out of the race to make the final 40, but if enough do then he could be worth an interest. Owned by Mr Grand National – Trevor Hemmings, who has won the race three times in the past, then this is the first plus. Ok, with just one chase win from 12 starts he might not win enough but having finished in the top three in 8 of those 12 runs then he’s never far away.
We last saw him running well to be third to Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham and he gets in here off the same mark of 141. With only 10-3 to carry then he’ll have a featherweight on his back and he’s also a track winner on the Mildmay course. The trip should be fine too as he was 7th in the Scottish National last year at Ayr over 4m, plus he was a staying-on fourth at Chepstow in the Welsh National back in January after getting hampered a few times too. He also had 11-1 to carry in that Chepstow race so with 12lbs less on his back here then this will give him an obvious boost over this gruelling trip.
Regal Encore is another worth a mention. This JP McManus owned runner was last seen winning well at Ascot over 3m but was also third in the Ladbrokes Gold Trophy back in December. He was just 9 lengths adrift of Total Recall that day but had to give him 3lbs. The weights, however, are a lot different here with a 9lb pull in favour of Total Recall. He also has history in the race after running 8th behind One For Arthur last year.
He gets in off the same mark (150) but carries a pound lower this time too. Yes, he’s a horse that can often be a bit in-and-out, and based on last year’s run in the race does have a bit to find but this year he comes into the contest off the back of a decent win and can be expected to improve on his 8th from 12 months ago.
- Tiger Roll
- Total Recall
- I Just Know
- Vintage Clouds