A good starting point to identify horses to back in the ante post market for the Grand National is results from the previous two races. On that basis Many Clouds, The Last Samuri and Vieux Lion Rouge should be on your short list of horses to back three months ahead of the most famous race in the world. The Aintree factor is less relevant since the fences were modified but the race and course still have a history of some horses relishing the conditions and running well on a number of occasions.
The Grand National is still the most demanding test of jumping and stamina in the sport. Changes to the fences have made the race more akin to a long distance handicap chase on a park course. However, there are still some intrinsic features of the race and occasion that favour a certain type of horse, both physically and mentally. Many Clouds fits that profile well and the horse has a great chance to become the first multiple winner since Red Rum. The Last Samuri and Vieux Lion Rouge completed the race last time and have both run well since.
Some punters love to follow trends and it’s possible to eliminate several runners that have no chance of defying the stats. In the past the number of potential winners could be reduced to about six but now more than half the field cannot be dismissed. The race is less of a lottery and more a high class handicap chase over an extreme distance The quality has improved but the odd 100/1 winner can still pop up which adds to the intrigue of the great race. The last outright favourite to finish first past the post was Hedgehunter at 7/1 in 2005.
However, between 1952 and 2016 66% of winners started at 20/1 or less. Twenty two of the last 30 placed horses were below that price and only eight winners over the last 25 years started bigger in the betting market. Every winner over the last decade has proven quality by winning a race with a value of more then £17,000 ahead of the big day. Nine of the last 10 winners had finished in the top three at least once in their most recent three races. All but two winners since 1991 ran at least three times over the course of the season in which they won the National.
Since 2007 the average price of the winner is 24/1 in a range from 7/1 joint favourite to 100/1. For the five races between 2010 and 2014 the winner was aged 10 or 11 and Many Clouds in 2015 at 8 was the youngest winner since Bindaree in 2002. Nigel Twiston-Davies is the most recent multiple winning trainer with Earth Summit in 1998 and Bindaree in his care so the last 14 winners were stabled by different trainers. Leighton Aspell and Ruby Walsh are the most recent multiple winning jockeys. Since 2000 six winners have carried 11 stone or more.
Many Clouds as a former winner so is proven over the course and distance. He won the Hennessy and National the season before last and was sixth in the Gold Cup. Recent National winners from lower in the handicap have been weighted out of subsequent races but Many Clouds was racing from the upper echelons of the card in 2015 and can only go up by one pound at most. The horse was tanking for most of last year’s race but got tired in the soft ground in the closing stages. However, Many Clouds can become the first horse since Red Rum to win the National again more than one year after the previous win.
The horse is owned by Trevor Hemmings who also owned Hedgehunter and Ballabriggs. Aintree is his local track and the National the race he likes to win more than any other. With Many Clouds he has a great chance of winning the race for the fourth time to become the leading owner in the history of the race. Many Clouds has retained his enthusiasm and jumping ability so can deliver again. The horse loves the track and the fences and is a worthy favourite to win the 2017 Grand National.
The Last Samuri did everything right over 30 fences and all but the last furlong of the race in 2016. The horse jumped almost impeccably and came to win the race over the last fence. However, Rule The World outstayed The Last Samuri on the run-in and collared and overtook him on the flat inside the final 100 yards. The horse was always in touch and tracked the leaders but a jumping error at the 27th fence proved costly. However, for the most part The Last Samuri handled the fences and race distance.
The horse again showed his liking for Aintree in the Becher Chase in December. Carrying 11 stone and 12 pounds The Last Samuri was always handy and jumped well again. He was held by two horses carrying much less weight so the race was another great endorsement for the National in April. Highland Lodge finished second and came agonisingly close to winning the race for the second year in a row but Vieux Lion Rouge stayed on well and led close home to run a decent trial for the big one. Ucello Conti was fourth and finished sixth in the National last season.
Vieux Lion Rouge was a place behind Ucello Conti in that race and then won the Becher Chase of a BHA rating of 142. Many Clouds has raced to 167 but can only carry 24 pounds at most more than any other horse. The Last Samuri has run to a figure of 159 so in theory will carry eight pounds less than Many Clouds in the National. However, Vieux Lion Rouge is an improving horse while Many Clouds and The Last Samuri are fully exposed. Even so Many Clouds would be my one horse against the field for the 2017 Grand National.