The Grand National is the most famous steeplechase in the world and a unique test for horse and rider. This week we are looking at a strategy to identify potential winners of the Aintree marathon. The National is the longest race of the year and the course and fences are unique. The race puts special demands on the participants but certain trends have emerged over a number of years. The race is now less a lottery and more a high quality handicap chase that now favours the better horses.
The National is also the richest race in jumps racing and money talks in attracting Gold Cup quality horses. Golden Miller is still the only horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and National in the same year (1934) but more horses are now targeted at both races. In the past there has only been a two week gap between Cheltenham and Aintree but this year due to Easter its four weeks from one festival to the next.
The winner of the first National was called Lottery but it’s something of a myth that that word describes the nature of the race. In the last 20 years only one winner has started at triple figure odds and the average price of the winner is about 20/1. In a 40 runner handicap a 20/1 horse will be in the top 10 in the betting. Over a sustained period of time the more fancied horses have a good record in the National.
From 2012 to 2014 three horses aged 11 won the National. That run was exceptional and over the next three years the winning horse was aged 8, 9 and 8 again. The average age of the winner since 1998 is almost 10 so experienced horses have dominated the race in recent years. Horses run in a number of Nationals and it can take time to get used to the course and the atmosphere at Aintree on National Day.
The Grand National is a handicap whereby runners are allocated a weight based on their past form. However, the handicapper gives more credence to form over the National fences than form on park course. There is a proven phenomenon of Aintree horses who perform better over the National course than at other tracks. The weights are announced in February but can rise if a horse from the top of the handicap is withdrawn. In the last 20 years six horses have carried 11 stone or more to victory.
The weight range is from 10 stone to 11 stone 10 pounds which equates to 24 pounds. One of the objectives in framing the weights is to get as many horses as possible to run of their true weight. An overall rise in standards means there are fewer runners from outside the handicap which makes the race more competitive. Only one horse has prevailed carrying the minimum weight since 1998. Six winners carried ten and a half stone or less.
Stamina and jumping are required to win the National. There are 30 fences to be jumped and some come quickly on parts of the course. Even over more than four miles a horse must get into a good rhythm and jump the fences efficiently without making errors. Once the jumping is over there is a punishing run-in which tests a horse’s stamina and some tire and drop out of contention. The fences are now more forgiving but errors accumulator and can be costly towards the end of the race.
Previous Grand National, spring and Cheltenham Festival form are all important and horses that run well at this time of the year have an advantage. The race is now more reliable in producing winners that could have been identified using key criteria. However, stamina is the main attribute and horses that have won chases over more than three miles should be at the top of your short list of horses to back in the National.