The Punchestown Festival is on the horizon and the start of the turf Flat season is imminent, but the loudest bleep on the racing radar is undoubtedly emanating from Aintree with the Crabbie’s Grand National less than two weeks away.
Whether you’re a once-a-year punter or a seasoned pro, the allure of putting your judgement to the test in this unique race is irresistible. From a betting standpoint there is simply no greater sense of achievement than picking out the National winner.
Are statistics the key to solving the Grand National puzzle?
Between 1984 and 2004 each winner of the world’s most famous race carried 11st or less to victory. This is perhaps unsurprising, since a light weight is naturally an asset in a race run over a gruelling trip of almost four and-a-half miles.
In addition, seven of the last nine National heroes were aged nine or 10, while just five favourites have prevailed in the Aintree extravaganza during the past 30 years. It’s also worth noting that the last 43 winners had all previously landed a race over a trip of at least 3m.
Of course, statistics shouldn’t be followed blindly, but there are certain trends which are too prevalent to be dismissed as mere coincidence.
Should I steer clear of Grand National favourites, then?
While market-leaders do not boast a great record in the race – and there have been some big-price winners in recent years, most notably Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009 – solving the Grand National puzzle isn’t quite the shot in the dark you might expect.
Sure, with 40 runners embarking on a marathon journey and 30 unique obstacles to negotiate, it doesn’t hurt to have Lady Luck, as well as the right horse and jockey, on your side.
However, it’s interesting to note that, during the last two decades, almost 75% of victors were among the first 10 in the betting. So, in theory, if you look at the Grand National odds and focus on the first 10 in the market you most likely will be barking up the right tree.
So, the Grand National isn’t a lottery?
In recent years the National has changed: generally speaking, the quality of the horses contesting the race has improved markedly.
This, in part, is why weight is no longer such a key consideration; it’s not so much a case of how much weight a horse has on its back now, but how well-handicapped a horse is in the context of the race.
In addition to the quality of the runners, a contributing factor to this is the way horses are trained – that is, the way in which their campaign is mapped out in the lead-up to the Grand National.
As an example, only two of the last 17 winners ran over fences at the Cheltenham Festival in the same season. In other words, National winners are trained to peak at Aintree, not at Cheltenham a month earlier.
2014 Grand National betting advice
Teaforthree ran a tremendous race in the 2013 renewal and is a worthy favourite off a 2lb lower mark this time round.
Though he ran in last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, that was just his third start of the season, and it’s patently clear that Rebecca Curtis was essentially using that as a prep race, rather than harbouring any realistic expectation of winning it.
Teaforthree will be relatively fresh on April 5 looks poised to give another very good account, but LONG RUN is an extremely fascinating contender – and a potentially massive price at 16/1 with Ladbrokes.
It’s fair to say that the nine-year-old is operating well below the level that he was when eclipsing Denman and Kauto Star in the 2011 Gold Cup, but he still managed to win the King George and finish placed in three other Grade 1 contests last season.
This term, Nicky Henderson has clearly geared Long Run’s campaign around a tilt at this race, and he appeared to be coming to the boil when readily scoring at Kelso in February.
The gelding has been allotted a mark of 160 for the Grand National, which looks pretty generous considering he started last season off an official rating of 178.
His jumping hasn’t always been totally flawless, but in the main he’s a good jumper and he could be just the type to excel over the National fences.
It also augurs well that his jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, has twice finished in the frame in this race, second aboard Oscar Time in 2011 and fourth on the same horse 12 months ago.
Tidal Bay, who was runner-up in the Welsh National earlier in the season, is another classy type and has to be on the shortlist, despite the burden of top-weight and his advancing years.
Pineau de Re ran an eye-catching race when third in the Pertemps Final over hurdles at Cheltenham last month and is another to consider, along with Sunnyhillboy who was just touched off by Neptune Collonges in this race two years ago.
Ante-post Crabbie’s Grand National tip:
Long Run – 16/1 (Ladbrokes)