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Achieving the Impossible: Picking a Grand National Winner

Although the Cheltenham Gold Cup is one of the highlights of the racing calendar, we revealed that it isn’t as open a race as originally thought. If you focus on the top three in the market, you’re likely to come close to picking a winner. The Aintree Grand National, on the other hand, is as close to a ‘lottery’ as you’re likely to get in racing. 

Since Sprig won the event at 8/1 in 1927, only nine favourites have won the National. Don’t Push It was the most recent at 10/1 in 2010. 7 of the last 11 winners have done so at SP odds of 25/1+ and with 40 runners, trying to pick the right horse is an incredibly difficult task. In this article, I won’t try and predict the winner but I will attempt to help you narrow down the process so you have a fighting chance.

Removing Non-Contenders

It is always a dangerous assumption since, in theory, any horse can win the National (Foinavon anyone?), but in most cases, we can safely discount a fair percentage of the field by looking at past trends. At the 5-day forfeit cut-off point, there were 63 possible runners left but there can only be a maximum of 40 horses.

There are often cases where confirmed horses pull out and another takes its place in the final few days. As such, it is entirely possible that at least one of the horses mentioned in this piece will be a non-runner by race time. Now, here are some significant trends to look at to help you whittle down the field:

  • 21/27 winners have carried 10-12 or less.
  • 23/27 winners were aged 9+.
  • 34/37 winners were 11 years old or younger.
  • 43/43 winners have previously won a race of 3 miles or more.

A relatively quick look at the Racing Post list of entries means we can eliminate a number of horses based on the first two trends. 17 entrants are aged 8 or younger, 9 are 12yo+ and 13 are carrying 10-13 or more. When you discount all horses that fail to meet the trends, you’re left with just 29 ‘viable’ candidates (5 horses are in the ‘wrong’ age range and are carrying too much weight). Crucially, it also eliminates genuine contenders such as Minella Rocco, Blaklion, Anibale Fly, The Last Samuri, Total Recall, and Gold Present. 

We can further whittle down the field by eliminating rank outsiders. The Grand National is notoriously unpredictable with 66/1 shot Auroras Encore winning in 2013 and 100/1 shot Mon Mome shocking everyone in 2009. However, only five horses have won the National at odds of 40/1 or more since Foinavon’s fluke win in 1967. Therefore, we can remove horses at 40/1+. 

At the time of writing, only 22 of the 63 preliminary horses were at odds of 33/1 or less. Most of these horses were eliminated by previous trends which means we are left with the following eight entries:

  • Seeyouatmidnight
  • Ucello Conti
  • Pleasant Company
  • Vieux Lion Rouge
  • Captain Redbeard
  • General Principle
  • Milansbar
  • Regal Encore

Ucello Conti has never won a 3+ mile race so we can eliminate him from contention along with Captain Redbeard whose only 3-mile win was at Dalston. 

And Then There Were Six

It is an exciting moment when you whittle things down because you know you’re getting close to the end of your odyssey! At this stage, it is best to use a combination of trends and form reading to make your final selection. For example, it is hard to make a case for Seeyouatmidnight because his two 3+ mile wins came back in 2013 and 2014, he has never competed in the National and only has one run at Aintree.

As 26 of the last 27 winners last ran less than 56 days before the race, we can eliminate Pleasant Company who last ran in January and will be inactive for 77 days on the day of the National. That leaves us with four horses and all of them have things in their favour:

  • Regal Encore won over 3 miles at Ascot in February and finished eighth in last year’s race.
  • Vieux Lion Rouge finished a creditable sixth in last year’s Grand National and had several runs at Aintree including a victory in the 2016 Becher Handicap Chase. As a 9yo, he could be reaching the right age to land the National.
  • General Principle won a 3m 5f race at Fairyhouse on April 2 so is clearly in prime condition. However, one would worry about running so close to the National.
  • Milansbar is in excellent form with a win over 3m 5f at Warwick this season in a Class 1 event along with a second place behind Regal Flow over 4m 2f at Uttoxeter on March 17.

Caveats

There are a couple of problems with these trends. First of all, two of the last three winners have been 8yo horses. Is this an anomaly or will younger horses begin to dominate? Also, all six winners that have carried 10-13+ in the last 27 years have done so since 2005. 

Then there is the small matter of the betting. It is normal for horses at odds of 66/1 or thereabouts to shorten as the race gets nearer. As a result, there are several possible contenders, such as Buywise, at longer odds that may fall into the SP criteria by Saturday. It is probably best to ignore any odds trends until the day of the race. There will be a few outsiders that make their way to a betting slip come Saturday.

Final Thoughts on the Grand National & Narrowing the Field

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, its purpose was to help you find ways to whittle down an enormous field. Just because Blaklion, Minella Rocco, The Last Samuri, and other excellent horses don’t meet the trends outlined, doesn’t mean they haven’t a prayer of winning. I will say this: The chances of the winner being a horse that has never won a race of at least 3 miles is remote and such entries are worth eliminating.

Even the best tipsters tend to have appalling records in this event so don’t beat yourself up if your pick falls at the first! To conclude the piece, I will add some additional things to look for:

  • Horses that have previously competed in the Grand National and were unplaced.
  • Horses with two or fewer career cases of falling or unseating their riders.
  • Horses with at least one win in a Class 2 race or above.
  • Horses with at least three runs this season.

The Grand National is an absolute marathon of a race which makes it incredibly unpredictable. Horses tend to do strange things when exhausted and some don’t perform particularly well when crowded out. All it takes is a single jockey mistake or an error from a tired horse and it will come tumbling down.

Personally, I will place bets on a couple of horses, settle down and watch one of the world’s greatest sporting events unfold. Keep reading Race Advisor this week to get more exclusive tips from Michael, Eddie, and the rest of the team. 

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Patrick Lynch

Patrick graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with an MA in Literature and Publishing but decided he would rather have the freedom of a freelance writer than be stuck in a publishing house all day. He has enjoyed this freedom since 2009 and has written thousands of articles on a variety of topics but sports betting is his passion. While his specialty is finding mismatches in obscure football leagues, he also likes to use his research skills to provide punters with detailed winning strategies in horse racing. You can check out his personal blog on www.lynchthewriter.com or Twitter @pl1982 where he writes content to help small businesses achieve success.

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10 Comments

  1. Agree with Seeyouatmidnight, he’s my top pick as well and Vieux Lion Rouge but don’t like to dismiss horses at generous odds, won 6K 2 years ago when I picked Rule The World at 50/1 and also had Gilgamboa places at 66/1 , so want to throw in Chase The Spud at massive odds (backed at 95on exchanges) as he fits nearly all trends. Pulled up on last 2 runs is only negative. Also like Tiger Roll as he is a winning machine and is classy winning 3 times at Cheltenham Festival and stays. Good Luck

  2. A great starting point, thanks. I have done my own eliminations and ended up with a current shortlist of Tiger Roll, Milansbar, Regal Encore, The Dutchman, Vieux Lion Rouge and Vintage Clouds. I wanted to also include General Principle as I had it at 33s last time out, but it’s possibly racing again too soon and used up its luck. Look forward to any updates later in the week.

  3. The only time I’ve picked the National winner was, Red Alligator. This year will be my second time picking the winner. So here goes: I JUST KNOW and last years disaster VICENTE. Good luck to you all, and fingers crossed for a clear round.

    1. I had Vicente as my main bet last year – Fell at the first! Worse was to come when I deserted him the following week and he hacked up in the Scottish National. 😒

  4. The race has changed a lot in recent years…. Easier fences and classier horses taking part means higher weights can win. By far the best horse is ANIBALE FLY who was only 8 lengths behind the recent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. It’s similar form to that of another 8 year old, Many Clouds a few years ago, who outclassed his rivals at Aintree. Of the others I fancy The Dutchman. I don’t rate any of the ones on your shortlist. They are too exposed and/or simply not good enough.

  5. a little late to the party but my selection will be bucking the trends with the well rested Saint Are. A few that i like each way for the under card are Connetable, Silver Concorde, Hammersly Lake, Old Guard and Wiliam of Orange. Luck to all!

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