This is no National Lottery

It’s great to return The Sight Is In End with one of the truly great one-off sporting events imminent. Not much gets me more excited than a Grand National, in fact I don’t mind admitting I’m a bit of an obsessive when it comes to the world’s greatest steeplechase.

One thing annoys me terribly at this time of year, and that’s everyone referring to the Grand National as a ‘lottery’. Phrases such as ‘you’d have as much chance of picking the winner if you just stuck a pin in the newspaper’ become very common in the run up to a National, and it’s just not true! Sure, it’s tough to pick a winner, no one would argue otherwise, but you can certainly reduce the 40-strong field to a much more manageable number before you start getting your pins out.

And that’s what I’m going to attempt to do for you here in my Grand National preview, not so much advise you where to put your money, but steer you clear of the nags on which it would be thrown away.

As much as many ‘experts’ are loathe to admit it, there are some very common trends among Grand National winners which are impossible to ignore – and, importantly, these trends can expose big problems for some much-fancied runners.

Weight

The most major factor to look out for in the National is the horses weight. It’s at around 11 stone that the straw is placed that breaks a horses back in a National. Only one of the last 24 National winners have carried more than 11 stone – that was the exceptional Hedgehunter in 2005, and he was carrying 11st 1lb, just fractionally over. No more than about half a dozen 11 stone plus horses have even been placed (that a finish in the first 4) in a National in the last 10 years.

With each further pound of weight, the task becomes more impossible. There have only been 5 occasions on which the winner has carried more than 11st 5lbs in over 150 years of races, and two of those were Red Rum.

One thing you might hear mentioned this year is that the bigger weights have a better chance than usual due to a ‘compressed handicap’. What that means is the difference between the top and bottom weight is smaller, and as such the advantage to those with the smaller weights is not so great. They said this last year. In fact over the last 5 years or so, the handicap has become increasingly compressed, the number of horses carrying 11 stone plus has increased, as has the weight of the lowest ranked runner – and we are still yet to see it bring any advantage for the big weights.

If I was being conservative, I would say that 11st 3lb is the absolute maximum I would consider, and even then I’d still favour the runners carrying under 11st. Using 11st 3lbs as the cut off point, we can rule out the following horses for this years National:

Hedgehunter, Hi Cloy, Knowhere, Mr Pointment, Turko, Madison Du Berlais, Simon, Opera Mundi, Iron Man, Fundamentalist.

Age

One of the biggest no-no’s when selecting a National horse is to choose one that is not of the optimum age. It’s 67 years since the National winner did not fall between the ages of 8 and 12, on that occasion the winner was younger than 8 – you have to go back more than 80 years to find a winner older than 12. There are no real old-timers in this years race, but you can definitely rule out the following young pups, whose time may come one day, but not this year. These are all under 8 years of age:

Turko, Madison Du Berlais, Opera Mundi, Iron Man, No Full, Bob Hall, Milan Deux Mille, Nadover.

Generally, 9 and 10 year olds are much more successful in the race than anything else. 11 year olds have less success, but are definitely not to be ruled out. 8 and 12 year olds can win, but these are rarer occurrences. So 9-11 year olds are to be favoured ahead of 8 and 12 year olds. Interestingly, the hot favourite for this years race, Cloudy Lane, is an 8 year old. The 2002 winner Bindaree is the only 8 year old to win in the last 14 renewals.

The French

Horses which are bred or trained in France are cursed in the Grand National. There have been one or two recent French-bred runners up, but there has been no winner bred across the channel since 1909. There have been two National winners trained in France, and the last of these was in 1867.

So steer clear of the following gallic raiders:

Turko, Madison Du Berlais, Opera Mundi, Iron Man, Butlers Cabin, Vodka Bleu, L’Ami, No Full, Mon Mome, Kelami, Milan Deux Mille, Nadover.

Stamina

You can never be completely sure if any horse will still be full of running after 4 and a half miles, because there aren’t that many races run over such a marathon distance. But you do at least want a horse who has proved itself to have some reserves of stamina. The accepted distance a horse needs to win over to prove himself a decent stayer is 3 miles. So any horse that has never won over that distance must surely be a major doubt for 4 and a half miles. This eliminates the following:

Madison Du Berlais, Iron Man, Fundamentalist, Contraband, No Full, Bob Hall, King John’s Castle, Tumbling Dice, Milan Deux Mille, Nadover.

Are you keeping up? Well so far we’ve got rid of 22 horses, leaving you with 18 to choose from. Still tough work, but not as bad – and there are yet more stats which can help us reduce the field still further.

Class, experience, form and preparation are all factors which have linked recent National winners. All of the last 10 National winners had won a chase worth £17000 or more, and had run in at least 10 chases in their career. Other common criteria include at least one win in the current season, and to have been given a preparative race over hurdles – this suggests a horse which has been prepared specifically with the National in mind, and all the last 5 National winners have had this last factor in their favour.

Based on all of the above, I have chosen the following half-dozen horses which have everything going for them to run a big race in this years Grand National:

Comply or Die – Of all the fancied horses, this is one who really justifies his support. A recent winner of a classy 4 mile plus chase at Newcastle when carrying top weight, he comes to the race at the perfect time, as a 9 year old, running off a nice weight of 10st 9lbs and has good form against the favourite, Cloudy Lane. He’s the leading chance of 5 from the top-drawer Pipe stable. Has the perfect National winner’s profile.

Point Barrow – Remember him? He was joint favourite for last years race, but got no further than the first. He is less fancied this year, and yet there would appear to be no more reason to oppose him. Falling in the National is no barrier to making up for it at a later stage – last year’s winner Silver Birch fell in the 2006 race – and falling at the first can often be down to the chaotic way in which the horses dash for this obstacle. The horse won the Irish National in 2006, and that is a race which has proved itself an excellent Grand National trial in the past. It also suggests he’s in his best form at this time of year. Currently available at around 20-1, he could be the value of the race.

McKelvey – Second last year, and running on like a train despite picking up an injury towards the end of the race. Has done everything to prove that he can win a National, and as a 9 year old he now reaches the peak time to prove it. Does have to carry an extra half stone compared to last year but at dead on 11st, it shouldn’t be enough to rule him out. If the luck is on his side it could be his day this time.

D’Argent – Don’t worry about the name, he’s not French. This is the only National runner from the bang in form Alan King stable, and he is a horse likely to give you a great run for your money. Fantastic 11 year old stayer with proven class and stamina. Has a style of his own when it comes to jumping, which may be a concern over these giant fences, but it usually proves effective for him. If he stays on his feet, he’ll be running all the way to the finish.

Philson Run – Age is not on his side as a 12 year old, but last year’s 4th is not to be ignored. He’s looking to emulate 2004 winner Amberleigh House as a 12 year old winning the race the year after being placed, and he’s just the type that might do it. You won’t find a more reliable jumper and stayer in the field, and although I think he’ll find one or two too quick again at the finish, he’s a fantastic each-way bet.

Backbeat – My favourite outsider in this years race. He perhaps needs to take a big step up in class to win this, but I can see no reason why he won’t be placed. Another horse at a good age and weight, and this one is regarded as one of the best jumpers around – not the type of talk to be ignored at Aintree, as anything likely to get around safely could have a chance. Currently at around 66-1, he represents fantastic each way value.

And why I don’t like some of the big fancies this year:

The reason that Cloudy Lane will go off a comfortable favourite for this race, is that he has had a couple of serious recent wins that came too late for the handicapper to get his hands on him – which means he’s carrying far less weight than he should be for his current rating. I oppose him because I don’t think he’s done nearly enough to justify such a short price. Favourites don’t have a great record in the National, and neither do 8 year olds. Those facts are enough for me to favour others ahead of him.

As for last years third, Slim Pickings, if he didn’t have enough up the run-in carrying a light weight to beat Silver Birch and the injured McKelvey last year, I can’t see how he won’t find at least a couple too quick for him again carrying 11st 3lbs this time. I think he ran the race of his life last year, and might have missed his chance. I see no value at the price of around 11-1.

Another big fancy is Bewley’s Berry, who was going like a dream last year when he hit the floor at Becher’s second time round. He’s proven he can jump all the fences by finishing 2nd in the Becher Chase twice, but he just strikes me as a bit of a bridesmaid. For such a fancied horse, he has never actually won anything approaching a top class chase. We also never got to see what he had left for the finish last year due to the fall, and his previous form suggests he just starts to run out of steam a bit in the real marathons. If he gets round he could be up there, but he won’t win.

So, to my idea of the winner of this years Grand National. Forced to pick one, it would have to be Comply Or Die.

Good luck to everyone, and feel free to leave comments after the race if I have proved myself to be talking rubbish!

Jamie.

STOP PRESS:

Opera Mundi is now a non-runner for the race, (had no chance anyway, see above) and has been replaced by Ardaghey.

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Filed under BBC, Betfair, Betting, Grand National, Horse Racing, Opinion, Sport

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