In a lot of ways, the Grand National is essentially a lottery. Fourty horses jumping thirty of the largest obstacles in Europe at high speed might make for an interesting spectacle from the perspective of the Mother-in-Law and wider betting public, but for most serious punters, it’s a nightmare.
Finding the winner is never going to be an easy task, but with most firms offering enhanced place terms and going 9/1 the field, I have no shame in putting four up and feel we have a good chance of securing a payout.
I’ve analysed the last 19 runnings of the Grand National and have identified the following trends and statistical angles to help us narrow down the field.
2016 Grand National Trends
Older horses have done well in recent years, with 5 of the last 6 winners being aged 10 or 11. Those aged 9 and 10 have the best record overall, accounting for 12 of the last 19 winners and 57% of all placed horses during the same period.
That said, any horse aged 8-11 can win, providing it has the right credentials. The only age groups that can be safely ruled out are those aged 7 or less, who are far too inexperienced for the hullabaloo of the National, and those aged 12+, who are usually well past their best.
13 of the last 19 winners were Irish-bred. British and French-bred horses do not have a particularly good record overall, but French-breds have done better in recent years as the fences have become slightly easier.
16 of the last 19 winners had a Dosage Index of 1.15 or less. 17 of the last 19 winners had a Centre of Distribution of 0.39 or less. As is to be expected, stamina is clearly the name of the game.
Class tells in a high class race like the National and 16 of the last 19 winners had won a Listed or Graded Chase. The last winner not to have done so was Ballabriggs in 2011, but he’d won the previous year’s Kim Muir at the Festival under top weight, which was equivalent to winning a Graded level performance.
Horses without a win above Class 2 level have a record of 3-19-248.
Every winner since 1970 had won over 3m or further.
All 186 horses without a win over 3m+ to have run in the race have been beaten (0-9-186).
Days Since Last Run
Unsurprisingly, given that the National is contested over a marathon trip of four-and-a-half miles, fitness is very important and a horse has to be trained to the minute to see the race out. All of the last 19 winners had raced within the past 56 days, as had 83% of all placed horses.
Horses wearing headgear have a poor record of 2-9-166, which makes perfect sense when you consider that Aintree’s Grand National fences are the some of the largest in the country. A horse needs a good view of the obstacles in order to jump them efficiently at speed and this may go some way to explaining why headgear has proven to be a hindrance over the years.
Besides, the fact a horse is wearing headgear usually signals that it has lost enthusiasm for the game or, at the very least, isn’t the most straightforward. I would therefore assimilate that, for one reason or another, the vast majority of horses running in headgear probably aren’t going to be up for this, and generally I regard headgear as a big negative in the National.
With thirty of the most fearsome obstacles in Europe to clear, it stands to reason that a proven ability to jump well at speed is probably one of the best places to start when looking for the National winner.
18 of the last 19 winners had fallen no more than twice in their careers.
Number of Runs
All of the last 19 winners had raced at least 9 times over fences and had run 3 or more times in the past year.
My long-held belief is that the Grand National suits handy horses that have a high cruising speed, which means they can conserve energy by sitting just off the pace whilst remaining within striking distance when the pacesetters begin to tire.
You need a horse who can get into a good jumping rhythm and gain ground at its fences. Horses that spend a lot of time in the air simply cannot keep up in the National, nor can those who have been slogging around in the mud all winter, which is why many of them will get detached before the end of the first circuit.
14 of the last 19 winners finished in the first 5 on their most recent start. Horses that finished in the first 5 last time out also accounted for 68% of all placed horses.
Whilst I wouldn’t recommend ruling a horse out purely on the basis that it didn’t achieve this, I do regard a top 5 finish last time out as a positive.
The race has changed a lot in recent years and horses towards the top of the weights have a much better record than they used to. In fact, 5 of the last 7 winners carried 11 stone or more, which includes last year’s winner Many Clouds who, despite being rated 5lbs higher than he was last year, has only 1lb extra to carry this time around.
2016 Grand National Preview
All things considered, I think Many Clouds has a very good chance of becoming the first horse since Red Rum in 1974 to win back-to-back runnings of the Grand National. Unlike many previous National winners, he has held his form well and, if anything, may have improved a bit since last year. I think he is by far the likeliest winner and see him as my banker as, if he gets round, I can’t see him finishing out of the frame.
The Druids Nephew was going well when coming down 6 out last year and there’s every possibility he would have gone close to winning. He’s been aimed at the race this year, whereas it was probably an afterthought last term, and he looks a lively contender.
Holywell had been out of form this season prior to finishing second in the Ultima Handicap at the Festival, but this is his time of year and if he gets round it’s hard to imagine him not playing a part in the finish. He looks well treated on a mark of 153 based on last season’s Gold Cup fourth, where he finished 15 lengths in front of Many Clouds, but the two things putting me off him are his size, as he isn’t the biggest, and the fact he is blinkered.
Unioniste only got as far as the fifth last year, but has seen his handicap mark tumble quite a bit since and comes into the race in decent form. He has long been regarded as a National horse and has tons of stamina in his pedigree, but there’s no getting away from the fact that Many Clouds gave him weight and a beating last time out and it’s hard to see him turning that form around.
Gallant Oscar has a perfect profile for this and is the one I like most at the prices. He’s unexposed, trained by a shrewd operator in Tony Martin and has some good form in big fields to his name having finished third to The Druids Nephew at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. Watch a replay of that race and you’ll see he was doing all of his best work at the finish, and I’m convinced J P McManus bought him with this race in mind. This son of Oscar was bred for marathon trips and I feel he could be the one to beat Many Clouds at what looks a very tasty each-way price.
A reproduction of last year’s effort would surely give Saint Are a big chance, but there are a couple of reasons to believe he may be capable of going one better this time. On RPRs his last time out win suggests he may have improved slightly and his trainer said after that race that he was only just starting to come in his coat. He’s won twice at this meeting before, too, but this does look a stronger renewal than the one he finished runner-up in last year, and you just wonder how much improvement he really has in him given that he has plenty of miles on the clock. Unfortunately, he’s a bit too short to be worthy of a saver.
One that might be capable of outrunning his odds is Black Thunder, who is a huge horse and is certainly no 66/1 shot if he takes to these fences. He’s another who looks quite well-handicapped on the pick of last year’s efforts and won’t mind a bit of give in the ground.
2016 Grand National Tips
Many Clouds — 1pt each-way @ 9/1 (General, 5 Places)
The Druids Nephew — 1pt each-way @ 18/1 (32Red, 5 Places)
Gallant Oscar — 1pt each-way @ 18/1 (32Red, 5 Places)
Black Thunder — 0.25pt each-way @ 66/1 (BetVictor, 6 Places)