With just over a week until the Aintree Festival begins, time is running out to switch our focus to proceedings in Liverpool.
When accounting for the inevitable hangover from the Cheltenham Festival and the close proximity of the two, it’s hardly a surprise we sometimes fail to get quite as excited about Aintree and leave it until the last minute to pay any real attention. We spend most of the year thinking about Cheltenham and are then expected to turn attention just a few weeks later, so it’s clearly not going to hold as much sway.
It will be interesting to see how many horses Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott send over for the festival with their battle for the Irish Trainers’ Championship ongoing, there will almost certainly be fewer sent than last year from the Mullins yard as he was throwing the kitchen sink at his bid for the British Trainers’ Championship in 2016. I expect both to send over some decent horses but there is the chance we could be seeing some rather small fields competing.
I won’t be making any ante-post analysis of races outside of the National as it’s just too difficult to gauge what will turn up at Aintree and which horses have come out of Cheltenham with a chance. It’s generally best to leave it until the later declaration stages before even trying to find a winner and I’m not going to change that approach.
The one race we can make a bit of advance analysis around is the Grand National itself. A race that stands apart from the rest of the festival with most of the field having been aimed at the race for some time and the race itself being an anomaly compared to anything else, it does lend itself to some advance analysis, particularly at this point in time, as we can narrow the field down to most of the final forty entries.
My own record in the National has been pretty abysmal in recent years, especially since the changes were made to the course and conditions. I had a fairly regular stream of winners in the race up until Hedgehunter triumphed in 2015 but since then I think the only winner I’ve bagged was Don’t Push It in 2010.
The changes to the course and conditions have undoubtedly made it much harder to pick the winner, until fairly recently you could pretty much rule out half of the field at first glance and then with some simple analysis you’d be down to a shortlist of five or six. Sometimes a more leftfield result would crop up but just looking back at prices of winners you can see that 90% of the time the winner would come from within the top ten in the betting. However, the race is much more competitive and a much different test to what it was, and therefore much harder to identify the winner, with the last five winners ranging from 25/1 to 66/1.
With my shocking recent record in the race, I’m going to take a couple of different approaches to selections this year, starting with a trends backed approach. I’m not particularly either pro or ante trends, they can be useful but are not the be all and end all, with some paying far too much attention to them. As a representative of a period of time trends are ever evolving and regularly broken as conditions change, so should always be taken only as a rough indicator rather than as reliable guides.
So, let’s have a stab at making some trends based selections for the National.
With the changes to conditions having had significant impact upon results in the past few years, I’m going to use trends for the past ten years but also try to focus on results since 2010 where possible.
Age Trends (Win-Place-Runners)
The easiest place to start is with age, as we can see from the trends of the past ten years nothing under the age of eight has even placed from 23 attempts while anything aged twelve or over has generally failed to hit the frame, with only Vics Canvas placing last year at the age of 13. Some ages have a better strike rate than others with eight year olds having a 35% strike rate of hitting the frame, but we won’t delve too deep into ages unless we really need to.
Strictly staying to the eight to eleven age range, we can immediately rule out eight contenders from the current top 55 in the entries, with Shantou Flyer, Le Mercurey, Maggio, Double Shuffle, Raz De Meree, Bless The Wings, Sambremont and Benbens all eliminated for being too young or too old.
Last eight years:
OR 143+: 7-20-224
OR 142 or lower: 1-4-94
Looking back since 2010, there have been a few anomalies to break the trend but those horses rated 143 or above, with a ceiling of 160, have hit the frame at a better strike rate. I’m a little wary of using a ceiling for ratings as the race is now attracting a better class of horse, so higher rated horses are likely to figure more, however, we need to have some boundaries so anything over 160 will have to go.
Using the range of 143-160 on official ratings we can rule out Carlingford Lough (162) and The Last Samuri (161) at the top and all of those at 142 or below, who were unlikely to make the cut anyway; Knock House, Straidnahanna, Viva Steve, Potters Cross, Polidam, Milansbar, Lamb Or Cod, Cloudy Too and Vyta Du Roc.
11-0 to 11-06: 4-8-91
10-06 to 10-13: 4-16-188
10-05 or less: 1-5-87
The difficulty with using weight as a reliable guide at this point of in time is we don’t know what will be top-weight until final declarations, as those at the top could pull out and the weights rise as a result, but let’s work on the basis that the current top-weight Carlingford Lough is a confirmed runner.
The use of weights as a trend doesn’t do a great deal to our analysis at this point; if we rule out anything carrying 11-07 or more we can only rule out Alelchi Inois and that is it.
It used to be said that anything carrying over 11 stone had no chance of winning, but as we can see in recent years those carrying 11 stone or more have won five out of ten whilst only representing 31% of the total runners. So weight is no barrier these days if the horse has the class.
10 of 10 winners had run in at least ten chases
7 of 10 winners finished in first four on last completed start (one exception who was 6th in Gold Cup)
7 of 10 winners posted RPR of 146+ on last chase start
10 of 10 had run since National weights were announced (14th February this year)
9 of 10 won no more than one chase that season (Many Clouds the exception who had won three)
9 of 10 had won a chase over 3M+ (Rule The World was exception as a maiden but had been placed in Irish National)
8 of 10 had won a chase worth £29k+
10 of 10 posted career high RPR in chase over 3M+
9 of 10 posted highest RPR at left handed track
9 of 10 had posted an RPR of 147+ in a chase over 3M+ at left handed track
10 of 10 winners had won no more than three handicap chases
10 of 10 had run three to six times since 1st September
8 of 10 winners had won three to five chases (with one being a maiden)
8 of 10 winners had an Official Rating of 148+ at some point in their career
As we can see, the most comprehensive source of trends comes from previous form. There is plenty for us to gauge from here, but what I think clearly stands out is the fact that winners have had a decent amount of experience, had shown a good level of class at some point in their career and had form over a staying trip and going left handed.
Starting from the top, those who have run in fewer than ten chases in their career eliminates the following from the reckoning; More Of That, Vieux Lion Rouge, Definitely Red, Pleasant Company, Measureofmydreams and Doctor Harper.
Those who failed to finish in the first four on their last completed start (although we retain Saphir Du Rheu having placed fifth in the Gold Cup) eliminates; The Young Master, Lord Windemere, Vicente, Rogue Angel and Thunder And Roses.
Foxrock, Wounded Warrior, Wonderful Charm, Tenor Nivernais, Ucello Conti, O’Faolains Boy, Highland Lodge, Bishops Road, Cocktails At Dawn, Gas Line Boy and La Vaticane can all be ignored having failed to post a RPR of at least 146 on their last completed run.
Those who have not been seen since the weights were announced in February can help us to cut Perfect Candidate, Drop Out Joe, Regal Encore, One For Arthur, Ballynagour, Ziga Boy and Stellar Notion.
None of those remaining have won more than once this season and all had won over a distance of at least three miles at some point, but Roi Des Francs, Goodtoknow and Gas Line Boy are ruled out having failed to win a chase worth over £29k in their career.
At this point we’re left with a shortlist of eight, which we’ll ideally look to reduce to four at the most, with Saphir Du Rheu, Blacklion, Cause of Causes, Houblon Des Obeaux, Saint Are, Just a Par, Pendra and The Romford Pele left standing.
Examining those who have shown their best form at over three miles plus and going left handed, all pass the test with all posting career high RPRs under those conditions, whilst none have won more than three handicap chases and all had won between three and five chases in total. All have also had an official rating of 148 or higher at some point in their career.
Using the trend of having run three to six times since September 1st we can eliminate Pendra who has just had the single run this season.
Record of placed finishers from previous GN: 09UU49F0374UU02U4 (0-5-17)
2 of 10 winners had run in previous years’ Grand National
Although having a decent place record, recent stats tell us that horses who have previously placed in the National cannot win and as we’re looking for winners we’ll rule out Saint Are. Whilst The Romford Pele and Just A Par can also be ruled out having run in last years’ National.
That leaves us with shortlist of four; Saphir du Rheu, Blacklion, Cause Of Causes and Houblon Des Obeaux. We’ll stick with those selections as four seems like a nice number to go into battle with, but we’ll also look at some final stats to consider when analysing the race.
Other Stats to Look Out For:
13 of 20 had won or been placed in a National of some description previously
Of those on our shortlist Houblon Des Obeaux falls under this having placed in a Welsh and Midlands National. It’d also bring a number of others back into the mix with National form, most notably Vicente, Rogue Angel and Thunder And Roses who have all won Irish or Scottish Nationals. Plenty of others have some form in the more regional Nationals, so it could be looking into these as well.
16 of 20 winners had fallen no more than twice in their career
Although it takes less jumping these days, since the fences were modified, it could be worth noting if anything really stands out as a consistently error-prone jumper.
6 of 10 winners raced prominently
With the changes to conditions it has led to the pace of the race quickening, so we have tended to see a greater emphasis on those running closer to the pace with those kept out at the back outpaced and finding it difficult to close. The one danger of focusing on this trend is that it is possible for connections to change tactics with this in mind, so as long as a horse has the ability to at least run close to mid-division we can’t rule anything out. Whilst, with the quality of horse increasing, we are seeing far fewer plodders competing.
We’ve narrowed it down to four based on the trends we’ve looked at and whilst trends are useful as a guide, they are by no means reliable and should always be viewed with a certain degree of caution. The four we’ve come up with are SAPHIR DU RHEU, BLAKLION, CAUSE OF CAUSES and HOUBLON DES OBEAUX.
At this point in time, we’ll go each way on all selections as the prices should allow for a bit of value. In terms of taking prices, I can’t see them changing a great before the day, just make sure that you are taking Non-Runner No-Bet and take any price before the Saturday as the bookmakers over-round is massive on the day as they look to take advantage of the once a year punters. The bookies will often push out some of the prices the evening before, so even waiting until that late could offer some value, just don’t leave it until the day to take a price as you’ll lose a couple of points.
BLAKLION @ 14/1
CAUSE OF CAUSES @ 14/1
SAPHIR DU RHEU @ 20/1
HOUBLON DES OBEAUX @ 40/1