The Grand National at Aintree, Merseyside is the race that people look forward to in the sport the most each year as the uniqueness of the steeplechase means it appeals to a fair wider audience.
This race is fixed into the culture of the UK and Ireland more so than any other, as once a year punters enjoy having a flutter on the 4m2f contest – whether that is by backing a name that stands out on the race card, their favourite colour or by looking through the form book.
Here is a look at some of the trends in the race, which will hopefully help steer you towards the winner in 2018.
The Grand National is open to seven-year-olds and above, but you have to go as far back as 1940 to find a seven-year-old that was successful, and that was Bogskar. In the last 30 years, only three horses have come out on top at the age of 12 or above; the most common winning age group is 8-11. Here is a further breakdown of the age of the winners in the last 30 years:
- eight-year-olds – 4 winners
- nine-years-olds – 8 winners
- ten-year-olds – 7 winners
- 11-year-olds – 8 winners
- 12-year-olds – 3 winners
Nine-years-olds have a great record, as they are arguably just peaking as a chaser. By that point in their careers, they have been through their hurdling campaigns and have probably had a couple of seasons over fences. 11-year-olds have much more experience on the track, but once horses get past that age, they lose some of their speed and stamina, and it is therefore very rare to see 12-year-olds being victorious in the Grand National.
One of the standout differences between the Grand National and any other National Hunt chase is that the fences they have to jump are much bigger. This means that the runners need to be good jumpers to complete the course, as there are a number of tough challenges for them to overcome. This is also one of the reasons why seven-year-olds don’t have a great record in the race.
When you look back through the last 10 winners, they have all had at least ten runs over fences. When it comes to experience in the Grand National though, the trends suggest that is not crucial. Seven of the last 10 winners were successful on their debuts in the race and only three have won the race on their second attempt. Horses who have previously won the Grand National also don’t have a great record when it comes to them trying to retain their crown. The last one to be able to do that was Red Rum in 1974, which happened to be the second of his three wins – as he was also victorious in 1977.
The Grand National is a fantastic opportunity for many jockeys in the sport to make a name for themselves. Given the terrestrial coverage the race receives and the number of people which watch the 4m2f contest, it is every jockey’s dream to lift the trophy.
Not many riders have been able to win the Grand National more than once in their careers; in fact, a number of the top pilots, including Champion Jockey Richard Johnson, are still looking for their first success. Leighton Aspell has had the most joy of the current crop of riders as he has won the race twice in the last four years, with wins on Pineau De Re and Many Clouds in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The leading jockeys in the sport tend to get their first choice of horses in the race, therefore, they are likely to opt for the runners which they feel have the best chance of being successful. It also pays to follow jockeys who have lots of experience in this race as there is so much for the riders to think about. The one exception in recent years was David Mullins, who won on his debut on board Rule The World.
Every year, a host or Irish-trained horses make the trip across to Liverpool for the Grand National. Ireland were responsible for 11 of the runners in 2017 and that number could rise in 2018 looking at the entries for the latest renewal in April.
Unfortunately for those associated with Irish racing, they don’t have a brilliant record in the race. In the last 30 years, they have only had seven winners, with their most recent success being Rule The World, who came out on top for trainer Mouse Morris. Ireland came very close to improving their record in the contest last year as Cause of Causes finished second behind One for Arthur. He was in contention jumping the last, but he just did not have the speed to match Lucinda Russell’s runner.
The most successful Irish trainer in the sport today is Willie Mullins. The Champion Irish Trainer has won the race just once so far in his career and that was in 2005, when Hedgehunter landed a gamble and justified going off as the favourite in the field.
Price of Winner
In the last 30 years, only four favourites have won the Grand National, which suggests that this is a race that produces a lot of upsets. If you enjoy betting on outsiders, you will also be encouraged to see that Mon Mome was successful at 100/1 in 2009, Auroras Encore was a 66/1 winner in 2013, while Silver Birch, Neptune Collonges and Rule The World were all 33/1, when they prevailed in their respective races since 1997.
Given how competitive the Grand National is and the fact that there are 40 runners lining up each year, there is always the opportunity for a surprise result. One of the most famous big-price winners was Foinavon in 1967 when he returned at 100/1. The horse and jockey took advantage of a pile-up at one of the fences, as he was the only one able to escape away unscathed. The exact same fence where the incident happened is now named after the horse on the Grand National course.
The shortest price winner of the Grand National came in 1919 as Poethlyn had a starting price of 11/4. No horse has been successful at bigger than 100/1, although there have been five triple-digit price winners since the race was inaugurated in 1839, when the aptly named Lottery was the first horse past the post.
Ginger McCain is the most successful trainer in Grand National history as he won the race four times. Red Rum was responsible for three of those successes, while in 2004, 27 years after his third victory in the race, McCain won the world’s most famous steeplechase again with Amberleigh House. In 2011, Ginger’s son Donald followed in his father’s footsteps by winning the race with Ballabriggs and is still in the sport today as he bids for more glory for the family name.
The most successful Grand National trainer that is still active in the sport today is Nigel Twiston-Davies. The Gloucestershire-based man has two wins to his name. His maiden success was with Earth Summit in 1998, when his horse won on heavy ground at the Merseyside track to complete the Welsh and English Grand National double. He did not have to wait longer for his second victory, as in 2002, Bindaree won off just 10st 4lb.
Former Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls has only won the Grand National once and that came after a close affair. Neptune Collonges needed a photo to be named the winner of the 2012 running when he became the first grey to prevail. Current Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson is still bidding for his first win, though, as it is one of the few National Hunt races that have eluded him so far in his career.
The official handicapper for the Grand National assigns each horse in the race an allotted amount of weight. The higher rated the horse, the more weight they are likely to have to carry. Given the stamina test involved in the Grand National and the number of fences the runners have to jump, carrying one of the top weights in the field is no easy feat.
In the last 30 years, only four horses have won the race after carrying more than 11 stone on their back. The highest of those was Many Clouds, who in 2014 successfully scored off 11st 9lb. Since the war, only one horse has won with 12st in the race and that was Red Rum in 1974. That was assigned to him as he had been successful in 1973.
Although connections hope their horse is treated kindly by the handicapper, they do need to be at the top end of the ratings to qualify for the race.
The 2018 Grand National takes place on April 14 and is set to run at 5.15pm once again. Good luck if you are having a bet and enjoy the race.