Brendan Duke: Six tips to find your Grand National horse

Our racing fanatic and talented tipster is back to reveal his strategy for picking a winner in Aintree’s showcase race…

Ahoy there sports fans! Hot on the heels of the Masters, we have the Grand National.

God I love April, imagine T.S. Eliot once called it the cruellest month. In the words of David Brent on another revered poet – Overrated.

It’s a month that brings great joy of course. I could happily rabbit on for some time about Guineas trials, but this week’s piece is all about the Aintree Grand National. As with almost all topics of discussion there’s good news and bad news.

I always prefer to start with the bad, could be psychologically significant but we can’t be getting all introspective when there’s a 40-runner handicap to solve. I haven’t backed the winner of the National since Hedgehunter.

The good news of course is that I’m due. Here are my six tips for rooting out the big race winner.

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As with any other race we start with the ground. Aintree hasn’t escaped the deluges which have plagued race fans of late.

Their festival will like start on fairly taxing ground. It depends on the weather app you use, but my one says it will fierce changeable.

The ground on Saturday will likely be soft.


In fairness we could stop here, but this thing has to stretch to 600 words or I don’t get paid. If you don’t stay, you can’t win. So, identifying a horse that is likely to see out the trip is our major focus.

It’s hard to convey how much the nature of this race has changed in the last 10 years or so, but there’s been a fair amount of tinkering.

The distance has dropped by one and a half furlongs. The handicapper has made a concerted effort to make the race more attractive to classier types by giving them a slight weight edge and the run to the first fence was dramatically shortened five years ago.

Whatever the reason recent renewals have looked very different to Hedgehunter’s win.

He is often cited as an example by Blacklion fans and the comparison looks fair. Hedgehunter was given an overly aggressive ride the year before his triumph. However, this year’s race will be run very differently.

Back in the good ol’ days the runners usually hacked around for the first circuit before getting on with the business of racing. For whatever reason, they go like s**t off a shovel from tape rise now.

This places a huge premium on seeing out the trip and few horses can pay the high price. In terms of selecting one that can, look to horses that have run well in the other three big Nationals and the Becher Chase.


Not usually something I concern myself with. I’m from the school of thought that believes they get paid the same as caddies for a reason. However, this race is some test of nerve for man and beast.

Last year’s winning ride was a thing of beauty. The two pilots I always went to in the past were Pauls – Carberry and Moloney.

Both divided opinion, but crucially neither seemed to care. Their quiet, stalking styles lend themselves to generating the ire of punters, but also fill a horse with confidence and probably help in terms of preserving stamina. This is beneficial in the National and it’s probably no coincidence both had top notch completion rates.

Both are retired, which is a blow. Their natural heir seems to be Brian Hughes. He, erm, hasn’t actually got round in six previous tries. In fact, he hasn’t got past the first for the last two years. Not ideal, but he has enjoyed success in the other races over the big fences and is a jockey I fancy will soon have plenty of joy in the showpiece race.


Look for a 10-year-old. Nine or 11 is fine too. Whether it’s the miles in the legs argument or proven ability in the cauldron of a big field handicap, horses around this age tend to win.


This is tricky. After the changes to the way the weights were allocated, horses carrying 11 stone plus had a good run. Recent renewals have seen those below 11 stone come to the fore. I’m still not sure about this and wouldn’t let it put me off a pick, but ideally I would want my horse to carry 10 stone something.

Extra places

An incentive never to be missed. Paddy are offering six places. Be rude to refuse such generosity!

A horse like Maggio could be interesting here. I don’t really think he can win. He’s 13 after all, but he loves the big fences and has been laid out for the race.

Not hard to see him finishing in the top six for a handsome place return though.

I will be back after declarations on Thursday for a more in depth look at the National. Hopefully we’ll have a clearer picture of the ground by then.

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