Brendan Duke: The 5 do’s and dont’s for betting on the Grand National

It's the biggest race in the world but Dukey's come up with a few National hacks to help you land on the winner...



Saturday will bring me to Leopardstown for the Guineas Trials, but the eyes of the world will be on the Grand National at Aintree 5.15pm. In honour of this (break glass in case of emergencies), I’m rolling out the do’s and do not do’s in the quest for the winner.

Do bet early: It’s an obvious one I know, but there must be people who bet on the show. If you’re one of those, listen up. Paddy Power’s prices will be a lot more competitive than those offered by the on-track bookies. With guaranteed odds, if your horse does happen to drift, you’re covered. And you’ve got 6 places.

Do focus on stamina: I’d put this above all other considerations. The National has changed quite a bit over the last 15 years or so. Whether it’s the modifications to the fences, the gradual improvement in the quality of horses running, or something else, they now go much harder from when the tape rises. This makes it a gruelling race, and only a few horses actually stay. Those horses will be filling the places.

Don’t worry if you fancy a hold up horse: Prevailing wisdom among jockeys seems to be that being on, or up with the pace is the way to go. It’s understandable, as it lessens the variables. It may be another reason why they go so hard early. Derek Fox’s masterclass on One For Arthur in 2017, showed that if you’re willing to risk navigating through the field, it can reap a rich dividend at the end of the race.


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Don’t be afraid to spread your stakes: While the lottery aspect of the National is probably overdone, it is still a 40-runner race. Paddy are paying 6 places. It makes sense to have more than one bullet in the chamber.

Do enjoy feeling like a celebrity for the day: It’s the one occasion when non-racing friends and family will look to you for advice. This is win, win. If your horse gets beaten, they will say it’s a lottery, and how could anyone be expected to pick the winner? If you do manage to put up the winner, you can bask in the appreciative awe.

Right, we know what we’re at now, or at least what we aren’t at. This is in danger of turning a bit Rumsfeld. Here’s the verdict. I’ve narrowed it down to two each-way bets. I could make strong cases for Rathvinden, One For Arthur, Walk In The Mill, Ultragold, and of course, Tiger Roll. For one reason or another, I’ve forsaken them.

Ramses De Taillee looks a very fair price at 25/1. He’s only a seven year old. He’s improved all season. He has the assistance of a talented, and underrated jockey in the market. He is 5lbs pounds ahead of the handicapper. Whether he takes to the fences is another matter. He’s generally a very solid jumper though. He’s not proven at the trip, but his Welsh National second strongly suggests he’ll stay. In fact, I think he’ll improve for the extra yardage.

My other bet will be Anibale Fly. I thought he ran a huge race last yea. He was hampered early, and Barry Geraghty decided to take him the scenic route around the course after that. The horse showed lots of heart to finish a 12-length fourth. That heart was again on show, when he ran on into second in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. With a more conventional ride, I think he will get a lot closer to Tiger Roll this time. Paddy disagree, and make him three times the price. I will avail myself of the 12/1.

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But don’t get so wrapped up in the build up, that you forget to watch the Guineas and Derby trials at Leopardstown. It’s shaping up to be a very exciting card.

“The horror! The horror!”. These are the last words in Heart of Darkness. It’s a long time since I was in English class, but I have a vague recollection that those words are Kurtz’s take on colonialism. Well, after my trip to Leopardstown yesterday, I’ve a fresh take. Have attended student day before. It’s always something of a chore. I’ve never been on a fierce nippy day, with the rain coming down sideways though.

Conditions yesterday would try the patience of Job. The first man I met upon walking in was a bookmaker. From his box, he swept his arm across the already massed students in front of us. ‘These are the future of this country’ says he, ‘we’re all f**ked’. He’s wrong of course. They will grow out of their youthful hi-jinks. Well, at the very least, the petty frustrations of being a grown up, will knock the optimism out of them.

One generation always despairs of the next. I remember being despaired of with fondness. Tried to remember this, as I navigated my way through a forest of near stationary humanity. It’s a well known fact, that students are the slowest moving species on earth. They have no respect for the conventions of access and egress either. Doors attract them as moths to a flame. I couldn’t stake my usual spot in the stands. The noise was incessant. I moved right down to the end of the stands, where I found some fellow refugees.

At least down there, we could hear each other moaning about the interlopers. Benches were in plentiful supply. Sitting on them seems to be verboten in student circles. They’re happier seated on the steps it seems. Weary, I sat down for five minutes. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not tucking my legs under me. Nearly lost a toe to a stiletto. Anyway, it’s done for another year. I look forward to returning to the track on Saturday. Should have the run of the place again.

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What do you think?