With 40 horses, 30 fences, and the ability to gallop four miles two furlongs, you need a special kind of horse and a fair slice of luck to win a Grand National. However, if you can tick these 5 boxes – you’ll go there with a great chance.
There aren’t many races run over more than four miles, so what you need are horses that are regularly seeing out trips over 3m 4f or longer.
If a horse is wheezing after running three miles, then what chance does it have of winning over a mile further?
With the history and sense of occasion, some owners are naturally very excited with the prospect of having a runner in the National.
Often they can ignore that their horse isn’t really suited to the extreme trip, although the qualifying criteria now means there are less blatant, non stayers in the race.
Most of those at the top of the market like last year’s winner and second Tiger Roll & Pleasant Company tick that box. However, there are a few like Ballyoptic, Irish Grand National winner General Principle and Welsh Grand National runner up Ramses De Teillee who also look strong stayers.
2. Good jumping
The clue is in the name: jumps racing. But it’s often overlooked.
Good jumping is not the ability to put in one or two monster leaps before nearly come crashing down at the next fence. It’s about consistent, solid jumping from fence to fence.
It’s not a bad thing to see a horse being more economical with their jumping style. They mightn’t catch the eye as much, but that’s not a bad thing as long as he’s steady.
The ability to stay on your feet for 30 fences is more important than looking good at one or two and then ending up face down on the turf.
Again Tiger Roll has yet to fall in a race, but the likes of Lake View Lad, Go Conquer and Anibale Fly are generally rock solid over a fence.
3. Aintree experience NOT essential
There seems to be a popular trend in recent years in looking for horses who had raced over the National fences previously.
I never really bought into it then, I don’t buy into it now. Tiger Roll finished 14th of 19th as a hurdler at Aintree, while Rule the World won on his first visit to the place in 2017. Before that, Many Clouds’ form at Aintree never indicated he was in love with the Liverpool track before winning in 2015 and Pineau De Re fell on his first visit to the Liverpool track before winning the National in 2014.
Both Auroras Encore and Neptune Collonges hadn’t been over any Aintree fences before they won it either. Experience can help – but it’s obviously not crucial, so I wouldn’t be put off if you fancy Rock the Kasbah who has had just one run there when 11th of 19th or my own mount Rathvinden who has never run there.
4. Under the radar
The Grand National is such a huge prize and such a gruelling race, it’s rare you get a horse who is performing at his or her best throughout the season and then goes on to win at Aintree.
Trainers need to build-up the horse’s stamina and if that means having a couple of uninspiring runs around Plumpton or Fakenham, then so be it. From my point of view, I wouldn’t judge a horse too harshly if he hasn’t been bossing races. It’s hard for a trainer to keep a horse at his peak for six months of the year. So if Aintree was always the target, I’d be willing to excuse a sub-standard run if it looked like there was more to come.
Some of the form figures heading into the National won’t look too impressive, but bear in mind that we may not have seen the horse at his or her best this season. Ultragold could be one of these as could Step Back as both looked to have been trained with just one day in mind.
5. A touch of class
It sounds a bit vague, but you’re looking for something in the horse’s history that on a given day, they can mix it with the best.
Last year’s winner, Tiger Roll had won at Cheltenham the month before and has done the same this year. Anibale Fly was third in the Gold Cup in 2018 and subsequently ran fourth at Aintree 12 months ago. He went a place better at Cheltenham last month when runner up to Al Boum Photo so maybe he’ll go a couple of places better on Saturday?
Despite being a 66/1 chance in 2013, Auroras Encore had finished second in the Scottish Grand National the year before while Neptune Collognes had run well in a couple of Gold Cups and some graded races before winning in 2012.
It may sound a bit like ‘being wise after the fact’, but when you look back at a Grand National winner’s form, there will generally be some pieces of form that hint at quality – and a big race to come. So it wouldn’t be a shock to see the likes of Jury Duty, Dounikos or Up For Review being involved at the business end.