The Grand National is the biggest and most exciting jumps race in the world. As a spectacle it is life enhancing, but conventional wisdom would suggest as a betting medium it is best left alone. This opinion is looking increasingly threadbare. Ante-post betting is a risky business, but bookies want your money and most are now offering no run, no bet on the great race. With many principal contenders bound to be a shorter price on the big day itself, it is worth taking an interest now.
Why? First of all, we can bury the old shibboleth that the race is a lottery. Aunty Dot’s pin may have picked the winner five years in a row, but readers of the Financial Times, well versed in economics, should know better than to be fooled by randomness. The biggest priced winner in the last ten years was Red Marauder at 33/1 in 2001.
That race was a farce. Only four horses finished, two having been remounted, in conditions in which 99 percent of meetings would have been abandoned.Two favourites in single digits have won the race in the same decade and at 11/1, last year’s winner, Numbersixvalverde, was a pretty typical price.
However, with 81 runners declared at the second forfeit stage, narrowing the field is no easy task. The best way to do it is to look at the key trends in the race. The issue of whether to follow trends divides many punters. Some anoraks take trend-following to petty-fogging extremes and will tell you that no horse with a letter ’z’ in its name, bred in France under the sign of Aries has ever won a Gold Cup when the temperature was below the seasonal average for March.
Trends, like conventional wisdom, need to be treated with a skeptical eye. However, they are surely informative for the Grand National. The handicapper has ensured that better quality horses are well treated and the fences are fairer, but basically this race has been run under the same conditions for generations.
The key trends are: all winners since 1970 have won over three miles or more; no horse other than Red Rum has carried more than 11st5lbs to win since 1957; no horse younger than eight has won for 67 years and only one has completed from 25 runners since 1992; and no French bred horse has won since 1909, despite representing nearly a quarter of the fields in the last six years. There are others that could be added to the mix, such as the good recent showing of Irish runners and the poor record of horses that did well at Cheltenham, but these four pointers are enough to whittle down the field.
Of those at the top of the betting, weight puts a line through Hedgehunter, Euro Trek and L’Ami. The well fancied mare, Liberthine, can also be discarded for her French accent and the fact she has never won over three miles or more. Last year’s winner Numbersixvalverde is third favourite in most lists and is more realistically weighted than other returnees, but with the noble exception of Red Rum, horses don’t come back to Aintree and win again. Clan Royal’s chance has surely passed.
There are few horses that fit the trends. To narrow this down further, some subjective license has been employed. The long shortlist is: Cloudy Bays, Point Barrow, Simon, Gallant Approach, Dun Doire, Lord of Illusion, Slim Pickings, Bewleys Berry, Longshanks, Bother Na, Homer Wells, Silver Birch, Ossmoses, Philson Run and McKelvey. From these lucky fifteen the winner of the Grand National will emerge.
Fifteen tips for one race are of little practical utility. But focusing on this fifteen is better than worrying about the 66 other declared runners. Applying Occam’s razor we need to shave the list further. Homer Wells can be erased. He isn’t a bad horse, far from it, but is more likely to run in the Irish National. Back him to win that at around 10/1. Horses that aren’t showing much form include Bother Na and Lord of Illusion. Silver Birch was second in the cross-country at Cheltenham,but will surely be outpaced.
File under obvious the observation that you need a horse that can jump to cope with the demands of the Grand National. Horses that are yet to be crossed off that have fallen or unseated this term from the long shortlist are: Cloudy Bays; Dun Doire; and Slim Pickings. Dun Doire is the favourite so it may prove foolhardy to discard him, but with seven horses left under scrutiny we can at least really dig into the form.
There is nothing in his form that suggests Philson Run is good enough, unless it is a 2001-style mudbath. Gallant Approach could shine if he takes to the fences but has had an indifferent season. McKelvey would be interesting but probably won’t make the cut, so isn’t an ante-post betting prospect.
That leaves Bewleys Berry, Longshanks, Ossmoses, Point Barrow and Simon. Simon is a great stayer who comes into the race in sparkling form. However, he isn’t over big and may find these fences rather daunting. Bewleys Berry has a squeak if he can settle. But the way he raced in the Becher Chase suggests he will use up too much energy to stay the trip. Good ground would help his cause. The opposite is true for Ossmoses, who desperately needs it soft.
Point Barrow is the pick. He can be the sixth Irish horse to win in the last nine years. He is a monster sized horse who should thrive over the big Aintree obstacles who seems to handle any sort of ground. The one concern is his rapid ascent up the handicap, though at least that shows he is on the upgrade. At bigger odds Longshanks may be the best of the home team. He has a similar profile to 2004 winner Amberleigh House and can prosper if more fancied horses falter.
Ante-post selections for the John Smith’s Grand National
Point Barrow (each-way at 10/1 generally available, no run, no bet)
Longshanks (each-way at 25/1 generally available, no run, no bet)
Horses in focus
Bewleys Berry. Decent chance based on his run over these fences in the Becher Chase. The fear though is that he may be over exuberant. The faster the ground the better for him.
Dun Doire. A major player, ticks all the trend boxes and many good judges’ idea of the winner. He is a big danger to our selections, but the fear is that if the ground is good he will be outpaced. When he won the William Hill Handicap at Cheltenham on soft going last term, he was miles away from the field on the turn for home. It would be dangerous to pursue those tactics here as most Grand National winners race prominently.
Eurotrek. It’s unusual for Paul Nicholls to lay a horse out for the Grand National as he seems to have done with this one. For that reason alone Eurotrek merits plenty of respect, but he has to defy the weight-carrying trend.
Hedgehunter. Victorious in 2005 and runner up last year, this grand old horse has to lump round top weight again and though you can’t rule him out, the suspicion is that his form is slipping. Place prospects at best.
Joe’s Edge. Winner of the Scottish National and comes into the race in better form than last year when he finished a distant seventh. His win at Cheltenham in the William Hill Handicap was impressive, but if he wins this he will be the first horse in 46 years to complete a Festival-Grand National double.
L’Ami. The housewives will be rooting for Tony McCoy’s mount but he has to defy not one key trend but two, being both à la française and carrying 11st8lbs. Easy to discount.
Longshanks. Looks like one of the best of the home team. He has been placed twice in the Topham over these fences at an inadequate distance so should at least complete. Major chance, especially if the ground is on the slow side.
Ossmoses. Living the dream for permit holder trainer Don Foster, this strapping gelding looks likely to take to the fences. If it is soft he has a chance, if it is he will want for speed.
Numbersixvalverde. Unless you are called Red Rum you don’t come back and win the big one again. Overall profile of his form not as good as last term, though he was such an impressive winner he is difficult to discount. Place prospects.
Point Barrow. An Irish National winner well used to the hurly burly of a big field he may still be on the upgrade. He will need to be given the handicapper keeps upping him in the weights. Point Barrow had excuses (a septic foot) when beaten in the Bobbyjo Chase by Homer Wells and absolutely flew home last time out over hurdles. He is the horse to beat.
Simon. Leading player on form and according to most bookies. He is on the upgrade but subject to the winner’s curse of not being well handicapped. His small stature is also a concern.