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Everyone knows the John Smith’s Grand National is a lottery, anyone in the office sweepstake can win it and you may as well pick a horse because your Aunty Vera’s cat is similarly named or ask a friendly simian to aim darts at the card. Right?

No, dead wrong. From the punters’ perspective it pays to treat the race as you would any other long-distance handicap, but in particular follow clear historical trends.

The quickest way to whittle down the field is to rule out all horses 11st and upward in the handicap. No horse has carried that much weight to victory since Corbiere in 1983. That immediately puts a line through 12 runners including leading fancies Hedgehunter and Amberleigh House. One day a horse will baulk this weight stat, but until then stick with it.

Next, put a line through obvious no hopers. That includes the likes of Polar Red, Turnium, Artic Copper, Shamawam and Glenelly Gale.

Only two winners in the last decade have run at Cheltenham. It pays to look for a horse that has this race as its main target. That rules out Simply Gifted who won’t stay anyway, Jakari who is a doubtful stayer, Heros Collonges, Spotthedifference (who would be attempting to be the first Cheltenham winner to score since 1961), Iznogoud and the fancied Joly Bey.

That takes the field down to just ten horses. Ad Hoc unseated his rider in 2003 when he had no chance and it is hard to see him bouncing back to form in the twilight of his career. Some fancy Double Honour but a horse that hadn’t jumped a fence until sixteen months ago is surely not battle-hardened enough to win a National.

It Takes Time is Martin Pipe’s best runner but the balance of his form suggests he doesn’t stay well enough over fences. Merchant’s Friend is more temperamental than the average supermodel but if he takes to these fences he could run well at a big price. Just In Debt was well beaten when unseating his rider last year. Strong Resolve has attracted plenty of support and the more it rains the better for him. However, his chase wins have come in Class D company and there are better horses than that in this field.

There are now just five horses worthy of the closest scrutiny. Forest Gunner merits respect regardless of what Ginger McCain thinks of the capabilities of the ‘broodmare’ in the plate. Even the most arrogant denizen of the weighing room would admit that 90 percent of any win is down to the horse. Forest Gunner jumps so well he could be a steering job for Carrie Ford. However, no horse has won the Red Square Gold Cup at Haydock and a Grand National in the same season and his stamina is also suspect.

Last year’s runner-up Clan Royal will start close to the top of the betting. He loves these fences, winning the Topham and finishing runner up in the Becher Chase in addition to his heroics last April. If he had any form in the book this year and if you could be sure that Jonjo O’Neill’s horses are over the virus that has closed the yard for most of the season Clan Royal would justifiably start favourite. However, backing this horse is a leap of faith.

François Doumen’s Innox is feared. He won the Agfa Diamond Chase at Sandown in the manner of an out and out stayer, looking like he had plenty in hand coming up the hill. However, his jumping is a concern. He fell at Cheltenham and unseated at Auteuil last term, though he looked assured at his fences at Sandown. If he jumps round he will be on the premises but no French-bred has won the National since 1909.

Irish raiders have a cracking recent record in the race with Bobbyjo, Papillon and Monty’s Pass winning in the last six years. Nil Desperandum and Colonel Rayburn merit plenty of respect with the preference for the latter named. Nil Desperandum was a crack novice but has failed to live up expectations this term. He ran a shocker in the Hennessy and it is hard to say what he achieved when apparently bouncing back to form at Down Royal last time out.

Colonel Rayburn has attracted plenty of support in recent days largely because he is proven on soft ground. But even with conditions nowhere near as testing as feared he makes plenty of appeal. He has fallen once over fences, in the Irish Grand National last season, but he is generally a fluent jumper. He is such a strapping horse that the hurly-burly of this big field should not bother him.

Crucially he has the tactical speed to have won a Grade 3 chase over two miles but is also a proven stayer. He once lumped 11st9lbs to victory over three miles at Navan, a course that would have sapped the stamina of the mighty Red Rum. At a likely price of 14/1 Colonel Rayburn is also backable each-way.

His shrewd young trainer Paul Nolan has been aiming this horse at the biggest of all race days for some time. Ireland can make it four from seven Grand Nationals and jockey Paul Carberry, who rode Bobbyjo to victory in 1999, can once more swing from the chandeliers of the Adelphi Hotel. If you happen to be in Liverpool batten down the hatches, it could be one hell of a hooley.


3:20 Aintree Brave Inca

4:10 John Smith’s Grand National

1) Colonel Rayburn (each-way) 2) Innox 3) Hedgehunter 4) Forest Gunner

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