2019 Grand National trends

Aintree

Although this post won’t help us eliminate any runners – as the saying ‘horses for courses’ suggests, career form at Aintree is nonetheless a worthy pointer to analyse in its’ own right and I hope it makes for an interesting read!

Since 2002, nine winners had posted a win or an each-way return at Aintree before landing the big one. Let’s see if the last six editions of the National shows a similar correlation.

Best career Aintree run of 2013-2018 Grand National runners

Best Career Aintree Finish Runners Finishers Placed 1-5 Win
Win/Place 82 44 (54%) 9 (11%) 2 (3%)
Finished 44 21 (48%) 10 (23%) 2 (5%)
Did Not Finish 25 5 (20%) 2 (8%) 1 (4%)
Not Run 79 31 (39%) 9 (11%) 1 (1%)

These stats alone don’t really get us any further, but if you’ve read my FORM post you’ll remember that the four horses who managed a place finish in the Grand National with no season form to speak of all had a bit of previous at Aintree. To recap:

  • 2013 Auroras Encore (1st) – Won a 21 runner hurdle at the 2008 Grand National festival.
  • 2013 Oscar Time (4th) – 2nd in the 2011 Grand National
  • 2015 Alvarado (4th) – 4th in the 2014 Grand National
  • 2016 Vics Canvas (3rd) – 5th in the 2015 Becher Chase at Aintree
  • 2018 Pleasant Company (2nd) – 9th in the 2017 Grand National

Although the last few editions of the National doesn’t suggest there’s much to be gleaned from this trend, the fact that more than half of all recent winners are known to have delivered a paying return at Aintree makes it well worth marking up the following horses accordingly.

  • Anibale Fly
  • Tiger Roll
  • Don Poli
  • Pleasant Company
  • Ballyoptic
  • One For Arthur
  • Warriors Tale
  • Regal Encore
  • Tea For Two
  • Ultragold
  • Vieux Lion Rouge
  • Vintage Clouds
  • Walk In The Mill
  • Bless The Wings

Grand National Form

While the last nine National winners were first-time runners, look a bit further back in time and five of the nine winners from 2001-2009 had run in the National before.

There’s arguably few better indicators than previous form in the Grand National itself. If you study the race over time, you’ll know that some familiar names crop up in the money time and again. Just seven horses – Comply Or Die, State Of Play, Don’t Push It, Oscar Time, Cappa Bleu, Alvarado and Saint Are – accounted for 38% of top four finishes in the ten years from 2008-2017.

While winners have struggled to repeat their success lately because they’re inevitably penalised by the handicapper the following year, statistics do show that horses who perform well in the National are much more likely to light up and go well again when presented with Aintree’s unique challenge.

Here’s a quick break down of how horses returning to the Grand National have performed since 2013, categorised by their best previous Grand National finish.

Performance of 2013-2018 Grand National runners who had run in the race before

Best previous Grand National finish Runners Finishers Placed (1-5) Winners
Placed 1-5 22 12 (54%) 4 (18%) 0 (0%)
Finished (6th or lower) 27 14 (52%) 5 (19%) 0 (0%)
Faller (F/UR/BD) 19 4 (21%) 1 (5%) 0 (0%)
Pulled Up 8 4 (50%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
1st Time Runners 160 67 (42%) 20 (13%) 6 (4%)

As eluded to above, some 76 second (or third, even fourth) time runners haven’t produced a winner – the last horse to win the National at the 2nd attempt was Mon Mome back in 2009.

Nonetheless, I can’t ignore the impressive ‘hit rate’ of horses who have finished the National once getting around again and paying returns. Over the past six editions of the race forty-nine runners who had completed the Grand National before have produced nine paying returns – a strong hit rate of 18%.

So it is true that producing a list of successful ‘completers’ is very likely to include one or two who will pay us an each-way return, although recent history favours first-time runners to actually win.

One final area worth analysis here would be the effect of the handicapper. By saddling successful horses with extra weight for their Grand National return, it is logical to expect some drag on performance.

Here is a list of those 9 horses who placed in the National on their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th attempt. The figure in brackets depicts the change in official rating (and thus the weight allocated relative to the field) by the BHA handicapper since their previous run in the National.

  • 2013 – Cappa Bleu – 4th in 2012 – (-2 lbs)
  • 2013 – Oscar Time – 2nd in 2011 – (no change)
  • 2014 – Balthazar King – 15th in 2013 – (+4 lbs)
  • 2015 – Saint Are – 9th in 2013 – (+1 lb v 2013 run)
  • 2015 – Monbeg Dude – 7th in 2014 – (-2 lbs)
  • 2015 – Alvarado – 4th in 2014 – (-1 lb)
  • 2017 – Cause Of Causes – 8th in 2015 – (+4 lbs)
  • 2017 – Saint Are – 2nd in 2015 – (+4 lbs v 2015 run)
  • 2017 – Gas Line Boy – faller in 2015 – (+3 lbs)
  • 2018 – Pleasant Company – 9th in 2017 – (-1 lb)

It’s notable that in all of the above cases the handicapper hasn’t raised the horse by more than 4 lbs. So we should logically pay particular attention to runners who have shown the ability to complete the race but haven’t necessarily had their chances unduly hampered by the handicapper as a result.

2018 Field Analysis

Following the 5-day declarations stage, there’s thirteen remaining Grand National runners among the top 45 entries who will probably have (at least) their second crack at the race. Here’s a list of these runners along with their previous best result in the National to date.

  • Anibale Fly – 4th in 2018
  • Tiger Roll – Won in 2018
  • Pleasant Company – 2nd in 2018 (2-time finisher)
  • One For Arthur – Won in 2017
  • Warriors Tale – Pulled up in 2018
  • Regal Encore – 8th in 2017
  • Vieux Lion Rouge – 6th in 2017 (3-time finisher)
  • Valseur Lido – 8th in 2018
  • Bless The Wings – 3rd in 2018
  • Captain Redbeard – Unseated rider in 2018
  • Just A Par – 14th in 2018 (2-time finisher)
  • The Young Master* – Faller in 2017
  • Baie Des Iles* – 12th in 2018

As you can see, and only three of that list have failed to finish in their previous attempts.

Here’s that list of ten “completers” again, this time with the change in official rating since their previous run in the National. Those highlighted have not been raised by the handicapper by more than that 4 lb threshold – the benchmark that horses paying a return on their second (or later) visit to the National tend to fall within.

  • Anibale Fly: +5 lbs v 2018
  • Tiger Roll: +9 lbs v 2018
  • Pleasant Company: +8 lbs v 2018
  • One For Arthur: +6 lbs v 2017
  • Regal Encore: -2 lbs v 2018
  • Vieux Lion Rouge: -3 lbs v 2018
  • Valseur Lido: -12 lbs v 2018
  • Bless The Wings: No Chg v 2018
  • Just A Par: -2 lbs v 2018
  • Baie Des Iles:* -3 lbs v 2018