Please note this page is in the process of being updated following the 2017 Grand National. Please come back in a couple of weeks to view my complete and updated analysis of this particular trend ready for 2018.
Given the unique test horses face in the Grand National it’s probably no surprise to learn that experience counts as an advantage.
Horses entered for the Grand National must be aged 7 years or older.
One popular trend often used in Grand National previews is to reject 7-year-olds. And with good reason too – the last 7 year-old to win the National did so shortly before the Battle of Britain in 1940!
The same logic applies for horses that are too old. No horse aged 13 or over has won the National since 1923, but this trend is rather erroneous for the 2017 edition as no horses older than 12 are realistically going to run.
The following table outlines form by age over the past eight years.
Age of 2009-2016 Grand National runners
|7||18||8 (44%)||0 (0%)||0 (0%)|
|8||48||24 (50%)||5 (10%)||1 (2%)|
|9||86||39 (45%)||9 (10%)||2 (2%)|
|10||89||33 (37%)||9 (10%)||2 (2%)|
|11||45||19 (42%)||7 (16%)||3 (7%)|
|12+||32||12 (38%)||2 (6%)||0 (0%)|
We can see that from an albeit limited sample of eighteen 7 year old runners, not one finished in the money. The best efforts by a 7-year-old was a 6th place finish from future National stalwart Big Fella Thanks back in 2009, and a 7th placed finish by this years’ ante-post favourite Vieux Lion Rouge in 2016.
The statistics show that, if we consider wider place form, there’s not a great deal of evidence to reject horses over the age of 7. Some tipsters recommended picking horses within a narrower age bracket of 9-11, but the success of the late, great Many Clouds – 8-years-old when winning the National in 2015 – suggests that’s a dangerous game.
So I’ll side with the stats above and only reject the following 7-year-olds who are likely to run on Saturday.
- Shantouu Flyer
- Le Mercurey
- Double Shuffle
Age and experience go hand in hand to some extent, and you certainly want a horse who has sufficient experience of running over fences.
In 1994, Minnehoma won the Grand National on his 10th career run, and every winner since had at least one more run than this before landing jump racing’s biggest prize.
This trend tends to eliminate a fancied runner or two every year, although I must admit with each passing year we seem to skim closer to disaster! The Last Samuri came very close to busting this trend last year in his 9th career run over fences, and Many Clouds won the National in 2015 on his 11th career start.
Here’s how all runners from 2009-2016 shape up based on their career starts.
Age of 2009-2016 Grand National runners
|<9||34||15 (44%)||2 (6%)||0 (0%)|
|9-27||261||113 (43%)||30 (11%)||8 (3%)|
|>27||23||7 (30%)||0 (0%)||0 (0%)|
There’s a few interesting things to come out of this table.
Firstly, let’s consider the two horses who have placed in the National with less than nine starts over fences behind them – Cappa Bleu and The Last Samuri.
In both cases, these horses could also count on the experience of several point-to-point races in Ireland which, when added to races under rules took them comfortably into double figures.
We could potentially extend the threshold to 10, given Gilgamboa (4th last year) is the only horse to pay an each-way return with less than 10 career starts (including point-to-point experience).
So let’s consider this list of the least experienced horses due to run on Saturday…
- More Of That – 8 career runs over fences + 1 point to point run
- Vieux Lion Rouge – 9 career runs over fences
- Definitly Red – 9 career runs over fences + 3 point to point runs
- Pleasant Company – 6 runs over fences + 2 point to point runs
- Measureofmydreams – 7 runs over fences + 2 point to point runs
- Doctor Harper – 9 career runs over fences
As you can see, a few well fancied horses sit right on the cusp with nine combined starts, so I feel inclined to not cut my nose off to spite my face in this instance.
So I will reject one horse on this trend – Pleasant Company – who has amassed just eight runs over fences to date.
It’s also fascinating how horses at the other end of the experience scale don’t fair too well in the National either.
21/23 Grand National winners since 1994 had 9-27 chases behind them (notwithstanding any additional point-to-point experience).
How can you be too experienced? Well the theory goes that horses’ ratings will progress upwards over time until they reach a point where the handicapper ‘finds them out’ so it pays to side with horses who are ‘progressive’ and improving up the scale. And let’s also consider that, like any athlete, horses will have an optimum number of races in the tank before their performance starts to slide.
So I’ll exert a bit of caution when considering the following veterans that trends suggest may be a little long in the tooth.
- Houblon Des Obeaux – 30 starts
- Saint Are – 31 starts
- Rogue Angel – 32 starts
- Bless The Wings* – 39 starts
However, I’d add one further note of caution here – Just eight horses have run in the National since 2013 with 28 or more career starts behind them, and although none of them placed six did manage to finish among the first ten home. So it’s wise not to reject their chances entirely!
Given the context of this years’ race entries the trends haven’t really thrown us much to sharpen out list of contenders.
Of course, there’s four 7-year-olds to strike a mark through, although most of them fail to hit other key trends as well.
The question of where to draw the line with career experience is, in my view, a subjective point. Some tipsters will use ten as the minimum mark and not count point-to-point racing, but this would mean rejecting the top two horses in the betting market – Vieux Lion Rouge and Definitly Red – all for the sake of one run!
But using all available statistics I’ve decided to draw my line at 9 starts, including point-to-point races. Not a single winner since 1994, or any horse paying an each-way return since 2009 has done so without amassing this minimum benchmark of experience.
Some may view this as a bit of a cop out, but it’s important to show a bit of pragmatism in approach and consider the relative importance of some trends against others.
Or to put the case for my defence another way, one career run here or there looks like a spurious reason to reject a horses’ chances if they have proven their stamina and form.