Does it pay to pick a form horse?

It goes without saying that you need your horse to have a good day to win the Grand National, and so previous form is likely to offer us a clue in our decision making.

A good trend spoiled?

Up until 2013 historical trends showed that, as a minimum, you want a horse that’s been placed in at least one outing during the season before the big race; something which applied to nearly every winner in the last 25 years.

But 2013 winner Auroras Encore gave very little indication of what was to come. In five season runs prior to Aintree, he failed to finish twice and a season best 5th in a 13 runner outing at Warwick was hardly likely to inspire much confidence!

2014 saw a return to form (excuse the pun), in that the first five horses home had placed in at least one of their previous two runs. So let’s take a fresh look at the whole subject of form to see how it affects a horses statistical chances over a longer period of time.

Testing Form Statistically

The following table compares the record of horses running the Grand National from 2009-2014 based on the number of races run since they last finished in the frame.

At Least One Placed Finish Runners Finished top 4 % top 4
Yes 177 17 10%
No 63 7 11%

The table shows that horses who haven’t placed in the season have surprisingly performed slightly better overall!

This trend certainly makes us look at form in a different way. The Grand National is a race of such gravitas that many contenders will have have been focused on preparing to peak on the 11th April at the expense of results from other races seen very much as warm ups.

But is also hides what is for me a bigger consideration, namely the performance of horses who have proven Grand National pedigree. Of the seven placed horses with no season form, five are accounted for by former winners Comply Or Die and Don’t Push It, plus placed National horses State Of Play (twice) and Oscar Time. In other words the trend is skewed considerably by horses with proven Grand National form.

Take these horses out of the equation, and the hit rate from entries who haven’t finished in the frame all season is just 2/58, which leads me to believe that season form should only be ignored if the horse has had a very good spin before in the Grand National.

Do you need a horse in form?

Another angle on the subject of form would be to assess how many runs a horse has had since it was last placed. Having analysed Grand National runners for many years it’s fair to say horses tend to have peaks and troughs in form. In many cases they blow hot in their last 1-2 runs before the big one. The following table tests this very stat against every runner over the past five years.

Runs since last place Runners Finished top 5 % top 5 Completed % Completed
1 84 15 18% 37 44%
2+ 156 15 10% 63 40%

So we can see that eighty-four runners entered in the National from 2009-2014 having placed in their last race and fifteen brought a return for your money; a hit rate which is nearly twice as much as those horses who didn’t.


Auroras Encore was something of a trend buster last year, and he certainly demonstrated that we shouldn’t overlook big race form or horses who take to the ground conditions, something I’ll cover nearer to the big day.

But by digging a little deeper into the subject of form we find that it is a highly relevant clue in finding our National winner.

Over the season, the hit rate from horses with no place form is actually quite poor once you allow for horses who had previously run a big race in the National. Meanwhile there’s definitely something in supporting horses who are showing some place form in their last run before the big day.

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