Key Trials Preview

Key Trial – Irish Grand National

Just 9 days after the 2017 Grand National and the hunt for our 2018 winner starts today with the first of six ‘key trials’ – The Boylesports Irish Grand National (5pm).

If you’ve read my Grand National preview you will know that 19/24 winners since 1994 have finished among the first five home in one of these races.

They combine the kind of stamina test associated with the Grand National within a high quality field – namely the Irish, Scottish and Welsh Nationals, the Hennessey Gold Cup, Becher Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Two of these key trials happen at this time of year. The Irish National is always run on Easter Monday, and next Saturday features the Scottish National from Ayr.

In a first for Grand National trends I’ll be attempted to apply race trends for each of these key trials to find a winner over the coming 12 months, which I hope will enrich your betting year.

Let’s start with today’s Irish Grand National – featuring 28 runners – a field that includes 7 horses that were involved in the Grand National just nine days ago.

Time hasn’t allowed me to analyse all past runners in depth but I have unearthed the following pointers from the last ten Irish National winners from 2007-2016.

Stamina – 10/10 have a career each-way return over 3 miles or further (either official chase or point to point). 8/10 have won a race of 3 miles plus.

Key trials – 5/10 had run in the 4-mile National Hunt Novices Chase for Amateur Riders at the Cheltenham Festival – 4/5 finished among the first seven home.

Season form – 9/10 have placed at least once during the jump racing season. 8/10 had at least one win. 5/6 winners since 2011 had placed at least twice during the season.

Course form – 4/10 had won or placed at Fairyhouse before during their career.

Irish National form – 9/10 were first-time runners (2016 winner Rogue Angel won at the 3rd attempt, best previous finish 16th!)

Experience – 9/10 have between 4-12 career runs over fences (excluding point-to-point races)

Age – 10/10 winners were aged between 6-10.

Big field experience – 7/10 winners had previously won a chase of 14 runners or more.

Weight – 10/10 winners carried 10-13 or less. No horse carrying within 7 lbs of top weight has won. (Top weight this year = 11-7).

Season runs – 9/10 winners had 3 or more season runs

Days rest – 9/10 winners had run in the last 60 days. 3/4 winners since 2013 had their last prep run at the Cheltenham Festival.

The above trends show me that the Irish National is normally a race for up and coming ‘progressive’ horses who have yet to reach their full potential. The age and experience profile is typically a year or two behind that of a Grand National winner.

Stamina and form are of course highly important qualities to look for, and we certainly want horses with form over 3 miles plus, preferably this season.

Weight is a bigger factor in the Irish National than the Grand National because the differential is normally very high from the top to the bottom of the handicap. It’s common for horses at top weight to run with an extra burden of 25-30 lbs.

So it’s no surprise that the race traditionally favours horses running off low weights, although we should be guarded in this assumption given this years’ field looks a really strong one, and the gap between top and bottom of the handicap is just 20 lbs.

Taking the above on board I’ve looked through today’s field and applied the following trends, with a high emphasis on proven stamina and form:

  • Stamina – Has a career place over 3 miles plus (10/10)
  • Form – At least one win this season (8/10)
  • Experience – 4-12 races over fences (9/10)
  • Age – Between 6-10 (10/10)
  • Weight – Carries under 11 stone / 8lb or less than top weight (10/10)

Applying the above whittles the 28-strong field down to just five who pass on all five marks.

  • Alpha Des Obeaux – 25/1
  • Abolitionist – 16/1
  • Haymount – 10/1
  • General Principle – 20/1
  • Oscar Knight – 16/1

The above list excludes some highly fancied runners, including current favourite Our Duke (weight) and last years runner-up Bless The Wings (12 year-old).

But the five listed above seem to hit the kind of profile to look for in an Irish National winner. It’ll be interesting to see how all of these these horses fair come 5pm this afternoon!


I hinted that the long standing weight trend might be under threat given the quality of this years Irish National field and that proved to be the case as winner Our Duke carried 11-4 to victory. Now with 3 victories in 4 chases, it looks likely he’ll follow a career path racing in top Graded Chases rather than being a Grand National type horse.

Last years runner-up Bless The Wings just missed out again to finish second, while 2015 winner Thunder and Roses recaptured a bit of that magic placing in 4th.

Our Duke stacked up pretty well against most trends, apart from weight and experience. Here’s a quick look at how he did:

  • Stamina – Has a career place over 3 miles plus. YES – Winner over 3 miles
  • Form – At least one win this season. YES – 3 runs, 2 wins and 1 second.
  • Experience – 4-12 races over fences. NO – just 3 starts over fences.
  • Age – Between 6-10. YES – 7 year-old
  • Weight – Carries under 11 stone / 8lb or less than top weight. NO – Carried 11-4.

Other pointers

  • Course form – 3/12 in previous appearance at Fairyhouse in a Novice Hurdle
  • Season runs – 3 runs since August
  • Days rest – 64 days since last run

Although the trends didn’t pick up the winner, they did perform pretty well in perspective. 2/5 paid an each-way return (if your bookie paid 5 places!) and 4 finished among the first 8 home. Here’s how they finished…

  • Alpha Des Obeaux – 8th
  • Abolitionist – 3rd
  • Haymount – 7th
  • General Principle – 5th
  • Oscar Knight – Faller

Trends aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty predictive nonetheless! A second near miss in just over a week, hopefully I’ll go one better in the Scottish National this coming Saturday…