With 39 competitors to beat, 4 miles 2 ½ furlongs to run and 30 fences to jump it’s no under-statement to say that your chosen horse needs to be on top form to win the Grand National.
Form can be a fleeting quality when it comes to horses, but we can apply statistics and trends to come up with a baseline standard to look for.
There are three areas of form I think are relevant and should be covered here:
Firstly, I’ll consider season form, based on the jump racing calendar which officially starts August 1st.
While winning form from that data isn’t a pre-requisite for Aintree success, placed form definitely is. Since 1994, twenty-one out of twenty-three winners have paid an each-way return at least once during the jump racing season.
Secondly, I’ll test the old-adage ‘horses for courses’ and review past career form at Aintree.
In this respect it’s notable that the two winners not to post an each-way return that season – Royal Athlete in 1995 and Auroras Encore in 2013 – had both posted a career win at Aintree prior to landing the big one.
And that isn’t an unusual event in recent years – nine out of fifteen winners since 2002 had won or paid an each-way return in a jumps race held at Aintree prior to their Grand National victory.
Thirdly, I’ll consider career form in the Grand National itself.
Over the past nine editions of the National alone, just six horses – Comply Or Die, State Of Play, Don’t Push It, Cappa Bleu, Oscar Time and Alvarado – account for thirteen out of thirty-six places paying each-way returns in the big race.
I’ve analysed the season form of all Grand National runners from 2009-2016 to see whether horses who enjoy success in the National are indeed carrying over form observed during the jump racing season.
Season form of 2009-2016 Grand National runners
|Has paid an each-way return since August 1st?||Runners||Finishers||Placed||Win|
|YES||236||98 (42%)||23 (10%)||7 (3%)|
|NO||82||37 (45%)||9 (11%)||1 (1%)|
As you can see, while 7/8 winners hit this mark (Auroras Encore being the sole exception), 9/32 horses paying an each-way return had no such season form to count on.
So while season form can certainly be applied as a trend that applies to winners, it doesn’t necessarily give us a water tight mark.
Let’s start by looking a bit deeper into the nine horses who managed to achieve their first each-way return of the season at the Grand National with their most relevant career credentials.…
- 2009 – Comply Or Die: Won 2008 Grand National
- 2009 – My Will: 2nd in 2008 Mildmay Chase at Aintree, 5th in Cheltenham Gold Cup in previous run.
- 2010 – State Of Play: 4th 2009 Grand National
- 2011 – Don’t Push It: Won 2010 Grand National
- 2011 – State Of Play: 3rd 2010 Grand National
- 2013 – Auroras Encore: 2nd 2012 Scottish National, won 14 runner chase at Aintree in 2011
- 2013 – Oscar Time: 2nd 2011 Grand National
- 2015 – Alvarado: 4th 2014 Grand National
- 2016 – Vics Canvas: 2nd Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown 2015, 5th 2015 Beecher Chase
If you’ve followed the Grand National over the last few years, you will no doubt see quite a few familiar names among this list. Eight out of these nine horses had paid an each-way return at some point over their career at Aintree, and six had achieved this mark in the Grand National itself!
And the sole exception to the rule – Vics Canvas – narrowly missed out on a place at Aintree, finishing 5th in the Beecher Chase the previous December in a race that’s run over the famous National fences.
So, in conclusion before we discard a horses chances based on a lack of season form, we should certainly consider making an exception if that horse has shown some career form at Aintree.
With this in mind, here’s a list taken from the top fifty entries for the 2017 Grand National entries who have posted either a win or an each-way return at Aintree at some point in their careers.
- The Last Samuri
- Saphir Du Rheu
- Le Mercurey
- Regal Encore
- Ucello Conti
- Vieux Lion Rouge
- Highland Lodge
- Saint Are
- Wonderful Charm
- Houblon Des Obeaux
- Just A Par
- Doctor Harper
…And here’s a list of 2017 horses who have failed to pay an each-way return this season.
- More Of That
- Wounded Warrior
- The Young Master
- O’Faolains Boy
- Rogue Angel
- Cocktails At Dawn
- Knock House
Overlay the two lists and interestingly none of the ten listed above who have failed to place this season have any notable career form at Aintree to count on either so would have to buck quite a big trend to win.
Grand National Form
As we’ve already established, form at Aintree is a good reason to mark up any horses’ prospects.
And there’s surely no better indicator than previous form in the Grand National itself.
While winners have struggled to repeat their success 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.
It’s worth noting that the last seven winners have all been first time Grand National runners, but look a bit further back in time and five of the nine winners from 2001-2009 had run in the National before.
Here’s a quick break down of how horses returning to the Grand National perform since 2009, categorised by their best Grand National finish to date.
Performance of 2009-2016 Grand National runners who had run in the National before
|2nd+ Grand National runners||Runners||Finishers||Placed||Win|
|PLACED||30||16 (53%)||7 (23%)||0 (0%)|
|TOP 10 FINISH||23||11 (48%)||3 (13%)||1 (4%)|
|FINISH OUTSIDE TOP 10||9||6 (67%)||1 (11%)||0 (0%)|
|DID NOT FINISH||37||9 (24%)||1 (3%)||0 (0%)|
I take two striking trends from this table.
Firstly, as eluded to above, while it is very common for horses to have more than one crack at the National the 99 repeat runners produced just the one winner – Mon Mome.
Secondly, while this list hasn’t produced winners for some time, we shouldn’t ignore that returning runners who completed the National before have performed very well again. Overall, eleven out of sixty-two runners who had completed the National before managed to finish among the first four home on their return – a very good ‘hit rate’ of 18%.
This lends even more credibility to the theory that we should respect horses who have performed well in the Grand National before.
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.
To support this theory, here is a list of horses who won or placed over the last 8 editions of the Grand National when not running the race for the first time. 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.
- 2009 – Mon Mome (raised +7 lbs in the handicap since previous Grand National run)
- 2009 – Comply Or Die (+12 lbs)
- 2010 – Black Apalachi (no change)
- 2010 – State Of Play (-5 lbs)
- 2010 – Big Fella Thanks (-3 lbs)
- 2011 – Don’t Push It (+7 lbs)
- 2011 – State Of Play (-3 lbs)
- 2013 – Oscar Time (no change)
- 2014 – Balthazar King (+4 lbs)
- 2015 – Saint Are (+1 lb)
- 2015 – Monbeg Dude (-2 lbs)
- 2015 – Alvarado (-1 lb)
It’s notable that in 8/11 cases the handicapper has raised the horses weight by more than 4 lbs. So we should logically pay particular attention to horses who have shown the ability to complete the race but haven’t necessarily had their chances hampered unduly by the handicapper as a result.
With this in mind here is a list of likely 2017 runners who have finished the Grand National before along with the change in their weight allocation for this years’ race.
- The Last Samuri – 2nd in 2016 (raised +12 lbs in the weights)
- Saint Are – 2nd in 2015 (+4 lbs on 2015 performance – note this is the 11-year-old’s fourth run in the race)
- Ucello Conti – 6th in 2016 (+0 lbs)
- Vieux Lion Rouge – 7th in 2016 (+3 lbs)
- Cause Of Causes – 8th in 2015 (+4 lbs)
- Raz De Maree – 8th in 2014 (+6 lbs)
- Just A Par – 15th in 2016 (-1 lb)
- Pendra – 13th in 2016 (-1 lb)
We can certainly apply previous National form as a positive for all on the above list, with an obvious caveat that last years runner-up The Last Samuri will be trying to go one better having been raised a hefty 12 lbs in the weights.
Likewise, horses who didn’t complete the race last time around have a markedly poor record. Out of 37 runners, only Black Apalachi (2nd in 2010) completed and placed having run and not finished in previous attempts.
So we can logically mark down the following 2017 runners who have run the National and failed to complete the course.
- Wonderful Charm – Pulled Up
- Lord Windermere – Pulled Up
- Ballynagour – Unseated Rider
- Gas Line Boy – Faller
So in conclusion, I’ll be marking down horses that have neither place form this season and no career form at Aintree, while I’ll be paying particularly close attention to horses that have career form at Aintree or have previously gone well in the Grand National itself.