If stamina is the number 1 trend to consider when analysing Grand National statistics, then form would have to be second.
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 I can apply some very reliable statistics to sharpen a trends-based shortlist.
There are three relevant areas of form that I will cover here.
- Season form – Since 1994, a surprising 9/24 Grand National winners hadn’t posted a win during the jump racing season prior to their triumph at Aintree. So winning form isn’t a requirement for Grand National success, but place form certainly is. 22/24 winners had posted at least one each-way return in the same season.
- Aintree form – As the saying ‘horses for courses’ suggests, some horses will light up and perform at their best when they come to Aintree – others not so much. Since 2002, 9/16 winners had won or placed in a race at Aintree prior to winning the National.
- Grand National form – The last eight National winners were first-time runners, but some familiar names crop up in the money time and again. Just 7 horses – Comply Or Die, State Of Play, Don’t Push It, Oscar Time, Cappa Bleu, Alvarado and Saint Are – account for 15/40 top four finishes since 2008.
I’ve analysed the season form of all Grand National runners from 2013-2017 in a couple of ways to establish what trends are the most predictive.
Firstly, I’ve tested the long-standing trend that place form is a key factor in National success.
Season each-way returns from 2013-2017 Grand National runners
|Each-way returns paid since August 1st||Runners||Finishers||Placed 1-5||Winners|
|0||53||18 (34%)||4 (8%)||1 (2%)|
|1||67||30 (45%)||9 (13%)||1 (1%)|
|2 or more||78||41 (53%)||12 (15%)||3 (4%)|
We know that 22/24 National winners had posted at least one each-way return prior to winning at Aintree, and extending the historical stats further some 11/15 winners since 2003 had managed to do so twice or more.
The above table corroborates this evidence. Some 4/5 winners, and 21/25 horses paying an each-way return had at least placed once during the jump racing season. That’s 80% of winners, 84% of each-way returns from a sample of 73% of runners.
Meanwhile 3/5 winners had placed at least twice. So it’s clear to me that this trend offers a great pointer towards picking a short list.
Next I’ve extended the analysis and looked into winning form. As 15/24 winners since 1994 had posted a win, it’s interesting to see how this correlates with runners over the past five editions of the race.
Season wins from 2013-2017 Grand National runners
|Season wins||Runners||Finishers||Placed 1-5||Winners|
|0||108||45 (42%)||14 (13%)||2 (2%)|
|1||67||32 (48%)||6 (9%)||1 (1%)|
|2 or more||23||12 (52%)||5 (22%)||2 (9%)|
Interestingly, there’s little to be inferred runners with 0-1 wins, perversely the non-winners are slightly more successful!
However, it would be remiss not to pay special attention to the 23 horses running the National having posted 2 or more wins during the season. From this small sample, we can in fact find 2 of the last 3 winners – Many Clouds and One For Arthur – along with 2 runners-up from the last 4 years – Balthazar King and The Last Samuri.
This analysis demonstrates the strong correlation between form and success, but given the odd anomaly they are not 100% conclusive. So let’s explore a second way of measuring form over the Aintree course itself.
Having some recent form to count on is one thing, but career form at Aintree is another worthy pointer worth further analysis. Since 2002, 9/16 winners had posted a win or place at the course before landing the big one.
Best career Aintree run of 2013-2017 Grand National runners
|Best Career Aintree Finish||Runners||Finishers||Placed 1-5||Win|
|Win/Place||72||41 (53%)||9 (11%)||2 (3%)|
|Finished||32||16 (50%)||7 (22%)||1 (3%)|
|Did Not Finish||18||5 (28%)||2 (11%)||1 (6%)|
|Not Run||70||27 (39%)||7 (10%)||1 (1%)|
These stats alone don’t really get us any further, but let’s return to the four horses who managed a place finish in the Grand National with no season form to speak of.
- 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
In summation, all four horses who placed in a recent edition of the Grand National with no season form to speak of had at least shown a liking for Aintree before. 3/4 had achieved an each-way return there at some point in their career. And the only horse to miss both trends – Vics Canvas – finished one spot outside the paid places in a Becher Chase.
So let’s overlay the two trends of season each-way form and career each-way form at Aintree to see how horses meeting one or both of these trends fair compared with horses that have no season or course form to count on.
2013-2017 Grand National runners segmented by number of form trends they ‘hit’.
|Season e/w form / Aintree e/w form||Runners||Finishers||Placed (1-5)||Win|
|Hit 2/2 Trends||58||32 (56%)||7 (12%)||1 (2%)|
|Hit 1/2 Trends||108||50 (46%)||17 (16%)||4 (4%)|
|Hit 0/2 Trends||32||7 (22%)||1 (3%)||0 (0%)|
As you can see, hitting both trends is by no means essential, but hitting one – most commonly season form – certainly is.
And the sole exception to the rule, Vics Canvas, very nearly posted a place at Aintree four months before finishing 3rd in the 2016 Grand National. Of the other 31 runners missing both marks, none could manage better than 7th.
To illustrate the point further here is a list of nine 2017 Grand National runners who had failed to pay an each-way return during the season or at any point in their career at Aintree.
- More Of That – Pulled up
- Wounded Warrior – Pulled up
- The Young Master – Faller
- O’Faolains Boy – Pulled up
- Drop Out Joe – Pulled up
- Vicente – Faller
- Measureofmydreams – Unseated rider
- Rogue Angel – Pulled up
- Cocktails At Dawn – Faller
As you can see, none of the above list even finished the race. The 2017 results couldn’t have demonstrated more how much season and course form, when combined, offer a highly effective way of sharpening a list of potential winners.
Grand National Form
So, we’ve established that form at Aintree is a positive attribute.
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 eight 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 2013, categorised by their best Grand National finish to date.
Performance of 2013-2017 Grand National runners who had run in the race before
|Best Grand National finish to date||Runners||Finishers||Placed (1-5)||Winners|
|Placed 1-5||18||11 (53%)||4 (22%)||0 (0%)|
|Finished (6th or lower)||18||11 (48%)||4 (22%)||0 (0%)|
|Faller (F/UR/BD)||18||4 (22%)||1 (6%)||0 (0%)|
|Pulled Up||5||4 (80%)||0 (0%)||0 (0%)|
|1st Time Runners||139||59 (45%)||16 (12%)||5 (4%)|
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 59 2nd+ time runners haven’t produced one winner. The last horse to do so was Mon Mome back in 2009.
Secondly, I can’t ignore the nonetheless impressive ‘hit rate’ of horses who have finished the National once getting around again and paying returns. Over the past five editions 36 runners have produced 8 each-way returns – a really strong hit rate of 22%.
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)
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.
After a quite comprehensive analysis of how form can be used to help us find a Grand National winner there are a few key pointers I’ll be using.
Firstly, past statistics demonstrate that most horses who win or place in the National will have displayed some season form, evidenced by at least one each-way return. And if they haven’t they’ve certainly showed some form at Aintree during their career. For this reason I’ll be rejecting horses who don’t meet at least one of the following marks:
- Paid at least one each-way return this season, OR
- Paid an each-way return at Aintree during their career to date.
In addition, I’ll be giving a positive mark to horses that have achieved multiple wins and each-way returns during the current jump racing season, noting in particular that a very small sample of 23 ‘multiple winners’ included 2 winners and 2 runners-up in the past 5 editions of the race.
Finally, I’ll consider form in the Grand National itself, and while I’ll acknowledge that winners tend to be first-time National runners I’ll be marking up horses who have finished the race before as a positive.