Before I start breaking down the key trends, it’s important to distinguish between the really important ones that can be used to reject horses from my shortlist and those that I will use as positive or negative indicators.
For reasons that will become clear when you read my updates on the six qualities we look for, I firmly believe that all the evidence points to STAMINA being the single most important trend of all, followed by the secondary indicator of FORM.
When you think about it these two qualities are ultimately key performance indicators.
If your horse hasn’t got the staying power to see out the marathon 4 mile 2 1/2 furlong race then it simply isn’t going to win, and it goes without saying that your horse needs to be on top form to beat 39 competitors as well!
There are a number of more arbitrary, but nonetheless very useful trends evidenced by the record of past winners that can further assist in reducing that shortlist.
Below is a list of these long-held trends along with a summary of how many winners conformed with them in the twenty-four editions of the National from 1994-2017.
- Weight – 21/24 winners have carried 11 stone 1lb (11-1) or less.
- Age – 24/24 winners were aged 8-12.
- Experience – 23/24 winners have at least 10 career starts over fences.
- Big field wins – 22/24 winners had previously won in a field of at least 10 runners.
- Class – 23/24 winners won a Class 1 or Class 2 chase.
- Season Runs – 22/24 winners had 3-6 runs from August 1 – Aintree meeting
- Days Rest – 23/24 winners had raced in the previous 56 days.
At face value these trends appear to be highly predictive.
In fact, over a 15-year stretch from 1995-2009 they were pretty much bullet-proof. 14/15 winners conformed with all of the above marks – only 2002 winner Bindaree fell down on even one single trend having not won a race over fences in a field of more than 8 runners.
But from 2010-2017 these long-established trends have been broken by our winner on a consistent basis. Here is a summary of which trends each of the last 8 Grand National winners didn’t conform with.
- 2010 – Don’t Push It. WEIGHT – Carried 11-5.
- 2011 – Ballabriggs – none.
- 2012 – Netpune Collonges. WEIGHT – Carried 11-6.
- 2013 – Auroras Encore – none.
- 2014 – Pineau De Re. SEASON RUNS – 8 runs prior to Aintree.
- 2015 – Many Clouds. WEIGHT – Carried 11-9.
- 2016 – Rule The World. CLASS WIN & BIG FIELD WIN – No career wins over fences.
- 2017 – One For Arthur. DAYS REST – 84 days.
As you can see, after a fifteen year-era of hanging your hat on the above trends, only 2/8 winners since 2010 have managed to hit all of them.
2016 winner Rule The World managed to fail on two counts, both of which were because he hadn’t previously won a race over fences.
The effect of reducing the top weight in 2009 undoubtedly blunted the advantage horses towards the bottom of the handicap traditionally enjoyed. From 2009-2012 all four winners carried 11-0 or more, although more recent trends since 2013 show a shift back towards the lighter weighted horses.
Another shifting trend looks to be around race preparation. 2017 winner One For Arthur broke a long standing mark having not raced since mid-January. However, this might be a reflection of wider preparation trends – he was one of 8 runners coming into this years’ race off the back of a break lasting more than 56 days.
Let’s retrospectively take a look at these trends in context with runners from the last five editions of the Grand National.
2013-2017 Grand National runners by number of traditional trends they ‘hit’.
|Number of Trends ‘Hit’ (out of 7)||Runners||Finishers||Placed (1-5)||Win|
|2-4||24||6 (25%)||2 (8%)||0 (0%)|
|5||39||16 (28%)||3 (8%)||1 (3%)|
|6||75||37 (49%)||9 (12%)||3 (4%)|
|7||60||30 (50%)||11 (18%)||1 (2%)|
Starting at the low end of the scale, every single runner has hit at least 2/7 marks and only 24 out of 198 runners scored on less than five – the best they could manage being two runners paying an each-way return by finishing 5th.
As mentioned before, Rule The World won the National having missed 2 out of 7 trends, but it’s notable that both marks were missed due to a lack of any win over fences, which made him a highly unusual case. In fact he was the only horse to run the National with no career win over fences since at least 2009!
Meanwhile, we can see that 135/198 runners (68%) hit 6 or 7 trends, and this sample produced 80% of horses that placed and 80% of winners.
If we use a bit of common sense and duly note the unique circumstance of our 2016 winner, the hard statistics tell me that these trends have certainly not become obsolete, nor that they can’t be used to our benefit in short listing potential winners.
But they do say that a more flexible approach is required to keep potential winners onside, because it’s clear that modern Grand National winners may well miss the odd arbitrary mark. So I’d conclude that these particular qualities should be seen as secondary to having the proven STAMINA and FORM it takes to win.
In my forthcoming previews I’ll cover the subjects of WEIGHT, EXPERIENCE, CLASS and PREPARATION. I will be testing the robustness of these long-held assumptions and updating them with detailed analysis of every runner in the past 5 editions of the National.
I’ll be doing so not only validate whether the trends stack up in the post-fence modification era, but to reach a decision on whether how I apply each trend can be improved or even discarded given the changed context of the race.