People may disagree on the merits of some trends, but there is one indisputable fact that underpins every single Grand National winner – and that’s stamina.
When making your selection for Saturday’s big race it’s important to know how to filter out the doubtful stayers from contenders with proven staying power over longer race distances.
Since 2013 the Grand National has been reduced in length from 4 ½ miles to 4 miles 2 ½ furlongs but it is still the longest jump horse race in the calendar, and of course there’s the thirty spruce fences to jump as well.
One long standing trend I’ve applied in the past was to only pick horses who had won over a minimum distance of 3 miles. But last years’ winner Rule The World, who had never previously won a chase over fences, rather annoyingly busted it!
In perspective, the Mouse Morris’s trained 9-year old not only became the first horse to land their first fences win in the National since the 1890’s, but it was the only horse to even run the race without a career win over fences since at least 2009!
But dig a little deeper into Rule The World’s career form and it’s clear that his stamina should never really have been in doubt. Not only had he achieved seven 2nd place finishes in thirteen starts, one of those near misses was in the 2015 Irish National – which as we will see was a major clue to his success.
So let’s take a fresh look at how we can apply career form and stamina to the 2017 edition of the Grand National.
Winning over 3 miles is one thing, but with more than a mile to find in the Grand National it’s well worth exploring career form over longer distances in more depth. And it’s in this analysis where I firmly believe the biggest clue to finding a winner lies.
Since 1994, 20/23 Grand National winners had posted an each-way return over a minimum distance of 3 miles 2 furlongs, and 15 of those managed a minimum career mark of 3 miles 4 furlongs.
The following table documents how all 318 runners in the Grand National from 2009-2016 fair against this criteria.
2009-2016 Grand National runners by longest career each-way return
|Long Career Place (Miles & Furlongs)||Runners||Finishers||Placed||Win|
|Less than 26f (3 miles 2 furlongs)||121||48(40%)||5 (4%)||1 (1%)|
|26-27.5f||70||28 (40%)||7 (10%)||3 (4%)|
|28f or further (3 miles 4 furlongs)||127||59 (46%)||20 (16%)||4 (3%)|
So with a sizeable sample, there is no doubt that there’s a direct correlation between proven staying power and Grand National success.
Just five horses finished in the money having failed to record an each-way return over at least 3 miles 2 furlongs. In fact the only one of these to finish in the first two home – 2011 winner Ballabriggs – did post a longest career place over 3 miles 1 ½ furlongs… Just 100 metres or shy of the mark!
At the other end of the scale some twenty horses paying an each-way return, including 3 of the last 4 winners, had placed at some point in their career over a distance of 3 miles 4 furlongs or further. That’s 63% of horses finishing in the money from a sample of just 40% of runners.
Here’s a snapshot of all sixteen horses finishing 1-2-3-4 in the last four Nationals along with the most relevant proof of their stamina credentials.
- Auroras Encore – 2nd in 2012 Scottish National
- Cappa Bleu – 4th 2012 Grand National
- Teaforthree – 3rd 2012 Welsh National
- Oscar Time – 2nd 2011 Grand National, 2nd 2010 Irish National
- Pineau Du Re – Won 2013 Ulster National 3m 4f
- Balthazar King – Won Cheltenham Cross-Country 3m 6f
- Double Seven – Won 2013 Irish Midlands National 3m 1f, Won 2013 Munster National 3m
- Alvorado – Won Grade 3 Handicap Chase at Cheltenham Nov 2013 3m 3 1/2f
- Manu Clouds – Won 2014 Hennessy Chase 3m 2 ½ f
- Saint Are – 3rd 2014 Becher Chase
- Monbeg Dude – Won 2013 Welsh National
- Alvorado – 4th in 2014 Grand National 3m 4 ½ f
- Rule The World – 2nd in 2015 Irish National
- The Last Samuri – Won 2016 Grimthorpe Chase @ Doncaster 3m 2f
- Vics Canvas – 2nd 2015 Bet365 Gold Cup @ Sandown, 5th 2015 Becher Chase
- Gilgamboa – 3rd 2015 Paddy Power Chase @ Leopardstown 3m 1/2f
You can see from the above list that there’s a very predictive shortlist of key ‘trial’ races where horses who excel in the National have tended to thrive in. In fact this trend is really nothing new.
Since 1994, horses who have finished among the first five home in one of the following six races (in addition to the Grand National itself) have landed the big one at Aintree 18/23 times.
Irish National (3m 5f), traditionally run on Easter Monday at Fairyhouse nr Dublin.
Scottish National (4m 1f), run in mid-April at Ayr.
Welsh National (3m 6f), run between Christmas and New Year at Chepstow.
Becher Chase (3m 2f), run over the National fences at Aintree in December.
Hennessy Chase (3m 2 1/2f), run in November at Newbury.
Cheltenham Gold Cup (3m 2 1/2f), the blue ribband event of the jump racing calendar, run in March on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The following table shows how the 318 runners in the Grand National from 2009-2016 fair based on their best performance in these races.
2009-2016 Grand National runners by best key trial performance
|Best Key Trial Performance||Runners||Finishers||Placed||Win|
|Top Six Finish||135||68 (50%)||23 (17%)||5 (1%)|
|Outside Top Six||63||20 (32%)||1 (2%)||0 (4%)|
|Not Run a Key Trial||120||47 (39%)||8 (7%)||3 (3%)|
As you can see, horses that have impressed in these seven races account for nearly three-quarters of all horses to pay an each-way return – that’s 72% of placed horses from just 42% of runners.
So, let’s apply all these insights to the forty runners in the 2017 Grand National runners.
Let’s start with horses who have a top six finish in a key trial.
- The Last Samuri – 2nd 2016 Grand National, 3rd 2016 Becher Chase
- More Of That – 6th 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup
- Saphire Du Rheu – 5th 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup
- Vieux Lion Rouge – Won 2016 Becher Chase
- Blaklion – 5th 2015 Becher Chase
- Ucello Conti – 4th 2016 Becher Chase, 6th 2016 Grand National
- Houblon Des Obeaux – 3rd 2016 Welsh National, 2nd 2014 Hennessy Chase
- One For Arthur – 5th 2016 Becher Chase
- Highland Lodge – Won 2015 Becher Chase (2nd in 2016)
- Lord Windermere – Won 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup
- Saint Are – 2nd 2015 Grand National
- Vicente – Won 2016 Scottish National
- Raz De Maree – 2nd 2016 Welsh National
- Rogue Angel – Won 2016 Irish National
- Thunder and Roses – Won 2015 Irish National
Here’s an additional list of horses who have paid an each-way return in a chase over a minimum distance of 3 miles 4 furlongs.
- Blaklion – 2nd 2017 Grand National trial at Haydock – 3m 4f
- The Young Master – Won 2016 Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown – 3m 5f
- Cause Of Causes – Winner 2017 Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham – 3m 6f, 2015 National Hunt Chase – 4m
- One For Arthur – Won 2017 Betfred Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick – 3m 5f
- Bishops Road – Won 2016 Grand National trial at Haydock – 3m 4f
- Measureofmydreams – 3rd National Hunt Chase for Amateur Riders at 2016 Cheltenham Festival – 4m
- Just A Par – Won 2015 Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown – 3m 5f
- Gas Line Boy – Won Class 3 Chase at Haydock in 2014 – 3m 4 1/2f
- Good To Know – 2nd 2017 Betfred Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick – 3m 5f
Finally, here’s a list of horses that have achieved the minimum career mark of 3 miles 2 furlongs.
- Perfect Candidate – Won Class 2 Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in 2016 – 3m 2f
- Wonderful Charm – 2nd 2017 Foxhunters Chase at Cheltenham Festival – 3m 2½f
- Roi Des Francs – Won Listed Chase at Down Royal in 2017 – 3m 2f
- Definitly Red – Won 2017 Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster – 3m 2f
- Ballynagour – 2nd Class 1 Summer Cup at Uttoxeter 2016 – 3m 2f
- Doctor Harper – 2nd Class 2 Handicap Chase at Cheltenham 2017 – 3m 2f
As shortlists go, it’s admittedly very long, but I would personally be very surprised if the eventual winner of the 2017 Grand National isn’t in among this lot somewhere.
Make no bones about it, stamina is the #1 quality to look for in the Grand National.
While other seemingly bullet proof trends have floundered in recent years, the one constant remains that your horse absolutely needs the kind of staying power to cope with the unique and gruelling marathon that’s the Grand National.
Of course the burning question is how to determine where to draw the line. For me the most revealing stats lie in overlaying performance in the following ways:
1. The six key trial races – Celtic Nationals, Gold Cup, Becher Chase and Hennessey Chase – and the Grand National itself.
2. Other races of 3 miles 4 furlongs or beyond, especially regional ‘nationals’.
Remember, 18/23 winners managed a top five finish in a key trial, and 15/23 placed over a distance of 3 miles 4 furlongs. Overlay these trends and only three winners fail to hit either mark – Ballabriggs in 2011, Don’t Push It in 2010 and Monty’s Pass in 2003.
And when applied to the last 8 editions of the National, horses hitting one or both trend account for 25/32 runners finishing 1-2-3-4 – that’s 78% of each-way returns from a sample of 57% of runners.
Time and again horses finishing winning and paying each-way returns in the Grand National will have proven their credentials via at least one of the above routes, and it will here that I’ll go some way to determining a final shortlist of trend-based contenders.