2018 Grand National trends

Stamina

The single most important piece of advice I can offer anyone betting on the Grand National would be to put your money on a proven ‘stayer’ who has demonstrated form over longer race distances in good quality races.

Since 2013 the Grand National has been reduced in length from 4 ½ miles to 4 miles 2 ½ furlongs (just over four and a quarter miles) but it remains the longest jump race in the calendar, and of course there are 30 imposing spruce fences to negotiate as well.

Over these last five editions of the race the importance of proven stamina has, if anything, taken on even greater significance as other trends have been broken.

For my 2017 Grand National edition I devised a fresh approach to filtering out the doubtful stayers which rejected 17/40 runners, none of whom finished in the first seven home. So I’ll be repeating the same two-step formula for the 2018 Grand National.

Trend 1 – Longest Career Place (each-way returns)

Let’s start by looking at all Grand National runners from 2013-2017 segmented by the longest distance that they had posted a career each-way return.

2013-2017 Grand National runners by longest career each-way return

Long Career Place Runners Finishers Placed (1-5) Win
3 miles 4 furlongs or further 72 41 (57%) 18 (25%) 4 (6%)
3 miles 2 furlongs – 3 miles 3 1/2 furlongs 53 23 (43%) 5 (9%) 1 (2%)
Under 3 miles 2 furlongs 73 25 (34%) 2 (3%) 0 (0%)

To summarise, 4/5 winners and 18/25 horses paying an each-way return (including 5th) had achieved an each-way return off a distance of 3.5 miles or further at some point in their chase career. That’s 72% of horses finishing ‘in the money’ taken from a sample of just 36% of runners.

So it’s clear that siding with horses who have demonstrated career form over longer distances provides a big statistical advantage.

However, it’s equally important to recognise whether these career marks have been achieved in a high quality race – the Grand National is a long way from a wet and windy Wednesday afternoon in Towcester!

Trend 2 – Top 5 Performance in ‘Key Trials’,

There are 7 annual jump races (including the Grand National itself) that offer a highly predictive pointer towards Grand National success, which I’ll refer to as ‘key trials’.

Since 1994, a staggering 19/24 Grand National winners have proven their stamina credentials before-hand by finishing among the first five home in one of the following races.

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 5 1/2f), run between Christmas and New Year at Chepstow.
Becher Chase (3m 2f), run over the National fences at Aintree in December.
Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly known as the Hennessy Gold Cup) (3m 2f), run in late November/early December at Newbury.
Cheltenham Gold Cup (3m 2 1/2f), the blue ribband event of the jump racing calendar, run on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Grand National (4m 2 1/2f)

2013-2017 Grand National runners by best performance in key trial.

Best Career Finish in Key Trial Runners Finishers Placed (1-5) Win
Top Five 72 39 (54%) 17 (24%) 4 (6%)
Outside Top 5 54 21 (38%) 3 (6%) 1 (2%)
Not Run a Key Trial 72 29 (41%) 5 (7%) 0 (0%)

We can see that 4/5 winners and 17/25 horses paying an each-way return have shown their potential in one of these seven races. That’s 68% of runners paying a return from a sample of just 36% of runners – a nearly identical statistical advantage to those posting a long career each-way return of 3.5 miles or further.

So we can see that performance within these key trials should be treated as an equally predictive indicator for success.

In fact all of the last five winners had some experience of running in one of these races prior to the National, with four finishing among the first five home. Let’s recap their relevant performances:

  • 2013 – Auroras Encore, 2nd 2012 Scottish National
  • 2014 – Pineau De Re, faller 2013 Becher Chase
  • 2015 – Many Clouds, winner 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup
  • 2016 – Rule The World, 2nd 2015 Irish National
  • 2017 – One For Arthur, 5th 2016 Becher Chase

Combining the two stamina trends

Naturally, there’s a fairly high degree of overlap with these two trends given that posting an each-way return in 4/7 key trials, in turn, means hitting that 3.5 mile+ career mark. But let’s overlay the two trends to see what statistical advantage that provides.

2013-2017 Grand National runners segmented by number of trends they ‘hit’.

Long Career Place 3.5 miles+ / Top 5 Finish in Key Trial Runners Finishers Placed (1-5) Win
Hit 2/2 Trends 41 24 (59%) 14 (34%) 3 (7%)
Hit 1/2 Trends 62 32 (52%) 7 (11%) 2 (3%)
Hit 0/2 Trends 95 33 (35%) 4 (4%) 0 (0%)

In all, 95 runners failing to hit either career mark have tried and failed to win the Grand National since 2013. The only horse who really came close to doing so was 2016 runner-up The Last Samuri.

All five winners since 2013, and 21/25 horses paying a return managed at least one of these career marks. That’s 100% of winners and 84% of each-way returns from a sample of just 52% of runners.

Meanwhile, some 14/41 runners who have hit both career marks have paid an each-way return… an impressive hit rate of 34%!

For reference here is a list of the ten 2017 Grand National runners who passed on both of the above stamina trends.

  • One For Arthur (1st)
  • Saint Are (3rd)
  • Blaklion (4th)
  • Vieux Lion Rouge (6th)
  • Houblon Des Obeaux (10th)
  • The Last Samuri (16th)
  • Vicente (faller)
  • Rogue Angel (pulled up)
  • Raz De Maree (unseated rider)
  • Thunder and Roses (unseated rider)

As you can see, they included four of the first six home, so you could do a lot worse than simply backing horses who hit both stamina-based career marks regardless of other trends!

Conclusions

Stamina is categorically the #1 trend to use when analysing the Grand National, and the stats clearly point us towards selecting horses with proven staying power over long distances racing, especially in key trials.

In determining my 2018 Grand National short list, I will therefore be shortlisting horses who provide a substantial statistical edge having hit at least one of the following career marks…

  1. Placed in a chase of 3.5 miles or further, OR
  2. Finished in the first 5 home in a key trial

In addition, I will consider horses hitting both of the above marks to be an advantage.

2018 Field Analysis

So let’s take a look at our 2018 Grand National field to see how they stack up against these trends.

I’ve analysed the 40 runners for Saturday’s race and listed below are 24 (plus reserves) who achieved at least one career mark. There are thirteen horses listed in caps have notably hit 2/2 trends.

  • MINELLA ROCCO – 2nd 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Won 4m Chase at 2016 Cheltenham Festival
  • BLAKLION – 4th 2017 Grand National, Won 2017 Becher Chase
  • Anibale Fly – 3rd 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup
  • THE LAST SAMURI – 2nd 2016 Grand National
  • Total Recall – Won 2017 Ladbrokes Trophy
  • VICENTE – Won 2016 & 2017 Scottish National
  • Tiger Roll – Won 3m 6f Cross Country Chase at 2018 Cheltenham Festival
  • Regal Encore – 3rd 2017 Ladbrokes Trophy
  • VIEUX LION ROUGE – Won 2016 Becher Chase, Won 2017 Grand National Trial at Haydock (3m 4.5f)
  • Chase The Spud – Won 2017 Midlands National (4m 0.5f)
  • SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT – 3rd 2016 Scottish National
  • GAS LINE BOY – 5th 2017 Grand National
  • Ucelllo Conti – 4th 2016 Becher Chase
  • SAINT ARE – 2nd 2015 Grand National, 3rd 2017 Grand National
  • RAZ DE MAREE – Won 2017 Welsh National
  • I Just Know – Won 2018 North Yorkshire National at Catterick (3m 6f)
  • BAIE DES ILES – Won 3m 4.5f Chase at Punchestown 2018, 5th 2016 Welsh National
  • Lord Windermere – Won 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup
  • HOUBLON DES OBEAUX – 3rd 2016 Welsh National, 2nd 2014 Hennessy Chase
  • BLESS THE WINGS – 2nd 2016 & 2017 Irish National
  • Milansbar – 2nd 2018 Midlands National (4m 2f)
  • FINAL NUDGE – 3rd 2017 Welsh National
  • Double Ross – 3rd 2016 Hennessy Chase
  • Road To Riches – 3rd 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup
  • Delusionofgrandeur* – 3rd 2017 Durham National at Sedgefield (3m 5f)
  • THUNDER AND ROSES* – Won 2015 Irish National
  • VINTAGE CLOUDS* – 4th 2017 Welsh National

*Reserve – unlikely to now run (correct April 12th)

Admittedly it’s a very long list, but I’d be very surprised if our eventual Grand National winner isn’t in there somewhere. With the Grand National field now all but settled, that’s 16 doubtful stayers not named above that I won’t be shortlisting for this year. If any of them win it’ll be back to the drawing board!