2017 Trends

Weight

Please note this page is in the process of being updated following the 2017 Grand National. Please come back in a couple of weeks to view my complete and updated analysis of this particular trend ready for 2018. 

If there’s one trend I have personally spent more hours grappling with than I care to mention over the years it has to be weight.

Let’s start with the basics

The Grand National is a handicap race, which means each horse is allocated a weight it must carry based on its’ official rating, determined by the British Horseracing Authority.

The weight a horse carries consists of the jockey, saddle (plus additional weights placed within it) that add up to the handicappers’ allocation.

The handicapper’s ultimate (although in reality unfeasible) aim is for all 40 horses to pass the winning post in a dead heat.

The highest rated horse in the race (number 1) will carry the most weight, and the lowest rated horse (number 40) will carry the least weight, subject to a minimum allocation of 10 stone.

When I began publishing my Grand National predictions eleven years ago, weight was a trend you could really hang your hat on.

Between 1984-2008 no winner had carried more than 11st 1lbs to victory, so the task of shortlisting potential winners was all the easier when you could literally put a red line through the first 6-10 horses in the handicap.

But then it all changed!

Rule Changes in 2009

In 2009, the British Racing Association handicapper reduced the maximum weight that the top-rated horse carries from 11-12 to 11-10, while the minimum weight a horse can carry remained at 10 stone. This effectively ‘compressed’ the handicap in an attempt to give the classier horses at the top of the handicap a fighting chance.

And it worked!

From 2009-2012, all four winners carried at least 11 stone on their back, basically flipping the weight trend on its’ head.

Rule Changes in 2013

Then in 2013, the BHA changed the race once again in response to criticism over the races’ safety record.

Firstly, fences were given a much softer core – a change which has undoubtedly lessened the race as a test of jumping ability. Secondly, the traditional charge to the first fence was shortened by approx. 300 metres.

Of course, safety is quite rightly the single most important consideration, but the changes have undoubtedly changed the nature of the race.

Weight Trends Analysis

When considering the effect these changes have had on weight the National has thrown out mixed signals over the past few years, although I’d categorise the past five winners in one of two ‘types’.

Type 1: The classy chaser towards the top of the handicap – a Grade 1 winner who has raced at the very pinnacle of national hunt racing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup (see Neptune Collonge and Many Clouds).

Type 2: The low weighted ‘sleeper’ with proven form over extreme distances who has proved their worth in key trials or other ‘nationals’ (see Auroras Encore, Pineau De Re and Rule The World).

So let’s analyse weight and performance in a scientific way over the last eight renewals of the National to see how these changes have affected results.

The key to assessing weight is in the relative weight burden each horse has to carry over and above the lowest weighted horse in the handicap (number 40).

Let’s start with the four years form 2009-2012 immediately after the top weight was reduced to 11-10.

2009-2012 Grand National runners by relative weight advantage

Pounds Carried Above Bottom Weight Runners Finishers Placed Win
0-5 lbs 66 28 (42%) 2 (3%) 0 (0%)
6-12 lbs 53 22 (42%) 8 (15%) 2 (4%)
>12 lbs 41 15 (37%) 6 (15%) 2 (5%)

As you can see, this four year period saw a well established weight trend turned on its’ head. 14/16 horses finishing in among the first four home carried 6 lbs or more above the bottom weighted horse in the handicap.

Now let’s see how the trends have changed again over the last four years after the race as shortened and fences made safer.

2013-2016 Grand National runners by relative weight advantage

Pounds Carried Above Bottom Weight Runners Finishers Placed Win
0-5 lbs 66 34 (52%) 9 (14%) 3 (5%)
6-12 lbs 57 25 (44%) 5 (9%) 0 (0%)
>12 lbs 35 11 (31%) 2 (6%) 1 (3%)

Although we only have just four years worth of data we can see that horses at the bottom of the weights are paying returns in greater numbers once again.

I struggle to put my finger on precisely why this has happened, but I strongly suspect it reflects how the National has become less of a jumping test in recent years.

These stats also put into some perspective the incredible performance of Many Clouds, who carried 11-9 to victory in 2015. His sparkling career was tragically cut short in February, and I would personally rate this horse as the finest Grand National winner since the legendary Red Rum.

Conclusions

Providing no more horses drop out between now and Friday lunchtime, the bottom weight for this years’ National will be 10-6, carried by #40 (Doctor Harper).

Given the quality of the field this year some nineteen horses at the bottom of the handicap will carry a weight burden within 5 lbs of this mark, and thirty-five horses will carry between 10-6 and 11-3 – a difference of just 11 lbs.

But at the top of the handicap these top rated horses will have to carry a weight burden more than 12 lbs above bottom weight.

  • The Last Samuri – 11-10 (+18 lbs above bottom weight)
  • More Of That – 11-6 (+14 lbs)
  • Shantou Flyer – 11-5 (+13 lbs)
  • Perfect Candidate – 11-5 (+13 lbs)
  • Saphir Du Rheu – 11-5 (+13 lbs)

Of course we should remember that these five horses are the classiest in the race. Within this list we have last years’ runner-up, along with 5th and 6th from last months’ Cheltenham Gold Cup.

So it’s a dangerous move to reject them on weight alone, and the monumental performance of Many Clouds two years ago should be a reminder that such a feat is not impossible.

However, recent results suggest to me that it would take a really special horse to carry such a burden to victory, because the changing rules of the National have meant the weights are starting to work against the best horses in the field once again.