2018 Grand National trends

Weight

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 – 11 stone 10 pounds in old money. 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 1 lb 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! In 2009, the British Racing Association handicapper reduced the maximum weight that the top-rated horse carries by 2 lbs to 11st 10 lbs, 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.

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 Since 2013

While trends have shifted over the last decade, over the last five years that the Grand National has, on four out of five occasions, thrown out a winner that can best be described as a low weighted ‘sleeper’ with proven form over extreme distances.

The exception to this rule was Many Clouds, who gave arguably the greatest performance by any modern Grand National winner in 2015, lugging a massive 11 stone 9 lbs to victory – more than any horse since Red Rum way back in 1977.

But looking deeper behind recent results it’s becoming apparent just how special Many Clouds was, and the ‘weight’ of horses finishing near the front of the field tend to carry a relatively low weight.

So let’s analyse this in a more scientific way. Rather than looking simply at the weight carried, I choose to do so by looking at the extra weight each horse carries to number 40 – the lightest weighted horse in the race.

2013-2017 Grand National runners by extra weight burden

Pounds Carried Above Bottom Weight Runners Finishers Top 10 Finish Placed Win
0-5 lbs 85 42 (49%) 28 (33%) 13 (15%) 4 (5%)
6-12 lbs 68 35 (51%) 18 (26%) 8 (12%) 0 (0%)
>12 lbs 40 12 (30%) 4 (10%) 4 (10%) 1 (3%)

I’ve sliced the data selectively to illustrate the point that the weight burden a horse carries relative to other runners is a highly predictive pointer.

In summation, those four winners since 2013 towards the bottom of the handicap carried no more than 5 lbs extra weight than the lightest burdened horse in the race. And horses in this weight band were more than three times as likely to finish in the first 10 home than a horse having to lug an extra 13 lbs or more.

Of course at face value these horses at the top of the handicap have a reasonably comparable record when it comes to paying a return, but dig deeper into these results and besides Many Clouds, only Teaforthree (3rd in 2013) managed to finish higher than 5th.

Conclusions

With Saturday’s field no more or less settled the the bottom rated horse in this years’ Grand National (Road To Riches) will carry 10st 4lbs.

The following horses at the top of the handicap look set to carry a weight burden of more than 12lbs higher than #40 on the entry list.

  • Minella Rocco 11-10 (+20 lbs extra than bottom weight)
  • Blaklion 11-9 (+19 lbs)
  • Anibale Fly 11-7 (+17 lbs)
  • The Last Samuri 11-7 (+17 lbs)
  • Valseur Lido 11-6 (+16 lbs)
  • Total Recall 11-4 (+14 lbs)
  • Alpha Des Obeaux 11-3 (+13 lbs)

Of course we should remember that these seven horses are also classiest runners in the race. Within this list are two horses that have placed in the Grand National, two that have placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ladbrokes Trophy winner from December.

So it’s always with a fair bit of trepidation that I reject horses based on weight, but the data tells me that the monumental performance of Many Clouds three years ago is the exception to the rule, and it is probable that these horses will have to shoulder too big a weight burden to win, especially as the going at Aintree looks to be soft, which will make Saturday’s stamina sapping test even harder.