2019 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, the Grand National has, on four out of the last six editions, thrown out a winner that can best be described as a low weighted ‘sleeper’ with proven form over extreme distances.

Many Clouds was a major exception to the rule, giving 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.

And last years winner Tiger Roll won somewhere around the middle of the handicap, carrying 10-13.

If you look deeper behind recent results it’s becoming apparent just how special in particular 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 trend in a 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.

2013-2018 Grand National runners by extra weight burden

Pounds Carried Above Bottom Weight Runners Finishers Top 10 Finish Placed Win
0-5 lbs 103 56 (54%) 32 (31%) 15 (15%) 4 (4%)
6-12 lbs 86 40 (47%) 22 (26%) 9 (10%) 1 (1%)
13-24 lbs 47 14 (30%) 6 (13%) 5 (11%) 1 (2%)

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

As mentioned, four of the last six winners have been weighted towards the bottom of the handicap carrying no more than 5 lbs extra weight than the lightest burdened horse in the race.

Of course at face value these horses at the top of the handicap have a reasonably comparable record, but dig a bit deeper and it’s notable that, Many Clouds aside, only two other horses carrying a big weight managed to finish higher than 5th.

2019 Field Analysis

With the field now more or less settled, it’s possible to take an objective look into this trend.

Bottom weight in the handicap is #40, Just A Par, carrying 10-2. So if we add 12 lb – the point where my analysis indicates performance drops off – that would eliminate eleven horses at the top of the handicap carrying more than 11 stone, which is a few more than this trend usually throws off our shortlist.

Of course the question of where to draw the line can feel somewhat arbitrary, but having checked on other trends the marginal cases fall down on other trends as well, so I’ll draw my line at 11-0 for this year. It’s also notable to point out that only four of the last twenty five winners have carried more than 11-0 to victory.

  • Anibale Fly – 11-10
  • Valtor – 11-6
  • Tiger Roll – 11-5
  • Outlander – 11-4
  • Don Poli – 11-4
  • Go Conquer – 11-3
  • Mala Beach – 11-2
  • Minella Rocco – 11-1
  • Lake View Lad – 11-1
  • Pleasant Company – 11-1
  • Ballyoptic – 11-1

It’s always with a fair bit of trepidation that I reject horses based on weight, and of course this year has thrown us a massive dilemma!

Measure Tiger Roll against any other trend and he’s quite clearly a massive contender. However, I do have a few doubts this year given he’s been upped 8 lbs in the handicap, and believe his current price is too short in a race where there are so many variables and an element of luck is required. Recent history suggests that horses who win the National tend to get around the following year but have been upped too far in the weights to repeat their glory.

Similar feelings apply towards Anibale Fly, who managed 4th in last years’ National carrying 11-8 in a relative quagmire. With a recent 2nd place finish in the Cheltenham Gold Cup just behind him there’s no doubting his credentials. but no horse carrying top weight has won the National since Red Rum back in 1977, so history isn’t on his side.

Of course either could well prove me wrong, but the statistics guide me towards the conclusion that the monumental performance of Many Clouds four years ago was an exception to the rule, and I’ll side with the trends that indicate to me that these horses will ultimately have to shoulder too big a weight burden to win.