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The 2013 Grand National tapes rise at 4.15pm on April 6th, and so it’s about time we previewed the runners and tried to tip you a winner!
[The whole post is worth reading - naturally - but if you just want a couple of horses to back, head for the 'tips' section below ]
In this post, I’ll look at the Grand National trends, including some emerging ones; those horses which have the strongest form claims for such a gruelling race over four and a half miles of Aintree’s terrain; and, of course, I’ll tell you which horses I’m backing to win this year’s National.
Plus, I’ve scoured the universe (all right, maybe just the main bookies) to find the best bookmaker concessions available
Right, with the stage set, let’s take a look at the 2013 Grand National field.
First up, let’s look at the key Aintree Grand National Trends.
Let’s first consider the nature of the Grand National. Not for nothing is it the apple of the once-a-year-punters’ eye. Despite all the mollycoddling of external pressure groups and the commensurate changes to the fences and race distance, the National remains a race in extremis.
It’s four and a half miles long (less a hundred metres this year, if you’ll pardon my mixed measurements). That’s longer than any other race in the British calendar.
It has forty runners. Forty! That’s more than any other in the British calendar.
It requires horse and jockey to traverse thirty fences. Thirty! That’s more than any other in the British calendar, bar the cross-country course at Cheltenham.
Yes, folks, this is a proper test. Consequently, it will come as no surprise that it requires a horse with certain attributes which align with the aforementioned rigours.
Specifically, the following…
It makes sense that if a horse is to jump thirty fences, it should be a good jumper. Duh! Supporting this is the fact that fifteen of the last sixteen winners had fallen, unseated or been brought down a maximum of twice. Last year’s winner, Neptune Collonges, was the exception.
We’ll exclude any horse with three or more ‘fall related’ non-completions (or FUB’s)
Further, over such a long distance, it stands to reason that those with proven stamina should prevail. To this end, every winner since the year dot (or at least since 1988, when I got bored of looking) had won over at least three miles.
Most horses will pass that test, so it’s not that much of an eliminator. But eight of the last nine winners have won beyond three miles one furlong, and that extra distance trips up plenty of aspirants. You might think it’s immaterial, but beyond three miles is ‘stout stayer’ territory, and that’s the type of horse which will obviously be suited to a race over four and a half miles (or thereabouts).
We’ll also exclude any horse which has yet to win beyond 3m1f
Finally on the ‘blindingly obvious’ front, you need a nimble and/or lucky horse to win in a field of forty. Although the actual figure is a tad arbitrary, nine of the last ten winners had previously won in a field of at least fourteen runners. Here again, the exception was Neptune Collonges.
One swallow does not a summer make, and nor does it a logical trend break. So…
Let’s exclude any horse which has failed to win in a field of fourteen or more.
Those are what I call primary trends and, whilst dear old Neptune Collonges buggered things up a bit last year, they would have isolated eight of the last ten Grand National winners.
This year, they eliminate the following of the current 57 remaining entries:
Always Waining, Any Currency, Auroras Encore, Becauseicouldntsee, Big Fella Thanks, Bob Lingo, Bostons Angel, Chicago Grey, Cloudy Lane, Colbert Station, Forpadydeplasterer, Gullible Gordon, Harry The Viking, Join Together, Joncol, Lost Glory, Magnanimity, Major Malarkey, Mortimers Cross, Mr Moonshine, Mumbles Head, Ninetieth Minute, On His Own, Oscar Time, Pearlysteps, Pentiffic, Prince De Beauchene (not running now, due to injury), Quel Esprit, Quinz, Quiscover Fontaine, Rare Bob, Roberto Goldback, Romanesco, Saint Are, Seabass, Soll, Swing Bill, Tarquinius, Tatenen, The Rainbow Hunter, Tofino Bay, Viking Blond, Weird Al, and Wyck Hill.
Crikey! That’s 45 of the 57 entries excluded!
Now, of course, that doesn’t mean one of the above can’t win. It merely means they will be trying to do something pretty logical that most winners in the past decade had done.
Let’s consider some secondary trends, and see if we’re any wiser thereafter…
All bar one of the last sixteen winners was rated 138 or higher and, more recently, the last four winners have been rated 148 or higher. This latter element is material, because it has become official policy to try to give those classy horses at the very top of the weights some sort of a winning chance. Since than conscious decision was made in 2009, the winners have been rated on average 152.
Compare that with the average of the previous four year, which was 139.75. The previous ten years (i.e. those four plus the six before that) averaged 139.4.
That’s almost a stone difference in weight-carrying performance and, whilst it might prove dangerous to be definitive, I’ll definitely be siding with the classier, higher rated, and higher weighted horses.
Look towards the top of the National weights in what is becoming a class-favouring contest.
In the last sixteen years, fourteen of the winners have been aged between nine and eleven years old. Only one eight year old (Bindaree) and one twelve year old (Amberleigh House) have been able to prevail. Those outside of the nine to eleven year old range accounted for 32.05% of runners, but just 12.5% of winners.
The first four home were nine to eleven; the first TEN home in 2011 were in this group; the first three home in 2010 were too; as were the first four home in 2009. Indeed, in the last sixteen years, of those exactly 200 runners aged eight or less, or twelve or more, just thirteen have made the frame (1-2-3-4)… and eleven of those were eight year olds.
Forget twelve year olds and up, and seven year olds (only Saint Are representing that group this time).
And we’ll place our faith in the nine to eleven year old camp.
Now a quick word on chasing experience. Every winner since Miinehoma in 1994 had had at least ten chase starts. That makes sense, right? I mean, this is a pretty robust examination of a horse’s jumping, and running, ability. In fact, even Miinehoma had had nine starts over fences, and the National was his tenth!
Since 1999 (a period for which I have ready access to data), 104 horses have tried and failed to win the Grand National with less than ten chase starts under their belts. And only five of them even placed.
Wyck Hill is notably inexperienced this time around, with just seven chase starts in his record.
Exclude any horse with less than ten chase starts to his name.
Of our remaining twelve horses, the following are excluded by secondary trends:
Backstage, Ballabriggs, Beshabar, Cappa Bleu, Imperial Commander, Poker De Sivola, and Treacle.
Put another way, we’re left with a shortlist of four:
Across The Bay (40/1), Balthazar King (33/1), Sunnyhillboy(20/1), and What A Friend (50/1).
Those are all 20/1 or bigger at time of writing, which is quite tempting. But we should consider things more holistically before putting pen to betting slip paper.
Reading the form for the Grand National is generally a bit like nailing jelly to a wall. There are very few races run over the National fences and, if your horse does happen to run well over the specific test, he gets whacked by the discretionary handicapping policy in place now. Of course, if your horse hasn’t run over the National fences, it’s in for a surprise and it may not be the type that likes surprises!
The discretionary handicapping policy is worth touching on for a second, because it has had two profound – and almost polarically different – bearings on recent results in this race.
Firstly, in 2003, the official handicapper was given latitude to account for what is known as ‘the Aintree Factor’. That is, to award a horse more weight if it has proven itself to be well suited to the unique Grand National fence challenge. The upshot of this was that Amberleigh House was given a higher official rating for the Grand National than he’d have had to bear in a ‘normal’ handicap chase.
Without that higher rating, he wouldn’t have made the cut for the final forty in 2003, when he finished third to Montys Pass. He came back the following year, with more weight, and won the race.
For around five or six years, the impact of the discretionary handicapping policy was merely to ensure those horses lurking on the lower fringes of the weights were allowed to run if their previous National fence form indicated they should be. But it also seemed to have a bearing on the average weight carried to victory.
In the six years from 1997 to 2002, the average winning weight carried was 10-05. In the six years from 2003 to 2008, the average winning weight carried was 10-09. And in the four years since then, the average winning weight carried was 11-03.
This is because, more recently, not only has Grand National fence form been accounted for at the bottom of the weights, but also something called ‘compression’ has been employed to give those classier horses at the top of the ratings a better chance.
Let’s put that another way: between 1984 and 2004, only two horses carried eleven stone or more to victory. And they carried exactly eleven stone, and a single pound more respectively. In the eight years since then, five of the eight winners have carried eleven stone or more, including lead-luggers with 11-05 and 11-06 in the last three years.
One final way of putting this: last year, the highest two weighted horses to complete the race finished first and sixth; in 2011, the top weight finished third; in 2010, two of the top four weighted horses to finish were placed first and second; and in 2009, all of the first four home were carrying eleven stone or more, including the 100/1 winner!
In summary, the better horses have a much better chance.
Let’s start from the top then, and the top of the weights to be precise. Imperial Commander, a former Gold Cup winner no less, heads the weights with 11-10 and he must be the horse with the highest former rating of any recent renewal, having been afforded a 185 for his 2010 Gold Cup win. Since then, he’s not been seen in public a great deal, just four times to be precise.
He unshipped on the main Aintree track directly after his Gold Cup win; then came back to win the Grade 1 Betfair Chase in November 2010, before an abortive attempt at defending his Gold Cup crown in March 2011. And that was it, until the end of January this year, when the Commander returned with a fine second in the Grade 2 Argento Chase at Cheltenham in heavy ground.
He finished tired there, and I think the extended break since – by-passing the Gold Cup – was a wise move. If he lines up in the Grand National, off a mark of just 158, he must have a great chance. If you want to back him now, make sure to use a non-runner no bet bookie, as he’s far from a certain runner.
Next in the weights list is Paul Nicholls’ What A Friend, himself a dual Grade 1 winner (including on the main Aintree chase strip) and fourth in the 2011 Gold Cup. He’s a stone below his rating just a year ago and, still only a ten year old, he ticks a lot – indeed all – of the trends boxes for Grand National 2013.
He was seventh in last year’s Betfred Bowl Chase here, and has had just the one run since then, when a plugging on eighth in the Racing Plus Chase over Kempton’s slick three miles. What A Friend actually ran in the 2011 National, where he travelled and jumped really well until running out of steam, and being pulled up.
He was only eight then, and had also had a hard race in the Gold Cup less than three weeks previously. This time, he’s older and stronger, and fresher. Whether he’s in the same form is a good question, but at odds around the 50/1 mark (best odds guaranteed, non runner no bet), it’s easy to take a bit of a chance.
Weird Al is next, and although he’s in the right hands – now trained by Grand National winning trainer in his own right, and ‘Son of Ginger’, Donald McCain – he seems to have problems. Specifically, he’s pulled up in three of his last five runs, and was well back when falling four out in last year’s National. He’s just too inconsistent to have any faith in, for me.
Slated to carry 11-07 was the first of Willie Mullins’ four remaining entries, Prince De Beauchene. Alas, he’s now a non-runner.
I’m readily putting a line through the next trio – Quel Esprit (not a good enough jumper, doubtful stayer, inexperienced); Big Fella Thanks (thoroughly exposed, and finished tamely in last two Nationals – though completed both times); and, Roberto Goldback (bad jumper, very exposed).
Seabass comes next, and he was a game third last year, for Katie Walsh, who was bidding to be the first lady to ride the National winner. He came with a chance to win it there, but didn’t quite seem to get home. He’s five pounds more weight to carry this time, which should ensure that he’ll again fall short, though perhaps not by much. Best of luck to Katie, all the same. She’s a cracking jockey.
On 11-04 is the wonderful Ballabriggs, winner of the 2011 Grand National and sixth last year off top weight. If the ground is good or good to soft, this fellow could make the frame despite now being twelve years old. He’s got the same handicap mark as when winning two years back, and fully ten pounds less than last year. It’s his last realistic chance of winning, and he’s likely to be a good bit shorter than 25/1 on the day.
The next trio are all of interest to me one way or another. First in is Sunnyhillboy, the victim of the closest call in National history last year when beaten a nose by the rallying Neptune Collonges. He was five lengths clear of the third, and another seven clear of the fourth there, and he’s got another ten pounds on his back for that. With stamina and track alacrity proven, it might not be enough of a burden to keep him out of the frame again.
Next is Teaforthree. Despite being a second season chaser, he’s already had ten starts over the big obstacles, and they include a win in the Cheltenham four miler, and a second place in the Welsh National when spotting the winner sixteen pounds. He goes on any ground, jumps very well for one so inexperienced, and the only slight reservation I have is whether he’s quite good enough in a very classy renewal. He could go close.
The third of this trio is Across The Bay, also trained by Son of Ginger. A very classy hurdler (third to Big Buck’s in the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle here last year, and winner of a Grade 2 hurdle last time), his chasing career has been a bit stop-start. He was good enough to win a big field beginners’ chase on debut, and then ran second in a Grade 2 novice chase that year. But his next three chase runs all ended with him pulling up, despite a big field handicap hurdle win in their midst.
Since reverting to chasing this season, he’s added an easy score in a Class 3 handicap, and another Grade 2 silver medal on the chase course here. True, he was a fairly disappointing seventh of 17 in the Welsh National, but that in heavy ground and carrying top weight of 11-12. He’s in great nick, and I think he has a much better chance than his 40/1 odds imply.
I find it hard to make a case for too many of the rest, given that they’re probably not going to be classy enough to win this year’s renewal, but a couple of others to note might be Balthazar King and Cappa Bleu.
Balthazar King needs good ground. If he gets it, he too has proven stamina, having won the cross country race at last year’s Festival. Forced out of this year’s renewal, for which he shared favouritism, due to deep ground, he’ll come here a fit and fresh horse. With jumping unlikely to be an issue, the question will be whether he’s quite good enough to challenge the very best. I suspect he probably isn’t, but he ought to give followers a decent run for their money, as long as the word ‘good’ appears in the going description.
Cappa Bleu doesn’t take much racing. In fact, he’s only had nine chase starts, and only six runs in his last two seasons. That’s less than any winner in the last sixteen years, but he ran fourth last year – staying on – and on soft ground he could run into the frame again. He acts on quicker, but I just don’t think he’d be quite fast/fit enough on that.
If you’re interested in how the horses scored on my rating system,
Obviously, this is a tricky race, where you need a horse with class, courage, stamina, and jumping finesse. My shortlist comprises:
Imperial Commander, What A Friend, Ballabriggs, Sunnyhillboy, and Across The Bay.
The first two are not certain to run, so it may be prudent to bet with a non-runner no bet (NRNB) bookmaker. The other three should all line up, and should all give us a run for our money. (Prices correct at time of writing).
**** Grand National 2013 selection: Ballabriggs 20/1 1/4 1-2-3-4-5 Paddy Power
* Grand National 2013 selection: Imperial Commander 16/1 Boylesports (1/4 1-2-3-4-5)
If you’re interested in placing a bet – and why wouldn’t you be?! – then my advice is as follows:
- if betting more than five days before the race, i.e. April 1st or earlier, then use a Non Runner No Bet bookie, unless you’re sure your horse will run. The bookmakers which are currently non-runner no bet are Bet365, BetVictor and Stan James (SJ from 9am Saturday 23rd March).
Here are the current best bookmaker offers
BetVictor are paying SIX places on the Grand National, and they’re non-runner money back. So, you can bet your fancy now, and if it doesn’t run you get your cash back. If it does run and you back it each way, you’ll get paid out on a place all the way down to sixth position.
bet365 have the best offer currently as they are non-runner no bet, plus they’re paying a quarter the odds on five places, AND they’re best odds guaranteed. That means if your horse doesn’t run you’ll get your cash back. If your horse is fifth and you bet each way, you’ll get a return. And if your horse goes off at a bigger price than you’ve taken, you’ll get paid at the bigger price.
If bet365 are best price on the horse you fancy, you should ABSOLUTELY bet it with them! They’ll also give you up to £200 in free bets when you sign up. Click the link below if you’ve not already got a bet365 account.
PP are both non-runner money back AND offer five places for betting purposes at a quarter the odds. If they’re a better price than bet365 and you’re sure your horse will run, you should back it with Paddy Power.
Here’s a quick link to Paddy‘s site if you need to open an account: