Eight weeks to go until the Grand National, dear reader, and stacks of plot twists to be played out before the first Saturday in April. So, as the weights were unveiled yesterday to trainers' predictable moans of 'too much weight', I'll offer some early thoughts on the possible winner.
Long-term readers of the Nag3 blog will know that in 2007, I had Silver Birch (recommended at 100 on betfair) on the shortlist. Last year, we had Comply Or Die as a confident selection. And before my old blog at Nag3 started I'd enjoyed an enviable record of picking the winner of the longest race in the British calendar.
And therein lies part of the key: because the Grand National is the longest race, with the most fences, and the most runners, it lends itself to trends / stats study perhaps more than any other race in the British calendar. In extremis is where we have the chance to scratch all those who have yet to prove themselves capable of the unique demands of the contest.
So, let's quickly consider some stats:
- Only one winner since 1983 has carried more than eleven stone to victory, and that was Hedgehunter, who carried 11 stone and ONE pound!
- No horse younger than eight or older than twelve has won since 1940(!). Only Bindaree since 1992 has won for the 8yo age group, although these have enjoyed a number of places in recent seasons. For now though, I'm tempted to exclude them (but I won't!)...
- A French bred horse has not won since 1909, when none other than Lutteur III (who?!) took 'les honneurs'
- No horse in the last decade has won having had less than ten chase starts
- Since 1990, all winners had between four and seven previous starts. Considering that there is a fair way to go, I'll exclude any horse that has had two runs or less, as the chances of getting two more runs in before Aintree is slim but obviously far from impossible.
There are some very strong stats here and this is before you consider things like proven stamina and experience in hurly-burly races with lots of runners (there are simply too many horses to wade through at this stage - sorry!).
So, starting with the weight, and assuming that Madison du Berlais will run as top weight (nice to start with a fragile assumption!), we can put the weights up two pounds, such that Madison carries 11-10 as the topweight must. This means all other horses will rise two pounds in the handicap.
I'm going to eliminate all runners above eleven stone (though I may relent by a pound or so nearer the time). This takes out 16 of the 120 entered. At the other end of the handicap, anything lower than 10 stone is highly unlikely to get to race, so we'll strike those out too. This rather spurious calculation leaves us with 45 protagonists.
Next, let's consider the age stat: strike out Eurotrek (too old), and Big Fella Thanks, Opera Mundi, Can't Buy Time, Gwananko and Oedipe (too young).
Time to bid a fond adieu to any Frenchies in the line up, including Mon Mome (who the Racing Post's trends guy laughably tipped up last year, with the 1909 stat right next to it!), Miko de Beauchene, L'Antartique, Butler's Cabin (this year's ante post favourite), Golden Flight, L'Ami, Musica Bella, Garde Champetre, and old boy Monkerhostin.
We've now got 29 left - still too many, so let's revert to the numbers. We should weedle out all those who have had two or less runs, which excludes last season's runner-up, King John's Castle who has yet to race this season. It also bodes ill for State of Play, previous winner (for the blog) Silver Birch, Hobbs Hill, Offshore Account, Parson's Legacy, Reveillez, Abbeybraney, Endless Power, Simon, Darkness, Silverburn, Trabolgan, and last year's winner Comply Or Die.
Of course, any one of these could run twice more between now and 4th April, which would see them reinstated. But in trying to steal a march on the market with an ante-post wager, I'll exclude them.
Fifteen left, and time to make a judgment.
The obvious one, and the one I like - despite the protestations of his trainer - is Hear The Echo. He won last year's Irish National, as did three other of the last ten winners of this race, and 16/1 looks perfectly fair. Consider that the Irish have won six of the last nine runnings, and that nine of the last ten winners were Irish bred, and The Echo has a big chance. The trainer is moaning about his weight, because he thought that running him in hurdle races all season would get him a lighter weight. In my opinion, the handicapper has done an excellent job, in giving the horse a chance AND recognising the somewhat nefarious tactics of the trainer. Good work!
Priest's Leap, as a dual winner of the prestigious Thyestes Chase, looks interesting for the Irish too.
Battlecry represents the best-performing trainer in recent years, Nigel Twiston-Davies. But he's never won in a double figure field, and that hardly sets him up for the forty-runner charge of the heavy brigade that is the National.
Rambling Minster looks quite interesting as well at a price, given that he definitely stays and generally races close to the pace.
Southern Vic gets into the handicap proper for the wily Ted Walsh (responsible for 2000 winner, Papillon, heavily backed). He's 5 from 12 over fences, including a Grade 1 novice chase over three miles back in December 2005, and he loves soft ground. Whether he retains enough ability is taken on trust, but if he showed even 80% of that form, he'd be chucked in here. He did unseat around Aintree last season when done for toe over a shorter trip.
Having backed Black Apalachi last year when he fell at the second, I was thoroughly hacked off to watch him win the Becher Chase over the course (3m2f) in November. Obviously, I wasn't invested that day. He's got a great profile for the race.
Ante post advice
Hear The Echo 1.5 points win at 16/1 (VC, Coral, Hill) / 18 on betfair
Priests Leap 1 point win at 33/1 (general) / 85(!) on betfair
Rambling Minster 1 point win at 40/1 (general) / 44 on betfair
Southern Vic 0.5 points win at 33/1 (general) / 34 on betfair
Black Apalachi 1 point win at 20/1 (general) / 23 on betfair
5 points staked.
Note: Do NOT be tempted to bet each way in the Grand National. Much better to take two horses to win.
I'm on the above. More nearer the time (much nearer!)