Scottish Grand National 2017: Preview, Trends, Tips
Ayr's Scottish Grand National is the last of the national Nationals - if you see what I mean - and looks set to be as keenly contested as ever this Saturday. A full field of thirty are slated to face the starter and, happily, we can look to whittle that number down to something more workable with the aid of recent race history.
The Scottish National is run over just shy of four miles (since the remeasurement of the track - it was historically run over four miles and half a furlong; in fact the race distance hasn't changed, only the accuracy of the distance has) and it takes a combination of speed, class and stamina to prevail on what is normally good ground.
The main trend information below is sourced from horseracebase.com.
Scottish Grand National Age Trends
As we can see from the table below, all winners have been aged between seven and eleven. There are no six-year-olds in the field this year, but their place record means it would have been careless to discount that age group: after all, we can see from the three columns on the right that they have made the frame almost twice as often as might have been expected (6.33% of places from 3.41% of runners).
That's an important point when looking at trends, and it's why I've mentioned it even though none of those youthful aged horses are lining up this time. The key is that we need to look beyond mere number of wins - as far beyond it as time allows.
What else can we infer from this table? We can see that 7yo's and 9yo's win roughly in line with numerical representation, and so too do ten- and eleven-year-olds when taken as a collective.
The sweet spot, if there is one, seems to be horses aged eight. From 23.67% of the runners the eight's have won 35% of the last twenty Scottish Nationals, and also taken out 29% of the place positions. We can also see that seven-year-olds have placed considerably above expectation based on runner numbers; and so, too, six-year-olds, as mentioned above.
On the flip side, those aged twelve or above have fared moderately, though not hugely out of kilter with their numbers.
I'm keen to favour younger horses, those aged six to eight. Which this year means those aged seven or eight.
Scottish Grand National Weight / Rating Trends
The weight a horse carries in any handicap is in relation to its official rating in the context of the race class. Thus the highest rated horse will carry the most weight. In an open National Hunt handicap like the Scottish National, the top rated horses will typically be allotted eleven stone twelve pounds, 11-12, and will be known as the 'top weight'. Every other runner in the race will carry less (or the same if there are equally highly rated runners) than the top weight.
This year, Missed Approach and Vivaldi Collonges are the top rated horses, both with an official mark of 148. They carry 11-12, while the next horse in the handicap - Fine Rightly, rated 147 - carries a pound less, 11-11. And so on.
The theory behind handicaps is that each horse carries weight in relation to its ability level, thus providing for a level playing field where any horse can win. The reality is that, while the weight allocations undoubtedly do make for a more level playing field, there are numerous other imponderables which offer some horses better chances than others.
The most obvious of these are scope for improvement (a younger, and therefore less experienced, horse may be able to progress more than an established older horse); aptitude to the conditions (a horse carrying more weight but very well suited to conditions can generally be expected to beat a lesser-weighted rival who has demonstrated a dislike for conditions); and, physical size (a small horse will typically struggle to carry a big weight more than a big horse).
Here's how weight has been spread across the Scottish Grand National runners over the past two decades:
Here is a classic example of the 'bad trends' you will see knocking around: 60% of Scottish National winners in the last twenty years carried ten and a half stone or less.
Whilst that is incontrovertibly true, the dozen lightly-weighted victors emerged from 317 runners, or 67.59% of the cumulative field. Moreover, the placed percentage is slightly lower than 60%. In other words, despite claiming the lion's share of wins, the lightweights were doing no better than is expected and, in fact, slightly worse than their numerical representation.
Now, take a look at the three lines for higher weighted horses and, specifically, look at the placers% column on the right hand side, and the runner% column three from the right. There we see that each weight bracket has outperformed their runner numbers when looking at placed finishes. And, in the case of horses carrying more than eleven stone, it is noteworthy that they have won 30% of the renewals in the sample from 13.65% of the runners. They've further claimed 19% of the places.
As if that wasn't enough, they've made a meagre profit at starting price in the process (the P/L column).
[By the way, I could have 'massaged' these figures by including 11-0 in the '11-1 to 11-7' bracket. The septet to lug exactly eleven stone won once and placed twice.]
The advice is that, even though the majority of winners have carried a low weight, the value is almost certainly with those shouldering eleven stone-plus.
Moving on to official ratings, a similar pattern emerges, though with a subtle difference. We'd expect some similarity between weight and ratings for reasons articulated at the start of this section: here is what is revealed, again by somewhat arbitrary ratings brackets.
The lowest-rated horses have a poor win record, though their place performance is not markedly out of line with numerical representation. And those rated above 150 have failed to win from 22 runners. This looks coincidental given their place ratio and, in any case, is academic this year with 148 being the top rating in the field.
What may be interesting is that 90% of winners were rated 131 to 150. Sadly, that brings in 85% of this year's field! Additionally, that large group of winners becomes only the expected number of placed horses, give or take a percentage point or two.
There is very little of note to my eye in the ratings of Scottish National runners.
Scottish Grand National Last Time Out Trends
Last day finishing position may be an ostensibly weak barometer of likely chance, but there is little doubt that horses arriving at Ayr in form have had much the best of it in terms of Scottish National performance. Check this out:
There is a linearity to last time out placing unlike any we have so far reviewed. Those finishing top three last time out have had much the best of it; and, while that much might logically be expected, what is surprising is the healthy level stakes profit at starting price generated by that group. Two-thirds of the winners and half of the placed horses made the frame last time out, from just two-fifths of the runners.
Most of the rest of the winners, and most of the rest of the placed horses, came from those coming home fourth to sixth last time. Let's put it another way: all bar one of the last twenty winners (95%) finished top six last time out from less than half of the runners. They also accounted for more than three-quarters of the placed horses.
Strongly favour those to have finished in the top six last time out, with an extra mark for a top three last day finish.
Scottish Grand National Experience Trends
How much chasing experience is ideal? Too few runs and a horse may get caught out by inexperience; too many and the 'capper surely has his measure. So, logically, we'd expect just enough but not too many prior chase starts.
The data seems to back up the theory: those with between six and ten previous chase starts have recorded the most wins in the last two decades. They've also outperformed numerical representation by 50% (30% of the runners producing 45% of the winners). And... they've beaten SP by 61.5 points.
Those with least experience have performed in line with numerical representation almost to the letter. And those up to 25 chase starts have done all right as well. Only all right, mind. The old hands, who are most likely to also be the old boys, have not done well.
The value lies in the less exposed chasers who have a degree of experience (arbitrarily bracketed here as six to ten prior chase starts).
Scottish Grand National Trends Summary
So far, so vaguely interesting. But where does this leave us? What is the identikit makeup of a 'typical' Scottish Grand National winner?
Well, fully cognisant of the danger of throwing a form horse baby out with the statistical bathwater, the above leads us to the following:
- Aged six to eight
- Carrying eleven stone or more
- Top six finish last time out (extra point for top three)
- Lightly raced over fences
The age criterion splits the field exactly in half. A good start notwithstanding that this year's winner could be in the discarded fifty percent!
Those with more weight account for nine of the fifteen in the younger age bracket.
Remarkably, a top six finish last time reduces the shortlist to just three: Missed Approach (second last time), Premier Bond (third), and Arpege d'Alene (fourth).
They are all lightly raced over fences, with Arpege d'Alene having had eight chase starts, Missed Approach five, and Premier Bond four.
Each recorded their last time out placing at the Cheltenham Festival, Premier Bond in the Kim Muir and the other pair in the National Hunt Chase, 'the four miler'.
All three race close to the pace as a rule, which tends to be an advantage in the Scottish National; all three will handle the likely good ground; and all three should get the trip with the 'four miler' duo pretty certain to.
Scottish Grand National Tips
It is very hard to choose between the trio. All three trainers are in fine recent form, all three come here off excellent efforts at the Cheltenham Festival and have thus had a nice break since. The prices ultimately dictate the play: with Premier Bond being a top priced 9/1 and having to demonstrate he stays beyond three and a quarter miles - I suspect he does, but he's done most of his racing at two and two and a half miles - I'm inclined to lean towards the pair exiting the National Hunt Chase.
Last year's winner, Vicente, who lines up again, was fifth in the NH Chase for Paul Nicholls before winning this. The same trainer runs 2017 NH Chase fourth, Arpege d'Alene, this time. Vicente was rated 146, Arpege d'Alene is 145.
In 2013, Godsmejudge went two better than his National Hunt Chase third to take this prize; and in 2011, Beshabar stepped up from NH Chase silver to Scottish Grand National gold.
That's three of the last six Scottish National winners having run well without winning in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Missed Approach, second in that race, or Arpege d'Alene - three lengths further back - could make it four from of the last seven.
I respect Premier Bond, but the stamina doubt combined with his tighter odds leads me to the pair exiting the four miler for my bet.
1pt e/w Arpege d'Alene 12/1 general (1/4 1-2-3-4) or 11/1 (1/4 1-2-3-4-5 bet365, Victor)
1pt e/w Missed Approach 20/1 (1/4 1-2-3-4-5 Victor)
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