Monday Musings: A long trek north

It must be an optical illusion. Something to do with the placing of the cameras at Aintree, but I cannot work out what’s happened to Becher’s Brook, writes Tony Stafford. Obviously it isn’t anything like as spectacularly dangerous as it used to be with the big, sloping drop on the landing side almost guaranteed to catch out one or two in every circuit of the Grand National. Now there’s no sloping drop to draw fallen jockeys into the Brook – and maybe even no brook.

What I did notice, having flopped into Wilf Storey’s vacant guest armchair on Saturday afternoon too late for the Becher Chase but comfortably in time for the Sefton, was that they no longer seem to have to twist and turn left in mid-air to continue onto Valentine’s. In the Sefton, two miles five and a bit, they were, as commentator Mark Johnson announced, halfway at the latter fence, the 11th, and they seemed pretty much to have gone straight on at the fearsome fence at which Captain Becher of historic Aintree yore came to grief, leaving his name to adorn the obstacle in perpetuity.

The trip North was partly to renew my 35-year association with the Storey family – the old sausage is recovering from a painfully-injured left shoulder - and also to check in on Apres Le Deluge, on winter holidays at Hedgeholm stud in Co Durham.

I wonder whether the Captain would have approved of the safety measures that many old timers believe have “neutered” the course. I have no such harking after the good old days, but it looked that they went straight on rather than turn half-left. Skilful course management to limit the potential for interference and consequent grief that was always the accompaniment to races over the Grand National fences, especially at Becher’s, or an optical illusion by the latest television director?

We still got a fatality, at the first in the Sefton, and sadly for the France-based Louisa Carberry, wife of Philip and therefore daughter-in-law of L’Escargot’s brilliant jockey, the late Tommy, who rode out two epic finishes – one successful, one in vain – in the days when Red Rum ruled Aintree almost 50 years ago.

I loved L’Escargot and whenever the names of jumping greats come up, I have to point out that he’d won two Gold Cups at Cheltenham before Dan Moore turned his attentions in later life to the Grand National. He was a 12-year-old when he eventually won it under 11st3lb in 1974, two years Red Rum’s senior, and the wonderful story goes that Brian Fletcher, who’d won the previous twice on Red Rum, told Carberry at the last to “go on, it’s yours!” He did, and it was by a wide margin, the weights having turned around considerably from their previous encounters.

Philip Carberry’s elder brother Paul also won the race, on Bobbyjo in 1999, so it must have been an even more agonising moment for the Carberry family when It’s Jennifer, a triple winner in France, fell at the first fence with Felix de Giles and was fatally injured.

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There was a similarly shocking incident at Sandown, which would normally be my choice of venue on that particular weekend, when the London National, over three miles and five furlongs – the course and distance of the old Whitbread Gold Cup every April – ended in confusion and tragedy.

The race commentary in the Racing Post talks of “stricken horses” in the plural and involved a yellow flag-waving official being apparently noted by jockeys who seemed to hesitate before continuing on to the finish rather than obeying the instruction.

Seven were interviewed and given ten-day bans, the timing of which means all seven will miss the valuable Christmas period. Whether the proposed appeals are successful or not, according to a friend, Scott Ellis, who had already set off for the station across the course, it was chaotic with hordes of punters gathered in front of every bookmaker’s pitch awaiting reimbursement. He’d had a “losing” bet using his phone and it wasn’t until he got to the station platform that he learnt the race had ben voided. Again there was a fatality, this time the epic old warrior Houblon Des Obeaux, and the pressure groups who would have jump racing abolished in this country will have tucked these two incidents 200-odd miles apart in their armoury.

One race I had been particularly keen to listen to on the William Hill Radio commentary in another friend’s car – the whole way north, Aintree, Chepstow, Wetherby and Sandown offered wall-to-wall coverage – was Sammy Bill’s second run over fences. Even with a 14lb raise for his debut chase win at Kempton, the Oliver Sherwood trainee still received a handy 11lb from Charlie Mann’s Fixed Rate, who had been off the track for 13 months.

Fixed Rate, a Juddmonte-bred son of Oasis Dream, won his first two races over fences last year, having run 17 times over hurdles. In 26 career starts, Fixed Rate won twice six from six on the Flat for David Smaga and Khalid Abdullah in France, three times over hurdles and two chases for cheerful Charlie.

It took the highly-promising Sammy Bill a long time to get past Fixed Rate on Saturday and I’m sure there are a few big races that will fall to these two talented six-year-olds in the rest of the season. Fixed Rate’s versatility reminded me of a conversation I had last week at December Sales with James Underwood, whose Bloodstock Review of the Year, is such a feature of the Tattersall’s  December sale when he gives it out to all and sundry totally free and gratis. James said it would be his last. “I am 91!" he suggested, to which I offered: “So what!” I was showing him a picture in another free book I’d picked up, a directory of stallions for 2020, a two-page spread of the stallion Intrinsic, who stands at Hedgeholm Stud in Co Durham.

“Oh, Oasis Dream!” he exclaimed. <He’s Intrinsic’s sire> “That horse can do anything with any mare. Sprinters,  stayers or middle-distance horses. He works with the lot!”

Five days later I could have added chasers to that list, but it was uncanny when yesterday, while looking out for Apres Le Deluge, a big grey gelding happily palled up with a quintet of barren mares quite close to the farmhouse, awaiting his return to action next year, the name Oasis Dream kept cropping up.

“That’s going to Oasis Dream; that’s by Oasis Dream,” said Andrew.

My point to James Underwood is that certain stallions get no help in the headlong search for potential mates for mares at the top end of the market. Intrinsic is a case in point. Owned by Malih Al Basti he boasts a top Cheveley Park Stud pedigree and a very active family yet has had only a handful of mares and consequently runners in his first crop. One or two have been placed at ridiculously-long odds, one at 150-1, one at 100-1, and a single UK winner was the Sir Mark Prescott-trained Najm in Mr Al Basti’s colours.

After that Najm was sold privately to race in France, and a glance at the Racing Post shows he won a 10k claimer at Chantilly almost immediately on arrival in his new home. As we went muddily around the farm on Sunday, Andrew Spalding said Najm has actually won three times over there and on looking at the France Galop site this morning I discovered he has indeed had three more races since Chantilly. Initially he finished second before winning twice since, all over 1500 metres at Marseille.

He has met the same horse, Pic Cel, in all three claimers, being beaten by a nose first time, gaining revenge over that horse by half a length on November 18th and then two weeks later giving 4lb and having two and a half lengths in hand over Pic Cel and a dozen others. Like his sire he’s improving with racing.

Intrinsic’s racing career, ten runs in all, featured wins in succession, the first for Sir Michael Stoute and Cheveley Park and the last three, culminating in the Stewards’ Cup for Mr Al Basti and sprint maestro Robert Cowell. Intrinsic, a very good-looking and impeccably-behaved horse deserves more support, as so many stallions do.

The trip was great, but when I got home I looked back at some old videos of races over the Grand National Course and still wonder what happened to the sharp left turn after Becher’s? Did I imagine it?

- TS

Why I’m NOT writing a Grand National preview this year [v2.018]…

[I originally wrote this post for last year's race and, while missing out on the Grand National winner, it did flag placed horses at 80/1 and 40/1. So the below is a slightly amended version adding into the mix what we learned twelve months ago. A version 2.018 if you will...]

It's the greatest race in the world, or so they'd have us believe. But, since the modifications, the Grand National has become a deeply unpredictable lottery, and far from a sensible punting conveyance.

Fine for a bit of a laugh, and an interest, but nothing more. Which is a shame because, in the good old days - you know, like eight or ten years ago - it was actually a pretty solid trends race.

It used to be the case that winners had won over three miles-plus, had proven jumping ability, had won in big fields, and had a touch of class. Oh, and they'd lug less than eleven stone.

While last year's race was won by a horse - One For Arthur - that was strangely 'gettable', 2016's winner had NEVER finished in front in a steeplechase... And in 2015, a horse a pound off top weight won. The year before, a horse that won a veterans' chase on it previous chase start prevailed. The year before that, the 66/1 winner had chase form of U0P45F5 coming into the race.

The average winning SP of the last six winners has been 32.5/1 - and that's after the bookies have squeezed the fleshies of the price of just about every horse in the hours running up to the start!

Since 2007, the last eleven years, the average winning SP has been 32.73/1 - a sequence that includes winners at 7/1 (fav) and 100/1.

Let's face facts: this is machismo betting; it's vanity punting. The only reason to bet in the Grand National these days is to say, "I had the winner of the Grand National". Better to be lucky than good, right?

Seven of the last eleven winners paid 25/1 or bigger at starting price, and 17 of the 44 placed horses (including winners) did likewise. So if you really want to get macho about betting the Nash, exclude all the fancied runners and take four against the field.

Horses aged nine, ten or eleven have won 17 of the last 20 renewals. That's 85% of the winners from two-thirds of the runners, and they've had 75% of the places too.

[2.018 Update: Two of the exceptions, including last year's winner, were eight. The fourth horse last year was also eight, suggesting that the reduced stamina and jumping test is paving the way for younger horses to further press their claims. So we'll revise this to be horses aged eight to eleven.

Lob out any runner rated north of 148 - yes, it's arbitrary (albeit based on the fact that only one 9-11yo managed to win from higher) but I don't care; this is the daftest betting race of the year after all!

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[2.018 Update: Although the winner last year was rated 148, the placed horses were 150, 147, and 152. Again, it feels like the arbitrary bar should be elevated to 152. That still excludes the top nine in the weights. So we'll lob out any runner rated north of 152.]

And if you throw in a horse that finished in the top five last time out, you get a system that has found three of the last four winners, and the second-placed horse in the other year. [2.018 Update: no change here, this is still a surprisingly good way to whittle the field with the top seven in 2017 fitting the bill, where 13 runners did not.]

Will this work this year? Probably not. But is it as reasonable an approach as any of the voodoo ratings agencies, or super trends, or form boffins, or dosage boys'? Erm, probably not. But it's also probably not that far away.

Here's how this played out over the last decade:

2007: 33/1 winner  (from 3 to qualify)
2008: five fallers, nothing placed (from 8 to qualify)
2009: 8th and 12th (from 2 to qualify)
2010: three fallers (from 3 to qualify)
2011: 28/1 4th (from 4 to qualify)
2012: two fallers (from 4 to qualify)


2013: 66/1 winner (from 7 to qualify)
2014: 25/1 winner, 33/1 6th, five fallers (from 8 to qualify)
2015: 25/1 2nd, 25/1 6th, three fallers (from 8 to qualify)
2016: 33/1 winner (from 4 to qualify)
2017: 25/1 3rd, 50/1 5th
2018: ?????

There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that the entire complexion of the race has changed since the modifications to the fences. And look at the results since then. It's a tiny sample size and perhaps just coincidence than anything more scientific... but it's not definitely coincidence.

During this time, two other things have happened as well: the race is a little bit shorter, and the handicapper has been given discretionary power when it comes to weighting the runners. It is plausible that the latter of those two factors has led to more lenient handicapping of older, seemingly thoroughly exposed, horses. And it is likely that the former has enhanced the prospects of younger, less physically mature types.

At this stage of proceedings, there are a few horses that could qualify, as follows (along with their current top price):

Tiger Roll (12/1, too short), Seeyouatmidnight (16/1, too short), Regal Encore 33/1, Vieux Lion Rouge 33/1, Warriors Tale 50/1, I Just Know 25/1, Captain Redbeard 25/1, Houblon Des Obeaux 50/1, Milanbar 33/1, Delusionofgrandeur (reserve) 66/1, Vintage Clouds (reserve) 33/1.

Removing those too short in the betting and the reserves leaves just seven possibles.

Trying to work out which will start at 25/1 or bigger is something best left to the minutes before the race, but it makes sense to try to steal a march on those which are more likely to go off big prices but are currently very big prices... if you see what I mean. (Let's face it, nothing about betting in this race makes sense, from a financial advice perspective at least, so we might as well have a bit of fun with it).

Warriors Tale, Regal Encore, Vieux Lion Rouge, Houblon Des Obeaux and Milansbar look to be the five with a good chance of going off 25/1+. So maybe split your stake between them and see how you go.

If betting each way, note that a number of firms are paying SIX places but they are all a fifth the odds the place). bet365 are my preferred option: see why at the bottom of this post. While they are only paying five places, they are a quarter the odds a place, and both non-runner no bet and Best Odds Guaranteed; but they've also got a huge money back offer for EXISTING customers.

The going is a bit of a guessing game at this stage, but probably between soft and good to soft, so I've sorted the field by that prospect - also changed distance range to 3m to 4m4f - on this place view of Instant Expert:

2018 Grand National form profile, courtesy of Instant Expert

2018 Grand National form profile, courtesy of Instant Expert

And the pace map for the early stages suggests a running order somewhat akin to the following:

Grand National 2018 pace map

Grand National 2018 pace map

Looking at the shortlist from a soft or good to soft ground/prominent racer perspective may slightly elevate the prospects of 25/1 I Just Know, 33/1 Vintage Clouds in case he sneaks in (money back if he doesn't), 50/1 Warriors Tale, and 33/1 Milansbar. So, if you were mad enough to want my tuppence worth on the world's most unfathomable horse race, there it is. I will be having token interests on that quartet, all at nice big prices, I'm already on Regal Encore (sentiment) and may have a crack at 33/1 Vieux Lion Rouge as the only other possible qualifier. I'm happier backing losers at nice big prices than at shorter...

Good luck!


p.s. This is a standout money back offer for EXISTING bet365 customers. You can bet up to £250 (i.e. 5 x £25 e/w) and receive half your money back as cash (if you bet in cash, as opposed to free bet tokens).


Monday Musings: A National Treasure…

I never know exactly what I’ll write about each week until the last Eureka moment, writes Tony Stafford. This morning I expected it to be something Aintree-orientated as ever since my trip to the track on Friday, I’ve been troubled by a recurring dream, which wasn’t actually anything to do with sleep.

Going through one of the Mersey tunnels on the way to the course, a quartet of passengers with me, I had a feeling of unease. But it was only on the way back to their hotel on the Wirral, that the slight feeling became stark reality as that long, single street, passing close to Everton and Liverpool football grounds gave full illustration of the North-South divide.

Once my fellow travellers were alerted, we all participated in the unhappy sport - spot the shuttered business premises. On block after block, the metal barriers were fully down, even at around 5 p.m. on Friday. One of our number, Steve Howard, said that just about the only fully operational places were pubs, betting shops and fast food outlets. Most of the rest had seemingly given up.

That pessimistic view was in stark contrast to the many thousands of upbeat locals thronging the track. Much is made in the media of Ladies Day at the Grand National, expecting, indeed wishing, to see outrageous behaviour, especially from the aforementioned ladies. Admittedly, in such a big crowd, it was more sensible to find a comfortable base rather than look for embarrassments, but the clear impression for me was of well-dressed and well-behaved people of both sexes having a wonderful time.

I watched the Randox Health Grand National on television at home, fully expecting my last-minute find, the 12-year-old Raz De Maree to emulate Pineau De Re, the winner three years ago, when similarly I had the house and sofa to myself.

He’d run in that race, finishing eighth behind Pineau De Re having apparently jumped the last fence in 17th place, and I had at the back of my mind his strong finish to be just one and three-quarter lengths behind Native River in the Welsh Grand National over Christmas.

When Raz jinked to the right over first Becher’s, having jumped with great alacrity over all six fences including his last, he jettisoned Ger Fox out the side door. Not only was I on the wrong horse, but also the wrong Fox as Derek of that surname eventually guided One For Arthur to a memorable victory. Never mind, we’ll get it all back over Easter in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.

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“I won the race!” said my four-year-old grandson, Arthur, apparently for the rest of the weekend, and the result was a source of joy for his father, a general non-punter, but a tenner investor here, who spent much of the early part of his professional career working under the tutelage of JLT boss and prominent racehorse owner, Jonathan Palmer-Brown.

Raz De Maree’s abrupt exit was a typical Becher’s eventuality, but until I just now identified the culprit, I hadn’t fully realised how safe the race has become. There are 30 jumps to negotiate, 16 on the initial circuit and 14 (The Chair and Water excepted) second time round. Two fancied horses representing the stables fighting for the trainers’ title, Vicente, ridden by Brian Hughes for Paul Nicholls, and Cocktails at Dawn, Nico de Boinville for Nicky Henderson, fell at the first.

For the remaining 29 fences, only two more horses could be said to have fallen, The Young Master, Sam Waley-Cohen, Neil Mulholland at Becher’s where he not only caused Raz De Maree to change direction abruptly, but also triggered the serious hampering and saddle-slipping of heavily backed Definitly Red, who pulled up soon after. A second Nicholls casualty was Saphir Du Roi at the 11th fence, ending the hopes of Sam Twiston-Davies.

So 19 got round and 40 horses and jockeys came back in one piece – subject to Sunday morning inspection. Driving back on Friday night, I listened to the Radio 5 Live preview programme and Cornelius Lysaght was prophetic when declaring that the Safety Review of the race, costing more than £1 million had been a great success, with fatalities being avoided in subsequent years.

Until I had that look this morning, I was unaware of the limited number of casualties, and this great race was the richer for it. It was a nice winner for Lucinda Russell, her bloke Peter Scudamore, and Scotland, collecting a first win since Rubstic – I found that one – back in the dim and distant days of the late 1970’s.

The other inescapable feature of the week was the sudden return to form of Colin Tizzard’s stable, so out of luck at Cheltenham. Cue Card didn’t quite make it, going under narrowly to Tea For Two and Lizzie Kelly in the Betway Bowl. I rarely differ with the quantitative assessments of the Racing UK experts, but it did seem a bit rich for those of them on duty on Thursday so readily to assume Cue Card to be in serious decline, just because they couldn’t beat “the girl”, I suppose.

This season, Cue Card started with a warm up third in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby before a 15-length demolition of 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. He was around three lengths second behind Thistlecrack in the King George, when Silviniaco Conti and Tea For Two were close in third and fourth. Silviniaco Conti was miles behind on Thursday, and Tea For Two improved his position by less than a length compared with Kempton.

Racing Post ratings gave winner and second a mark of 172, 7lb behind Cue Card’s highest rating of 179 when beating Don Poli majestically by nine lengths in the corresponding race last year. His Gold Cup fall three out was no more an accurate measure of his ability than any non-completed race ever is.

Whatever the Cue Card status might be, there’s no mistaking the merit of Tizzard’s other big wins, three Grade 1’s and a handicap chase for Ann and Alan Potts, and the Topham with 50-1 shot Ultragold.  Pingshou, Fox Norton and Finian’s Oscar won the graded races and Sizing Codelco collected the handicap on Grand National day.

Alan Potts had his 80th birthday during the week and his level of success suggests, maybe surprisingly, there might still be time for those of us not quite of his vintage to have something to anticipate with optimism.

One near miss for the Pottses was Supasundae in the three-mile Grade 1 stayers’ hurdle on Saturday. Yanworth, stepping up to the longer trip for the first time, following his disappointing effort in the Champion Hurdle, was all out to beat the Jessie Harrington-trained gelding.

In that regard he was avenging a defeat at the hands of Supasundae, then trained by Andrew Balding, in a bumper at Ascot in late 2014 after which he was bought by present connections. Yanworth had already won twice, latterly for J P McManus after a debut success in the colours of his trainer Alan King.

It would not be a surprise if Supasundae, an easy winner of the Coral Cup at Cheltenham previous time out, one day gains another verdict over Yanworth. A son of Galileo, the Newsells Park-bred gelding is a half-sister to that stud’s young stallion Nathaniel, also by Galileo. His mare, Distinctive Look, is a daughter of the great Danehill, a fine cross for Galileo and she has also bred Derby-placed and smart jumper Percussionist and Great Heavens, among a host of 100-plus rated progeny.

Orderofthegarter duly followed on from his emphatic comeback win the other day with a fluent success dropped to seven furlongs in the 2,000 Guineas trial at Leopardstown on Saturday. Ryan Moore may well wonder why he was on the runner-up, Taj Mahal, rather than the winner, but logic says that with Churchill or even Caravaggio as more likely 2,000 Guineas mounts, it might have been sensible to let Seamie Heffernan make this progressive colt’s acquaintance.

Why Horses Fall (Part 2)

Last month, Tony Keenan offered a view on fallers in Irish chases in his excellent article here. In it, he showed which courses had the highest percentage of fallers, and which horsemen had had the most 'misfortune' in this regard.

That made for fascinating reading for Irish tracks, so it was a logical next step to conduct a similar exercise for UK tracks. For the purposes of consistency, I've used the exact same parameters as Tony did, though obviously overlayed against British courses, trainers and jockeys.

As a starting point, let's remind ourselves of the year-by-year faller rate in Ireland and UK, presented in a slightly different format from the Irish piece.


There has been a marked drop in the percentage of chase fallers in the sample period. A shrinkage in the average number of runners contesting chases is likely to be a significant factor here: less runners equates to a generally slower pace and to less crowding at fences.

In Britain, various measures have been taken to address ostensible welfare issues, most notably the redesigning of Aintree's Grand National fences.

And, looking at the data on a course by course basis, one can see that Aintree's fences have indeed taken a heavier toll than any other track in Britain (and Ireland for that matter). Not by a fine margin either. Aintree's chase fall/unseat percentage, covering both the Mildmay ('normal' chase fences) and Grand National courses, is above 20%.

The highest in Ireland is 'just' 15.2%, and the next highest in UK - Fakenham - is 12.85%.

Put another way, Aintree has a more than 60% higher faller/unseat rate in chases than any other UK track.


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If that is the overview of the theatres, what of the actors? The performance of trainer and jockey are often related, a point which should be kept in mind when perusing the following. Trainers first...


The first thing to note is that none of last season's top 25 trainers has a higher fall/unseat rate than 10% during the seasons 2009/10 to 2014/15. While the range within this relative peer group extends from 5.27% to 9.55%, it may be worth comparing the top end with their Irish counterparts. There, 13 trainers had a 10%+ fall/unseat rate, with the 'most unfortunate' trainer almost matching Aintree's 20% attrition.

The likes of Brendan Powell, Colin Tizzard, Tom George, Charlie Mann, recently retired Richard Lee, Peter Bowen, Jonjo O'Neill, and Venetia Williams deserve praise for the consistency of their jumpers' jumping; which is not to pass any negative judgement on the rest of the top 25, all of whom fall into the realms of relative acceptability when set against the most logical 'control', Ireland.

Finally, turning attention to jockeys, and again looking at the five season performance of last season's top 25 riders, we see a similar story of relatively acceptable fall/unseat rates.


As with trainers, the range is from roughly 5% (precisely 4.46%) to roughly 10% (precisely 10.05%). And as with trainers, the jockey figures compare favourably with their peer group across the Irish Sea; though this time the disparity is less marked.

While twelve of the 25 UK jockeys have a fall/unseat rate lower than Mark Walsh (6.4%), Ireland's most 'sticky' rider, Richie McLernon's UK sample high of 10.05% has just four Irish riders parting company at a more frequent rate, and none higher than 11.6%.


So much for the data, but what do they all mean?

Firstly, it is right to acknowledge that this two-dimensional glance at a three-dimensional puzzle is severely restricted by data limitations. There is no comparison with the wider riding/training communities, and no review of whether/how the figures have improved/regressed through the period, by course, trainer or jockey.

Despite those limitations, some inferences can be drawn.

For whatever reasons - likely a combination of field size, stiffness of fences, state of going, and yes, perhaps even horsemanship (whisper it) - fall and unseat rates in Britain are more palatable to the casual observer than the lateral snapshot from Ireland. Certainly they are lower.

The flagship racecourse - Cheltenham - has a commendable 9.55% fall/unseat rate over the course of the dozen seasons in the sample, a period where the average number of chase runners was 11.82. Given that the average chase field size in all UK chases during that time was just 8.08, all concerned deserve plenty of praise.

Of course, Britain has a louder and better (or, probably more correctly, more) accommodated animal welfare lobby. Looking at data from Aintree lends credence to the calls of many outside the sport (and, in fairness, some within) to act.

One, possibly coincidental, observation is the number of sharp tracks with higher faller rates. Fakenham, Windsor (no longer jumping), Catterick and Taunton all share the top (bottom?) five slots and all are nippy little tracks where the fences might be jumped at greater speed than other more galloping venues.

In terms of the UK horsemen and women, all within the sample can be content with their faller rates, with a solitary rider breaching the 10% threshold, and even then by a negligible 0.05%. James Reveley, from a fine racing heritage and a man who spends a lot of time riding in France (which may or may not be relevant), has the lowest fall rate of all at just 4.46% during the period.

And perma-champ, AP McCoy, was bested by just six riders on this count, his fall/unseat rate being an excellent 5.69% across over 1650 chase mounts during the five season period. That bare figure is better than all of the top 25 riders from Ireland, though again, caution is taken not to under-estimate the macro differences between the two jumping jurisdictions.

At the other end of this microcosmic spectrum, it may be more than coincidence that five of the seven 'fallingmost' jockeys in the list ride on the northern circuit. I have no obvious or logical suggestion as to why this might be, so it may not be more than coincidence!

In the finish, the charts are probably more interesting than actionable; and the conclusions almost certainly more conjecture than empirical fact. But it was a fun little exercise and perhaps there is some fiery utility amidst the number smoke and mirrors.

What catches your eye in the data? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


Crabbie’s Grand National 2015: Preview, Trends, Tips

2015 Grand National at Aintree

2015 Crabbie's Grand National at Aintree

2015 Crabbie's Grand National Preview, Trends, Tips

Aintree's April showpiece and, for many people, the race of the year is the Crabbie's Grand National. It's a marathon event run over four and a half miles and thirty fences, contested by forty horses. So, yes, finding the winner could be tricky.

In spite of the extreme circumstances - or perhaps because of them - the Grand National is a race where a certain type of horse tends to do very well. In this post, we'll look at the key trends and form, in an attempt to find a diamond in the rough.

Grand National Trends

A lot is made of the Grand National trends, and rightly so. But it is important not to take every presented data snippet at face value. Let's begin with an example.

Weight: Considering the last 18 Nationals, the contention that you need to carry less than eleven stone to win an Aintree National is bunkum. Whilst it is true that thirteen of those eighteen winners carried less than eleven stone to victory, that bakers' dozen represented just over 75% of the total runners. Thus, their haul of 72% of the winners was no better than expected. In fact, it was very slightly worse than might have been expected.

Consequently, horses carrying eleven stone or more have won five Nationals since 1997 (28%) from 25% of the runners.

In other words, there's little in it as far as weight is concerned.

That said, it should be noted that none of the 57 horses (8% of the runners) carrying 11-07 or more has won. Then again, 8% of them have placed, exactly the amount that would have been expected.

Confused? Here's my management summary: don't get too hung up on weight, except to keep in mind that those at the very top of the tree - Lord Windermere, Many Clouds and Unioniste - would probably need everything else to be absolutely spot on to prevail.

2015 Grand National Weight Trends

2015 Grand National Weight Trends


Age: If the influence of weight is somewhere between confusing and over-stated, then age is a more straightforward Grand National consideration. Horses aged nine to eleven have far out-performed their numerical representation.

Indeed, they've won sixteen of the eighteen (89%) Nationals since 1997 from just 68% of the runners. Horses aged a year either side of the 9-11 bracket have claimed a win apiece during that time, with younger and older horses 0 from 66. Even more alarmingly if you fancy a relatively young or old horse is that this 9.4% subset of the runners failed to record a top four finish in any of the near two decades of data under the microscope.

Grand National 2015 Age Trends

Crabbie's Grand National 2015 Age Trends


Last time out: A bit of a quirky one due to the fact that National contenders come to the race from all sorts of grades, distances and disciplines of race last time. Some raced over much shorter, some in notably higher or lower class, and some ran over hurdles or banks the last day.

Nevertheless, there are some loose conclusions to be drawn from where a horse finished on their most recent start. For starters, it may come as little surprise that those with the best finishing positions last time won most of the sampled Grand Nationals.

Specifically, top five finishers last time out took 14 of the 18 Nationals (78%), from just less than half of the runners. That's material. At the other end of the spectrum, horses finishing outside of the top eight last time failed to score with any of their 15% of runners. And those who didn't finish last time out - that is, they were pulled up, or fell, or unseated their riders, etc - claimed two wins (11%) from 139 runners (20%).

Grand National Last Time Out Trends

Grand National Last Time Out Trends


Days Since A Run: Considering the number of days since a horse last ran looks to be important for the Grand National. A combination of match fitness and freshness is required, as clearly evidenced in the data.

All of the last eighteen winners last ran between 16 and 56 days before the big race. Let's call it between two weeks and two months for cash. Granted, that was from 78% of the runners, but even the placed horses out-performed their numerical representation (83% placed vs 78% runners).

A fresh and fit horse is a must.

Grand National 2015: Days Since A Run Trends

Grand National 2015: Days Since A Run Trends


Furthest winning race distance: It makes sense that a horse needs stamina to win a Grand National. After all, there isn't a longer race in the British calendar, even now it's been reduced by 110 yards. Unsurprisingly, history bears that out; but perhaps in an interesting way.

The unsurprising thing is that horses who had previously failed to win over at least three miles were 0 from 180. That group includes 66 horses who had failed to win - in the UK / Ireland at least - in that time. That's just over a quarter of the runners since 1997. And no winners.

The group was able to claim nine placed efforts but a quarter of runners has an expected place footprint of 18 placed horses, showing a significant under-performance.

At longer distances, it gets more interesting, potentially at least. Those with a win over an extreme distance - 3m6f or further - have won 11% (two) of the Nationals since 1997... from 11% of the runners.

But those with a longest win of between three miles and less than 3m6f have claimed the other sixteen renewals of the Crabbie's Grand National in the period under study. It's a large group - roughly 63% of all National runners sit in here - but they've collectively been responsible for 16 of the 18 winners since 1997.

The message is in two parts, one more simple than the other:

1. Do not be tempted to back a horse that has failed to win over at least three miles

2. Look for a horse with proven stamina at between three and four miles, and with potential to improve over a longer trip.

Maximum Race Distance Win of Grand National Winners 1997-2014

Maximum Race Distance Win of Grand National Winners 1997-2014


Maximum Distance RUN: As well as looking at the maximum winning distance, it might be useful to consider the maximum distance previously run (over fences) by Grand National contenders.

It follows that those horses yet to have raced at anything like the marathon National distance have fared poorly. Thus, no wins from 89 runners who'd previously not run over a distance of three miles and a furlong or further makes sense.

The subset of Grand National aspirants to have raced at a limit of between 3m1f and three and a half miles ran to par: they numbered 23% of the runners and netted 22% of the winners.

And those with 'previous' over long distances have fared best. Horses lining up with at least one prior chasing attempt at beyond three and a half miles have won 14 of the last 18 Nationals (78%) from just 64% of the runners.

Max Distance Run: Grand National Entries 1997-2014

Max Distance Run: Grand National Entries 1997-2014


Headgear: This is an area where a lot of nonsense is spouted. Critics point to the fact that only two winners in recent times have worn blinkers. Whilst that is certainly true, what is also true is that the win strike rate for horses wearing blinkers is only very marginally worse than horses without any kind of headgear.

Specifically, blinker-wearing horses have won at a rate of 2.53%, while no headgear horses have won at a rate of 2.87%. Moreover, as well as the two winners, blinkered horses have finished second three times during the study period.

So I'd suggest it is lazy trends profilers that are handicapped by their blinkers, not the horses!

Performance of horses in headgear in Grand National 1997-2014

Horses in headgear in Grand National 1997-2014


Race Class Last Time Out: This was more interesting than I expected, ostensibly at least, because it *seems* to be quite a logical filter. Although the eighteen National winners since 1997 were fairly well spread between races of Grade 3, Listed, and Class 2 or below last time out, what was most notable was the performance of Grade 1 and Grade 2 last time out runners.

They are a significant group - 144 horses, 20% of all runners - and they've failed to win a single Grand National between them. I thought the most logical reasons for this were twofold:

1. They're likely to be the classier animals and, therefore, have to carry the most weight.

2. It's probable that in most cases their main target was the Grade 1 or 2 race in which they last appeared.

Testing these theories, I discovered that of the 144 horses in this group, only 80 carried eleven stone or more: that's less than I expected; and 88 ran at either Fairyhouse or Cheltenham, the two big meetings that precede Aintree last time, but only 59 ran at those tracks within a month of Aintree's showpiece.

That leaves both theories on tenuous ground, and the fact that the group claimed 19% of the available place positions (remember, that's from 20% of the runners) means they're only marginally under-performing in that context. In other words, I suspect it's simply a matter of time before a runner emerging from a Grade 1 or 2 race wins the National again, and this looks a most misleading of factoids.

Race Grade Last Time Out of Grand National Runners

Race Grade Last Time Out of Aintree National Runners 1997-2014

Chase wins: In a race like the Grand National, we need a horse with a combination of stamina, experience and, of course, ability. One measure of ability - and experience - is the number of wins in steeplechases a horse has achieved. We can clearly see from the table below that less than three wins suggests a horse is either not experienced enough, or not talented enough to win a National.

At the other end of the spectrum, although the number of National wins reduces, so too do the number of horses in that group. Looking at the place data, it seems the more experienced / winning horses have performed to par without necessarily surpassing expectation.

Those with between three and seven prior chase wins have claimed 16 of the last 18 Grand Nationals (89%) from just less than two-thirds of the runners (65%).

Number of chase wins of Grand National winners 1997-2014

Number of chase wins of GN winners 1997-2014

Allied to the above, which are researched using and a soupçon of common sense from this scribe, Nick Pullen makes a couple of very interesting points in his Racing Ahead magazine article this month. It would be difficult in the extreme to work out how many previous National runners qualified on the following, but we'll assume they're material for now...

First, he observes that all of the last twelve winners had achieved their best Racing Post Rating (RPR) at a distance of three miles or further. That makes a lot of sense, though I'd expect most serious candidates to qualify.

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And ten of the last dozen Grand National winners had won a chase worth at least £30k to the winner.

Since the revision of the weight rules to allow for discretionary handicapping (i.e. the official handicapper sets a separate 'one off' handicap for the Grand National), six of the last seven winners had Graded chase experience that season. This looks a material element again, although more than half of the field will qualify.


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2015 Crabbie's Grand National Form Preview

Those are some at least reasonably responsible trends, but how does this year's field map against that profile? And, if we can isolate a shortlist, which runners have the best form prospects?

As you can see from the spreadsheet at the bottom of this post (downloadable for those who want to mess around with the data), just two horses tick all boxes: Rocky Creek and First Lieutenant.

Rocky Creek would probably be favourite in any other year, but such is the weight of money - largely aligned to sentiment - for the retiring AP McCoy's last Grand National ride that Rocky will probably be around 8/1 on the day. Right now, he's a top priced 10/1.

As well as his trends tickfest, Rocky Creek has robust form claims. He was fifth in the race last year, having perhaps been just a beat shy of full fitness after a ten week break. This time, he enters the Aintree fray off a seven week break, and is fresh and well having won convincingly in the Betbright Chase. That was over three miles on soft ground, but his track form here shows there are few reservations about his ability to handle the faster ground/longer trip.

Rocky Creek has yet to fall in a fourteen race career, a fact that remains pertinent despite the easing of the famous birch fences. Although he's not a sexy price, he looks a very strong contender for the champion trainer, who has taken this race much more seriously in recent years (just one placed horse from 36 runners between 1997 and 2008; but a winner and two further places from 19 runners since then).

At a much bigger price - 33/1 at time of writing - First Lieutenant is just the kind of talented screwball that could run a mighty race. He's got an awful lot of Grade 1 placed form, and in amongst those 17 Graded places are four wins, two over fences, and one here at Aintree. That was in the 2013 Aintree Bowl, Grade 1, a race in which he ran a fine fourth last year, beaten less than four lengths.

It is important to note that the Aintree Bowl is run over a mile and a quarter shy of the Grand National distance, so 'First Left' has to show he can last out the additional range. There is hope that he can do just that: the longest distance he's covered is the nigh on three miles three furlongs of Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup. Like Aintree, Newbury is a left-handed flat galloping track, and he was a staying on third on that occasion off a rating of 159.

On Saturday, his rating will be 154 which equates to a weight of 11-03, and his trainer is in fair form (three of his five runners in the past fortnight placed). As stories go, it would be one to almost upstage Tony McCoy if lady rider, Nina Carberry, could become the first woman to win the Crabbie's Grand National. Make no mistake, she's a top jockey and already has an Irish National to her name.

First Lieutenant looks a belting each way bet.

Before considering any more of the top trends types, let's hone in on the top of the market, beginning naturally enough with the likely favourite, Shutthefrontdoor. There are a few negatives, on the face of it at least, with this lad. First, he hasn't raced since early November, a layoff of 152 days. However, his trainer is adept at bringing a horse to the track match fit after a break. Moreover, the horse himself has won three of his five starts after a break of 60 days or more.

Second, he's only eight, which is younger than every winner since Bindaree in 2002. A decade before, Party Politics also won as an eight year old, so it can be done (of course). Concerns about requisite experience are dissipated to a degree by the fact that Shutthefrontdoor has won the Irish National - last year - and that he is an improving horse whose freshness has been at least in part down to preserving his attractive handicap mark of 153.

My main niggle with Shutthefrontdoor is his jumping. Whilst he does get from one side to the other, he's a bit clumsy with it. That said, he's never failed to complete and that includes when bungling and horlicksing his way around the four punishing miles of Cheltenham Festival's National Hunt Chase last season, en route to Irish National glory.

Tony McCoy won the Grand National in 2010 and has publicly stated that if he won it this time he'd retire on the spot. He has a chance, despite the risks. But he won't be any sort of value on the day. A small sentimental win bet at 7/1 now is the best I could suggest about a lad who would bring the house down if he could win.

Third choice in the betting is last year's runner up, Balthazar King. He's won no fewer than thirteen of his 26 chase starts, and loves fast ground. So far so good. But he too has been long absent - indeed, he last graced the track four days after McCoy's mount, in mid-November last year. But, if anything, his record fresh is even better than Shutthefrontdoor. From his seven chase starts after a 60+ day break, BK has won six!

He's three pounds higher than last year, when he was outrun by five lengths at the finish, and carries three pounds more weight this time. A safe jumper and with conditions in his favour Balthazar King ought to go well again but without necessarily having any improvement to turn 2014 Aintree silver into 2015 gold.

Cheltenham Festival winner, The Druids Nephew, is a rising star in the chasing ranks. Like Balthazar King, The Druids Nephew is also a son of tip top National Hunt stallion, King's Theatre; and, like Balthazar King, he looks to have a preference for a trip and top of the ground. As such, he seems well suited to the setup. But this might come a year too soon for a horse still only eight years of age. As well as that, it is hard to escape the notion that his day was Cheltenham, and he might just be over the top now. Still, a credible contender.

Soll is on to his fourth trainer now, with David Pipe working his magic thus far to eke out two wins from two starts. Those are his only two runs this term, so he comes here on a seasonal hat-trick, but his best form is probably on softer. He did get round in 7th place in the 2013 Grand National, though, so clearly has some aptitude for the fences. A prominent run style may not be ideal here, however, and I'd expect him to give punters a good run for their money before steadily capitulating in the last half mile or so.

Fergal O'Brien's Alvarado was fourth in the race last year, and he's been kept fresh as paint for this. Just one seasonal run - a never nearer 18 length fifth over three miles in late February - is perhaps sub-optimal, bur the trainer has been in great form recently. He made up a lot of ground after the last when fourth last year, and if his jockey Paul Moloney can get the fractions right, this fellow has a solid squeak. It's quite a big 'if' as the rider has too many knocks on his score card for mistiming his run. He's certainly not to my tastes, though his mount looks a dour stayer.

A horse I like a lot is Cause Of Causes. His National Hunt Chase win was the sort of brilliant ride this quirky lad needs to come home in front, as a record of just one chase win and five seconds or thirds betrays. Although I'm surprised and a little disappointed that crack Irish amateur Jamie Codd has been 'jocked off', he's been replaced by Paul Carberry, a rider typecast for this ride. I'm not normally a fan of his Moloney-esque 'hunting out the back' style, but Cause Of Causes absolutely needs to be ridden that way. He's probably too young to prevail this year, but I think he could well have a National in the bag before his career is over.

Godsmejudge and Spring Heeled come next in the betting, at around 25/1. The former, the 2013 Scottish National winner, has been in horrendous form this term, and is hard to recommend even though he will have been primed for this all along. The latter has been sparingly campaigned since winning the Kim Muir at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival. Trainer Jim Culloty may have a remarkable Festival record, but his domestic performance is lamentable; and his treatment of Lord Windermere's previously retained rider was nothing short of shabby, and perhaps even embarrassing.

It smacked of desperation, and I don't think either of his charges - the other being the aforementioned Lord Windermere, heading here after pulling up in the Gold Cup - have the required stamina to prevail. Nor is either especially well weighted.

Last year's winner, Pineau De Re, attempts to double up and is a 25/1 shot to achieve that impressive feat. History tells us it won't be easy, and as a twelve year old now, with eight pounds more on his back this time, he'd not be for me. You can ignore his form this season, however: he's merely been ticked over by his extremely shrewd trainer, Dr Richard Newland.

Unioniste is a French-bred seven-year-old and, in my book, that's a terminal two-pronged knock. Definitely too young, and probably without the required stamina. Next...

Last year's Scottish National winner, Al Co, surprised a lot of people when beating the defending champ, Godsmejudge, as his starting price of 40/1 demonstrates. The handicapper didn't over-react, however, and Al Co is just five pounds higher here. He's been largely campaigned over hurdles, a common rating-preserving strategy, and his trainer, Peter Bowen, has a sensational Aintree record. If that's the good news, the bad news is that Bowen's National record is not so good, with a second place from nine attempts.

Al Co looks a better profile fit for the race than most of his stable predecessors, and he's quite tempting at 33/1.

We are in the midst of the 33/1 shots now, and the next pair under the microscope are Royale Knight and Night In Milan. Royale Knight is the last horse guaranteed a run at the five day stage - number 40 - and he hails from Pineau De Re's stable. A winner of the Durham National over three and three quarter miles on his last chase start, he's had a couple of hurdle spins since, and the last nine of his chase wins and places were over at least three miles. Here is a plodder of some repute.

He'd be an amazing rags to riches story, having started his handicap chase career off a lowly mark of just 85. Now rated 54 pounds higher (!), who is to say that the progression is complete? He ought not to be good enough, but we know he stays, we know his trainer knows how to win the race, and he's a sexy price at 'double carpet' (33/1).


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Night In Milan is less compelling, for me at least. He's been running - and winning - almost exclusively around Doncaster in recent times, and almost exclusively at around three miles. These stiffer fences (even now) and the significantly longer trip should be too much for him, most likely, although he does have a three mile place on the Mildmay course here.

It's 40/1 bar those mentioned already, and two of the last six winners have fallen into the bigger priced catchment. That pair was notably difficult to find, for this blog at any rate, so I'll selectively rattle off a few of the more likely longer priced pokes, no doubt skilfully avoiding the 2015 Grand National winner!

Paul Nicholls looks like running four, and of the two not mentioned already, I think Mon Parrain is a good bit more interesting than Rebel Rebellion. Although his last time out run was poor, the balance of his form - including second over these fences at the shorter two mile six furlong distance - gives him a better chance than 50/1 implies. His three UK wins have been on the testing circuits at Sandown and Cheltenham, and he could just blossom for his first try at a marathon distance. I won't be having more than a tiny token wager, but he wouldn't be the most surprising winner in the field.

And, just in case there's to be another 100/1 shocker like Mon Mome in 2009, perhaps it could be Gas Line Boy. He's got stamina, as he showed when winning over three miles five furlongs at Haydock on rain softened ground. As well as that, he's got solid form on quicker turf, as when winning over three miles at Exeter, and a close third at the same distance at Chepstow (a similar track constitution to Aintree).

He's 100/1 because he's probably not good enough, but I think he'll stay and he should handle the ground and jump round. Each way with five places for pin money might be fun.

Stablemate, Chance Du Roy, has been second in the Topham Chase over 2m6f, and won the Becher Chase over 3m2f. Both of those races are run over the National fences, and he was also sixth in last year's Grand National itself. His National fences score card is completed with a fall in the Grand Sefton Chase, and two further unplaced efforts.

Thus, in six spins he's got round five times. That's attractive in a race where many fail to complete, even with the easing of the fences. He's been lightly raced this season and is off a feasible mark for a 50/1 shot.


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2015 Crabbies' Grand National Tips

Obviously a devilishly hard race in which to find the winner, the Grand National's saving grace from a betting perspective is that it healthily rewards those smart/lucky enough to nominate the first past the jam stick. It is also a race in which most people - me included - consider it fair game to take a few swipes rather than place all eggs in a single precarious basket.

With that in mind, I think that ROCKY CREEK has the most obvious chance in the race, and he'd be favourite in this field in any other year. He has stamina, class, jumps well and will go on any ground. All horses need luck in running to win the Grand National and he'll be no exception, but 10/1 is perfectly fair about his chance.

A number of the other fancied runners also have prospects, though perhaps not as good as their odds currently imply. So, in true Countdown fashion, I'm going to take one from the top of the market (Rocky), and three from the bottom.

The first of my big-priced trio will be FIRST LIEUTENANT. He's a classy horse, no question, and he stays pretty well. He's been looked after with this in mind all season, and is normally a safe jumper. I can see 'First Left' being hunted into this and going really well half a mile out. Whether he can finish the job is the big question, but I'll take 33/1 to get an answer.

Next of the raggier ones is the the 'raggier to richer' horse, ROYALE KNIGHT. Hugely progressive, though still under the radar, he may be able to find further improvement to get in the mix here. He'll need to, as his form is some way below the pick of the opposition, but he hails from the yard of last year's winner, Pineau De Re.

And GAS LINE BOY could be a fun bet at 100/1. He's surely better than those odds imply, with stamina in abundance, a very smart trainer, and a nice racing weight. He's probably not good enough. But he's not definitely not good enough...

Others worthy of mention - and on whom I'll likely take an interest ticket - include 50/1 Mon Parrain and Chance Du Roy at the same price.

1pt win Rocky Creek - 10/1 generally (PP 1/4 odds FIVE places)

1 pt e/w First Lieutenant - 33/1 Ladbrokes, Coral, Betbright (28/1 Skybet, FIVE places)

0.5 pt e/w Royale Knight - 33/1 Ladbrokes, Coral (28/1 bet365, FIVE places)

0.25pt e/w Gas Line Boy - 100/1 PP, Sportingbet (FIVE places)

The very best of luck to everyone. Let's hope for an amazing race, free of injury, and maybe, just maybe, the winner of the 2015 Crabbie's Grand National.


p.s. what's your fancy, and why? Leave a comment and let us know!

p.p.s. Here's the link to download the 2015 Grand National Trends spreadsheet


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p.p.p.s. If you just want to look, here is the full grid...

How the runners match up for Grand National 2015

How the runners match up for Grand National 2015

Sunday Supplement: All Weather and Aintree…

Tony Stafford in his Telegaph days...

Tony in his Telegaph days...

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

“Proper” Flat racing has been going a week, mostly not on proper racing ground. Up at Newmarket, the main grass gallops are still not open and I had a morning watching a couple of workouts there on the Al Bahathri Polytrack.

For all that, it’s an exciting time and when I got home after stopping off at my son’s to watch a certain lunchtime football match – I steadfastly will not mention Arsenal’s now ten wins in 11; nine straight home League wins and 21 wins in 26 in all competitions since late November – I collected the late-arriving Racing Calendar. [Ed. Oops, you just did.]

It has fixtures for the week four weeks ahead and I see in that first weekend in May, there is the small matter of the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas. Next Saturday is the Grand National, then there’s Ayr’s Scottish National meeting, the Craven at Newmarket, the last week of the jumps season and McCoy’s final farewell. No wonder we (well me) age so quickly with such a torrent of unstoppable activity.

First things first though. Home-bred horses are reckoned to be a bit of a potential money-leaking pursuit. The best way as the old saying goes: “Of turning a large fortune into a small one”. Fortune certainly comes into it and if the two of the boss’s young colts that I saw turn out yesterday maintain the progress, Ray Tooth’s decision to switch course and breed rather than buy will be looking good.

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His colours gave more than a hint of collecting a chunk of the Lingfield All Weather Championships cash on Friday when the eight-year-old Cousin Khee stayed in contention right until the last 100 yards of the Marathon. He merely stayed on at one pace into sixth, but was beaten less than three lengths by Mymatechris.

There can be little wrong with an event that on a gloomy, generally wet morning still attracts a crowd of 9,000. You can always tell the success or otherwise of a sporting event by the length of the queues outside the ladies’ loos. Before the first race, they were of Royal Ascot proportion. Hate to think how long the good ladies of Liverpool will be required to nurse their drinks waiting for their turn this week. At least they won’t have to be worrying about whether their team is going to make the Champions League.

Godolphin’s three wins including the big one were a decent return on what must have been a long-planned assault on the series of races where qualification required either a win in one of a number of “win and you are in” qualifiers, or three runs in the catchment period. The last condition caught out Jeremy Noseda’s plan to try for a second win in succession for Grandeur in the big race – his third in the Winter Derby rather than a win ended that objective.

For me, the best result though was provided by Gay Kelleway, who upset the big guns with a 20-1 winner. As long as the small stables can win a big race now and then – like Phil McEntee last year in the same series – they can dream and think it worth the uneven battle. Sadly, a very good friend is about to draw stumps on his career, another victim of the appalling finances for trainers, but more of that next week when I can do proper justice to his achievements in adversity.

I’ve had many happy trips up to Aintree. I remember standing next to Bob Champion’s biographer Jonathan Powell in the cramped Press stand as Aldaniti entered into folklore with his rider’s recovery from cancer one of the true miracle stories of the race.

Before I was a regular on-the-spot observer, the race had a real hold on me. When Nicolaus Silver won, I’d just got back from playing in the London Grammar Schools six-a-side football tournament at the Polytechnic ground, Chiswick and cheered on my dad’s bet.

Soon after, I was set to report for the Walthamstow Guardian on a Walthamstow Avenue (one of the great amateur sides but sadly long gone) match, I travelled with the team on the coach to all the away games that season. First we watched the Foinavon race at home – needless to say by then I was betting and landed on the very unlucky second Honey End – and got to the game in time.

But of all the Nationals, the Red Rum years were the best. First – by now I’m at the Daily Telegraph and gave a selection, Pricewise-style, on the day the weights came out. I landed on Red Rum for his first win, but in the next few years I had a conflict as my favourite jumping horse of all time, L’Escargot, was one of his major rivals.

That rivalry was brought back sharply in the memory after 40 years with a great two-page homage to the old horse, who was one of two horses – Rag Trade was the other – who prevented Rummy getting a fourth and fifth win over the then formidable Aintree fences.

The writer was Steve Dennis, one of the less routine scribes at the Racing Post. He brought back all the excitement of a horse who won two Gold Cups before finishing third, second and finally, gloriously first at Liverpool. Add a Gloucestershire Hurdle success, then a champion chaser accolade in the US when still a novice for his owner Raymond Guest, a one-time US ambassador who also owned the great Derby winner Sir Ivor, and you have a true star of the ages who, as Steve so rightly said, rarely gets much of a mention.

Well done Steve for giving deserved generous space to a great of the sport. Not that it will be anything like the hysteria we’ll get if a certain veteran rider makes it two wins in the race this weekend.

I’ll trade being there – and it actually would be quite nice for AP to win it – for another stint on the gallops when the weather’s improvement could see some meaningful grass action. If AP doesn’t win, like Ryan Moore, Frankie Dettori and me, at least his football team is giving him a fair degree of enjoyment. When he packs up, there might not be too much more to keep him interested.


Monday Musings: Coming Soon…

comingsoonIn today's musings, we look briefly back and then forwards. First, a quick look at the weekend from a racing and geegeez standpoint, and then onwards, and some important news.

Let's begin on Saturday, and the first day of the flat turf season came and went. It looked tricky but followers of this post would have sailed through the opening leg of the placepot, the Brocklesby, with Banker Bill's Paddy Again who was second at 9/1. In the second race, Double Dutch landed the 1-2 from its pair of picks, the winner returning 7/2.

Then came Cammidge Trophy, and a disappointing third for Stat of the Day, Jack Dexter. He, like most other runners trying to come from behind on Saturday, got stuck in the mud and was unable to pick up the pace-pressers.

Using this to advantage were those scouting the pace analysis tab for the big handicap races. Specifically, the fourth race on Saturday, the Spring Mile, and 10/1 scorer, Brae Hill. He was a prominent racer drawn on the right side from a pace perspective, and again his trainer's early season form was a bonus.

The point of all this? The geegeez racecards have some really valuable tools for flat race analysis, and the pace analysis tool might just be the pick of the pile for big field races. Users can whittle the field using the Race Analysis and Full Form Filter tabs, and then establish whether their fancies are drawn amongst the pace on whichever side of the field they're situated.

That whole process could find you a selection in a thirty runner sprint handicap in less than ten minutes. It might not win, but you'd know that you were backing a horse suited by going, distance, class, and field size; rated within sight of its last winning mark; and probably drawn in the right area of the track. That, dear reader, is an enormous time saver.

Once you get to grips with pace analysis, it will become a pivotal element of your punting. There is no flat turf racing this week (a little strange after the Lincoln meeting at the weekend), but as soon as we have a couple of big field sprints to go at, I'll record a video showing how best to look at pace. Hint: we won't always be looking for prominent racers, but we are always interested in where the most trailblazers are situated!

Another thing to keep in mind when betting on the early season turf flat racing is trainer form. Again, geegeez cards have it covered. Below is one of four trainer reports geegeez displays each day, this one for fourteen day form (the others are for 30 day form, one year course form and course form since 2009).

Today's hot trainers...

Today's hot trainers...


Trainer form in or of itself is a strong pointer, but when allied to the individual race - and horse - research we're able to do with the other tools, it's another piece of the jigsaw which is easily understood.

Incidentally, if you want to know the trainer form for a single horse or race, click the little trainer icon (man with a top hat) on the card. Here's an example where I've clicked the trainer icon in the top menu - that shows the trainer form for ALL runners in the race. If you're only interested in one or two trainers in that race, click the individual trainer icons next to the horses you're interested in:

More trainer form...

More trainer form...

As you can see, there are four different takes on a trainer's form, as per the overall report. So you can see which trainers are coming into form (by comparing 30 day and 14 day figures), and which have the best track records.

Trainer form is always important. In the early weeks of the season even more so.


On Saturday, I also pointed you towards the tipping content on geegeez. We have three tipping pieces a day from Monday to Saturday: Stat of the Day, Double Dutch and The Shortlist.

Stat of the Day fell short with Jack Dexter, as mentioned, on Saturday. But Double Dutch came up trumps with a 14.75/1 double, and The Shortlist nominated winners at 8/1 and 7/1 from five selections. Those are free tips available on the site each day. Obviously, we don't always do as well as that, but all of our tipping services are in front, and combine fun with profit, which is the ethos of geegeez.

After all, if it's not fun, we might as well get a job, right? 😉

Your first 30 days for just £1


Enough of the past, and on to the future. Thursday sees the start of the Aintree Grand National meeting and there is a host of fantastic racing across the three days, culminating in the big race itself, the Crabbie's Grand National on Saturday afternoon. If you missed my Grand National preview, it's here.

I'll have full coverage of the meeting, including in depth previews and some trends, plus of course tips for each day, and the best bookmaker offers. And I might even offer a placepot perm too, if there's time.

The Thursday is a brilliant day's racing, with FOUR Grade 1 events! And Gold subscribers can see the five day declarations, as well as Race Analysis Reports, on the racecards page already. So if you want to get a head start, you can.


So, why am I telling you all this stuff about the geegeez racecards? Two reasons, I guess. First, you might already be a subscriber and not be aware of all the very cool stuff they do - check out the comments from people below on what they've done for them!




Those comments all came within a few days of each other. I really should start keeping a proper log of them. There have been literally scores of similar comments!

And secondly, subscription prices are going up in the near future. Now, if you're an existing subscriber, don't worry. I'm very grateful to you for supporting geegeez from the start, and you're locked in at the almost give away price of £12 a month for as long as you remain a subscriber. (And thank you).

But think about it. Geegeez offers THREE tipping services, each of which could be a premium service in its own right. Let's say those services were only charged at £20 a month each, which is less than most other offerings, despite the fact ours are proven to a) be more profitable and b) more accessible and fun.

Then there's the Race Analysis Report, surely the most descriptive single view of a race available anywhere in Britain. If you think I'm being grandiose, take a look at the below, and tell me which horse you'd back. It might well not win, but these standouts ARE winning, time and time and time again.


[Incidentally, using the Full Form Filter tab, I clicked on the 'course' filter, and could see that Dingo Bay was 4th of 5 on his sole run at Hexham. On good to firm ground and as a 50/1 shot. Looking at his form on heavy, is it any wonder good to firm didn't suit?! No!]

Let's try and put a price on these Race Analysis Reports and Full Form Filters. The Racing Post - which has something called Postdata, a clunky 'black box' method for doing something vaguely similar - charges £26 a month, or £260 a year, for that plus its other offerings.

But it doesn't have anything as accessible as the Race Analysis Report. And it doesn't have a means of filtering form like the Full Form Filters. As for pace, seriously? Here's what you do: you go through each run from each runner and you make a note of their in-running comments, and then you work out which might front run and which might not. Erm... no thanks.

So, conservatively, with three profitable tipping pieces, and all those tools, what do you reckon? £90 a month? Some tipping services charge more than that for a single tipster, and don't have our profit track record.

Let's look at some of the computer formbooks out there. Now, Proform is excellent. A really good tool, and it has pace analysis and some (less readable) profiling tools. And you get those for £20.

A week!

No tipping services, etc. You can get a monthly pass for £50, in fairness... or you can pay £12 at geegeez. Are you starting to see why I'm planning to raise the price for new subscribers?!

What about Computer Timeform? That costs £1,230 per year for both flat and jumps, which is £102.50 a month. Now, again, Computer Timeform is a great tool. But... if you want to use their ratings, you need to know that they're massively factored into the market which means it's nigh on impossible to get value. Timeform will NEVER quote profit figures for their overall performance. Because they can't.

Hundred quid a month.

Then there's Raceform Interactive. A tool with excellent functionality, but the clunkiest most out-of-date interface you'll ever see. And boy, is it slow! That'll set you back £72 a month. No tipping elements. No traffic light simple race analysis.

Look, if you're already using the geegeez cards, good on you, you know they're the best! (Feel free to comment below, by the way, and help persuade some others to take a trial).

Ah yes, that reminds me. At the moment, you get a free 17 day trial of the FULL Gold service. That's two and a half weeks, enough to use everything for the Grand National and Newmarket's Craven meeting, as well as all of the other racing happening during that time.

Again, I'm going to be reducing the trial period to around ten days in the near future. Why? Because I think it's possible to grasp the value of this content in a day or two, and to really understand it well within a week to ten days, even if you only have half an hour or so a day.

Obviously, they're not for everyone. But actually, at £12 a month (40p a day), they are for most people. 40p a day.

I am very proud of these tools and I'm delighted to read of the power they're bringing to users... and the profits. And that's why they are going to at least double in price before the end of April. It's April tomorrow.

80p a day is still a bargain and, when I offer this racing profit toolkit to non-geegeez readers, they'll see that.

So, if you've not already taken the geegeez cards for a test drive, now is a very good time. If you end up paying £24 or £30 a month later on, you'll still love them. But it would feel a bit daft if you could have enjoyed and benefited from them for less than half that ad infinitum, wouldn't it?

Here's the link to upgrade

I'll be back tomorrow with a preliminary look at this year's Aintree Festival and some overall facts and figures to keep in mind. In the meantime, do leave a comment if you're currently a Gold subscriber and use the cards, tools and racing tips, to share your experiences. What do you like most? Anything you're less keen on?

Happy Monday!


Sat TV Trends: 7th Dec 2103

Sandown Park

A Big Day At Sandown This Saturday.....

Another huge Saturday of NH action with the C4 cameras heading to Sandown and Aintree - As always Andy Newton's got all the big-race trends and stats...... Read more

Sat TV Trends: 26th Oct 2012

O BrienThe C4 cameras head to Doncaster, Newbury and Aintree this Saturday - Andy Newton's got all the LIVE races covered from a trends and stats angle.......Can Aidan O'Brien land an 8th Racing Post Trophy? Read more

Sat TV Trends: 6th April 2013

Grand National

It's GRAND NATIONAL Day..........

It's the biggest day on the horse racing calendar this Saturday as Grand National fever sweeps the country - Andy Newton's covered the big race from a trends angle, plus the other LIVE C4 races from Aintree........ Read more

Aintree: Trainers To Note……..

Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen Often Does Well At Aintree....

With the three-day Aintree Grand National Meeting this week Andy Newton highlights six stables that have often done well with their runners at this fixture. Read more

Trainer Stats: 20th Feb 2013

Colin Tizzard

Look out for the Tizzard horses

More trainer clues and stats as Andy Newton's got six more hot yard to look out for this week....... Read more

Well I Declare, 8th December

Well I Declare, 8th December

Well I Declare, 8th December

Racing action from Sandown, Aintree, Wetherby and Chepstow are all featured in Mal Boyle's Well I Declare for..

...SATURDAY (08/12):


General stats: Five favourites (of one description or another) won via twelve races during the two-day meeting last year, whilst two of the four odds on favourites obliged. 

National Hunt Novice Hurdle due to be contested at 12.20: Nicky Henderson has saddled four of the last six winners of this event with the trainer coming to the gig on this occasion on a four timer.  All four winners saddled by Nicky were five-year-old and two of his three entries earlier in the week hailed from that vintage.  Favourites came to the party on a six timer last year but the 4/6 market leader could only finish third.

Pertemps series qualifier scheduled for 1.25: Paul Nicholls has saddled the only two successful favourites (in the last four years) during the decade.  Paul held two entries for the contest earlier in the week, as did Jonjo O’Neill who is the only other trainer to have saddled two winners during the study period.

Listed Handicap Hurdle event scheduled for 2.30: Eight of the last nine winners have scored at odds of 9/1 or less (two winning favourites), whilst four-year-olds have secured four of the last eight contests.

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Twenty nine furlong handicap chase scheduled for 3.40: The last six winners have carried a minimum weight of eleven stones, whilst the eight successful horses during the last decade ranged between 7/2 and 10/1, with not a single favourite amongst them.



General stats: The Murphy yard is potentially represented by the course and distance winner Quito De La Roque in the scheduled 1.50 event with the stable looking to improve its ratio to 3/3 at Aintree.

Maiden hurdle event scheduled for 12.00: Favourites have secured two of the five renewals of this event in which three market leaders have finished in the frame.

Two and a half mile handicap hurdle scheduled for 1.35: Six-year-olds have won six renewals of this event during the last decade.  Last year’s successful 5/1 favourite was the first to score in seven years since back to back 5/1 joint market leaders obliged in 2003/2004.   Six of the last nine winners have carried a minimum weight of 11-5.

‘Becher Chase’ due to be contested at 2.10: Just like last week’s ‘Hennessy’, this race is finally being won by fancied horses on a semi regular basis following years of renewals which favoured the bookmakers.  Only one market leader has obliged in the last seven years though that said, seven of the last nine contests have been secured by horses sent off at odds of 10/1 or less.  Unusually, Paul Nicholls was potentially represented by just one horse in this year’s event, a race which Paul has secured three times in the last eight years.  Join Together is the horse in question.

Class 2 two and a half mile handicap hurdle scheduled for 2.45: Four renewals have slipped by without a winning favourite being recorded following the success of four consecutive market leaders (of one description or another) between 2004 and 2007.  Four-year-olds have been the most successful vintage (four winners during the last decade) though that said, just three of the twenty-two five-day acceptors hailed from the junior ranks.

‘Grand Sefton’ event scheduled for 3.20: Eight and nine-year-olds have (equally) shared the last four renewals, whilst five contests have passed without a successful favourite being registered.  That said, five of the nine favourites have secured win and place positions which is a decent enough record in this type of event.



General stats: Tim Easterby does not lead the strike rate figures, though his regular winners at Wetherby are backed up by an LSP reading of twenty-six points.



General stats: John O’Shea’s LSP figure of eighty-one points demands attention.

Sat TV Trends: 8th Dec 2012

Action over the GN fences this weekend

A great Saturday in prospect with the Becher Chase at Aintree and the Tingle Creek from Sandown to look forward to.... Read more

Sat TV Trends: 17th Nov 2012

Grands Crus in Action This Weekend

It's Paddy Power Gold Cup day at Cheltenham, plus there is LIVE C4 action at Lingfield & Wetherby. Read more