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.
But last year's race was won by a horse that 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 five winners has been 36.2/1 - 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 ten years, the average winning SP has been 34.6/1 - 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 ten winners paid 25/1 or bigger at starting price, and 16 of the 40 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.
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!
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.
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)
NEW FENCES INTRODUCED
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)
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 far more likely 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.
At this stage of proceedings, there are nine horses that could qualify, as follows (along with their current top price):
Wonderful Charm 40/1, Houblon Des Obeaux 50/1, Highland Lodge 25/1, Bishops Road 66/1, Lord Windermere 50/1, Saint Are 40/1, Stellar Notion 66/1, Rogue Angel 33/1, and Gas Line Boy 80/1.
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).
Aside from Rogue Angel, well backed and representing last year's winning connections, and Highland Lodge the other seven all stand a good chance of going off 25/1+. So split your stake between them and see how you go. If betting each way, note that Victor are paying SIX places (1/4 odds the place), and Paddy are also six places (1/5 odds the place). bet365, my preferred option (see why at the bottom of this post), are 'only' five places, 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 looks like being genuine good, so I've sorted the field by that prospect - also changed distance range to 3m to 4m4f - on this place view of Instant Expert:
And those expected to be in the front half of the field during the early stages are:
Looking at the shortlist from a good ground/prominent racer perspective may slightly elevate the prospects of 25/1 Highway Lodge, 40/1 Saint Are, 50/1 Stellar Notion, and 80/1 Gas Line Boy. 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 happier backing losers at nice big prices than at shorter...
p.s. This is a standout money back offer for EXISTING bet365 customers