The entries for the bevy of handicaps at Cheltenham Festival 2018 that will engulf the punting minds reading this page and so many others for the next two weeks were released yesterday, but they’re not the biggest one of all over jumps – we’re getting closer and closer to the Grand National, the world’s most famous race for many.
If you are planning to visit Aintree for the Grand National or to watch on TV you will surely have many opinions about the likely winner, but what goes into finding one? The race has changed a lot in recent years but there are some things that don’t change when finding a prospective National horse and the winning records can still tell us a great deal. Below are some key attributes to get thinking about ahead of the day.
This goes without saying but, knowing your horse will get every yard is a prerequisite. The last horse to win the National without a win over at least three miles? Gay Trip in 1970. Since 2013 the Grand National has been reduced in length from 4 ½ miles to 4 miles 2 ½ furlongs – but that is still the longest race in the calendar and with the biggest field, which guarantees a strong gallop at least for the first mile.
Key Trial Races
The Grand National might be the longest race in the calendar, but there are plenty of suitable trials that will test a horse’s vital attributes for the famous race and many are valuable races in their own right.
19 of the 24 winners since 1997 have finished in the first five of these races, listed below
- Cheltenham Gold Cup (3m 2&1/2f)
- Irish National (3m 5f)
- Grand National (4m 2&1/2f)
- Scottish National (4m 1f)
- Hennessy Gold Cup (3m 2&1/2f),
- Becher Chase (3m 2f) – over the National fences themselves
- Welsh National (3m 5f)
We’ve already had the Hennessy, Becher and Welsh National, but the Classic Chase (3m5f, Warwick) and the Ultima at the Festival (3m1f) are good trials for potential contenders to take note of.
This is the most difficult part of evaluation a modern national winner thanks to welcome rule changes for the race’s safety combined with a change in approach by the BHA’s handicapper Phil Smith.
The old rule used to be that 11-1 was the cut off point; Between 1984-2008 no winner had carried more than that to victory – but then in 2009 Smith reduced the maximum weight that the top-rated horse carries from 11-12 to 11-10 – a small amount of compression but a notable one.
From that year through to 2012, all winners carried 11 stone at least with Don’t Push It and Neptune Collonges carrying 11-5 and 11-6 respectively, and Many Clouds took glory in 2015 carrying 11-9. It pays to be open minded with weight these days.
Most people back more than one horse – if doing so, again you should be open minded.
8 of the last 15 winners came from the top 8 in the betting market, including a well fancied horse last year with the favourite finishing fourth for each/way backers, but the last five winners before that came in at 33/1, 66/1, 25/1, 25/1, 33/1 – and we’ve had one at 100/1 not long before that.