The BBC in their last year of Grand National coverage has opted for the Melbourne Cup “ The race that stops a nation” approach to their coverage and to some extent this is true. It has become engrained into the psyche of our nations society that its fine to have a bet on Grand National day and many allow their only gamble for the whole year on the Aintree spectacular so lets hope we can pick out the winner.
The John Smiths Grand National is probably Britain’s premier horse race from many perspectives; A marathon distance of 4 miles plus, higher and more difficult obstacles than other courses, tradition, heritage, 40 runners and an 80,000 crowd all contribute to a fantastic spectacle which encapsulates even the least likely of people, persuading them to part with a little £1 each way or at least pull a name out in a sweepstake.
In some ways however it isn’t a premier horse race. It is only a grade 3 race and is just a handicap. This in essence ensures that the best horse doesn’t’necessarily win due to the weight differences the horses have to carry. Horse number 1 carries the most weight as in all handicaps and number 40 the least. Therefore technically the number 1 horse is the best horse in the race with the quality of the horses descending until you reach number 40 the weakest horse (based on ratings). However for many reasons this isn’t always the case. Without going into too much detail the real skill is to try and pick a horse out who is carrying a light enough weight to be capable of winning but also one who is actually good enough to win.
This year the quality of the field could not be stronger. For the first time in a long time the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Britain’s elite steeplechase) lines up at Aintree. It also consists of 2 previous winners, a Welsh national first and second and a Gold cup third so in many ways this is the strongest renewal of the Grand National in terms of quality and ratings. This may put to the sword the stat followers (as I will outline below) as it seems it is becoming increasing easier to finish the course and in the examples of Don’t Push it and Hedgehunter win off heavier weights. The bottom line is as the entrants for this handicap race are becoming classier; it makes it increasingly difficult for the handicapper to get it right.
Age – Ten of the last 13 winners were aged 9 or 10 and no horse since 1940 has won aged 7 or for 87 years there hasn’t been a winner older than 12. The optimum age is 9 or 10 with 0 of the first 10 home last year younger than 9. If we stick with this lets rule out any horse not between 8-12
40 – Black Appalachi
39 – Organised Confusion
38 – Tharawaat
37 – Viking Blond
If we also eliminate all the 8 year olds (this could be risky but we are trying to narrow it down from 40)
36- Alfa Beat (NB I will make his case later as a possible exception)
35 – Tatenen
34 – Shakalakaboomboom
33 – On his own
32 – Quiscover Fontaine
Weight – Obviously in such a long race the weight allowance on the horses back will eventually take its toll. Since the war only 5 Grand Nationals have ben won by horses carrying more than 11st 5lbs. Red rum was the last horse to do so back in 1977. Don’t push it did manage to win off 11st 5lb though two years ago and Hedgehunter (11st 1lb) and Ballabriggs (11st) have also won off 11stone plus but it is a tough ask. This is more difficult to assess this year with Synchronised showing up but at his odds I am prepared to say we are looking for a horse with a weight lower than 11stone.
Therefore we lose..
31 – Synchronised
30 – Ballabriggs
29 – Weird Al
28 – Neptune Collonges
27 – Calgary Bay
26 – Planet of Sound
25 – Deep Purple
24 – Junior
With this years races being the classiest in history with the lowest horse rated 137 and the highest 161 more horses than ever are in with a shout.
Stamina – Obviously in such a long race it pays to side with a horse that has won a race over 3 miles and therefore can potentially last the marathon test the Grand National delivers
Also out are..
23 – Vic Venturi
22 – In Compliance
I am also going to discount those who won poor races based on the amount of prize money. A bit of class is needed to win this race.
21 – Always Waining (has won valuable races but not at 3m plus)
20 – Swing Bill
19 – Postmaster
18 – Midnight Haze
There are lots of horses that have won a 3m chase and with the ground likely to be soft I am looking to further whittle the field down by looking for soft ground winners or those who have won at 3 and a half miles or further. I am also going to eliminate those who haven’t won in the last year.
17 – Seabass (never run further than 3 miles)
16 – Rare Bob (won once in last 2 years and not since last Jan)
15 – Treacle (won a very weak race in October and no real staying form)
14 – Becauseicouldntsee (hasn’t won for 2 years)
13 – State of Play (hasn’t won for four years and only runs in this race these days)
12 – Chicago Grey (Hasn’t won on soft ground over 2 and a half miles)
This leaves us with a not so short list of eleven that make relatively strong appeal and the further shortening will be more based on opinion than statistics.
I am really liking the form of the Welsh, Scottish and indeed English Grand National in trying to look for this years winner. Immediately though I am going to rule out
11 – Mon Mome (a past winner of this but not the force of old)
This leaves West End Rocker, According to Pete, Always right, Cappa Bleu, The Midnight Club, Arbor Supreme, Sunnyhill Boy, Le Beau Bai, Killy Glen and Giles Cross. I am going to leave the two JP Macmanus horses alone because McCoy has obviously opted to ride Synchronised. This can sometimes be a mistake, especially as Sunnyhill Boy was impressive at Cheltenham but I suspect he was trained for that rather than this so we will lose him and old boy Arbor Supreme
10 – Arbor Supreme
9 – Sunnyhill Boy
I also don’t think the Midnight club has been trained with the maximum trip in mind and from trainer quotes this seems a bit of a shot at nothing so will let him slip by too.
8) The Midnight Club
The lack of ability I think rules out According to Pete. He wasn’t able to wrap up the Yorkshire Grand National when favourite over 3m 6f and although retaining some ability he doesn’t again look classy enough to trouble the others.
7) According to Pete
The remaining 6 all have lots in Common: Good national form, largely unexposed, good weight, definitely stay and act on soft ground.
6) Le Beau Bai – More exposed but won the Welsh national in a bottomless bog so will definitely stay. Maybe doesn’t have the pace to win this though.
I am willing to let Le Beau Bai fall at the last in our quest for a winner leaving the big 5 below:
5) Giles Cross – Acts in heavy and soft conditions. Has come second in two welsh nationals and won the Grand National trial last time out. Comes to Aintree with a huge chance. Largely unexposed for a 10 year old. Weight 10st 1llb Odds – 12/1
4) West End Rocker – Loves winning. Was brought down last year. Won at this course last time out over these fences in heavy ground. Very live contender. Weight 10 st 12lb Odds 11/1
3) Always Right - Impressive 3rd in last years Scottish National. Very unexposed for a 10 year old. Excellent record and conveniently pulled up in last two starts gives him a nice handicap mark. Weight 10 st 10lb Odds – 28/1
2) Killyglen – Won last time out but most importantly was going really well last year before falling 4 out. This indicates he probably stays and can jump well. Weight 10st 4lb Odds – 16/1
1) Cappa Bleu – Won this season, a good third in a very heavy Welsh National and again unexposed off a good weight. Weight 10st 10lb Odds 14/1
Summation: The above 5 horses are all worthy of each way support and if I had to again narrow it down I would probably have them in that order with 1 being my top pick. I have to admit to backing Cappa Bleu at 50/1 ante post so I will be cheering him on. I also like the prospects of Killyglen and Always Right and have them at 33/1. The odds are slightly different now and at the odds think Always Right still looks a good price. I am also going to have a sneaky each way bet on Alfa Beat at 40/1. Despite his age being against him I think he may be a big player in the Grand National in the future and would be disappointed if I missed out on him this time around (though I think the handicapper has given him a tough task with his weight).
A final word on Synchronised; The Gold cup is sure to have taken a lot out of him but this horse is one tough cookie. He has all the attributes of a national winner. Form in other nationals winning the Midlands and Welsh Nationals. Won over 4 miles in heavy and soft conditions and jumps very well. This season he has turned into a classier animal and won the Gold cup illustrating the speed to win. The big problem is his weight and at the price of 7/1 he is a very worthy favourite who ticks lots of boxes. If he wins he will go down as one of the most remarkable horses in my lifetime – The national and Gold Cup double is an outrageous feat especially given the amount of improvement he has found. I will applaud him in but I would rather back some of the others each way than risk a win bet on a horse with 11st 10lb on his back.
A couple of big price place money last week was topped off by Mull of Killough’s barnstorming late effort which saw him defeated in the Lincoln by a nose. Poor Jockey-ship was definitely to blame, but none the less a great start to the flat season. It was one year and 84 article posts ago that Sports Leviathan began and what better place to mark the anniversary than Augusta. There is always something very special about 1 year anniversaries and with Golf’s most beautiful gem at the heart of this weeks article lets hope we can bag a birthday winner.
There is lots of talk about this years Masters being the most exciting ever and it is easy to see why. Of the main protagonists World Number 1 Luke Donald won last time out, World Number 2 Rory Mcillroy won a month ago and his last three tournaments read 2-1-8 in finishing positions. Lee Westwood lies 3rd in the rankings and his recent major record has seen him finish in the top three, five times in the last nine majors. Newly promoted to World number four, Hunter Mahan won last week in Houston, so he is in great shape. World number 5 Steve Stricker has already won this year and world number 6 Martin Kaymer announced his appearance with a lake skimming hole in 1 this week to delight the bamboozled crowd. Just for good measure Tiger Woods fresh from his exceptional victory at Bay Hill is world number 7, returning champ Charl Schwartzel is at 8 and 9 and 10 are filled by ultra consistent Justin Rose who won last month in the WGC Cadillac and Webb Simpson, who although hasn’t won yet this year was a two time winner on the PGA tour last year and this year looks set for an exciting masters debut.