On Saturday 8th April at 5.15, 40 horses will line up at Aintree near Liverpool for what is probably the world’s most famous horse race – the Grand National.
Now you may be thinking that pretty much anything can win. Unless you’re really into your racing, it can all seem a bit of a lottery – so you just follow whatever horse you’ve picked up in the office sweepstakes – or the one you like the sound of because its name is the same as your Gran’s or your first dog or something right?
But guess what; it isn’t quite like that. We’ve found the secret formula to narrowing things right down and at least giving the horse you decide to put your quid or tenner on a fighting chance. You see, it’s all a matter of looking at the stats to see what kind of horse wins the big race based on its recent history. But don’t worry – we’ve done it all for you because, well, you’re lazy…
For starters; according to betting odds site Oddschecker, all recent winners were aged less than 12 and more than 7. So that immediately rules out quite a few. In fact, 15 of the 16 finishers in last year’s race were aged less than 10. So ideally, we’re probably looking for a nine-year-old. This, it is said, is because the very nature of the race has changed in recent years due to fence modifications. Not a single seven-year-old horse has even made the first four placings since your dad was watching black-and-white TV in his bell bottoms in 1971.
So if you can’t find a nine-year-old horse you like the look of, at least make sure your selection is aged 8-11. Just two 12 year-olds have won in the past 30 years – and one of them was Red Rum, so not exactly your average horse. And just for the record books, the oldest ever horse to win the National was Peter Simple, who won when aged 15, but that was in 1853, so maybe that particular stat isn’t such a biggie? Similarly, the youngest winners ever were aged five but the most recent of them all, Lutteur III won in 1909. Today, the minimum age for a National entrant is seven, and none of them has won since Bogskar in 1940.
Next, find a horse that really can jump. This may be stating the bleeding obvious, but the winner will have to jump 30 big fences over four and a half miles. This is the longest race in the UK with the biggest fences including Becher’s Brook and The Chair. So if your horse has fallen more than once or twice in his or her career, wave your quid goodbye. In fact, in the last 20 Grand Nationals, 16 winners had fallen (or unseated the jockey) no more than twice.
Next, the horse’s weight. You do realise the Grand National is a handicap right? So the best horses carrying up close to 12 stones probably won’t win. Yes, two years ago, Many Clouds won and he had a weight of 11 stones 9 lbs, but this wasn’t exactly normal. In fact, the last horse to win with any kind of big weight was – you’ve guessed it – the legendary Red Rum who toted 12 stones to victory in 1974 (his second victory on the bounce) and 11 stones 8 pounds for his third and final win in 1977. And, by the way, the great horse finished second in each of the intervening years of ’75 and ’76 which is why his statue is up at Aintree and why he’s buried next to the winning post. He deserves it. The average winning weight from the last couple of decades though is around 10 stones 10 lbs, so rule out anything carrying more than 11 stones, 3 lbs and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.
Next, find a horse that has won over distance. All the past 45 National winners had previously won over three miles or more so this one really is essential. At the same time, don’t go thinking that your horse has no chance if it doesn’t meet this criteria – but it is a bit of a long-shot. Seven of the last tenNational winners started at odds of 25-1 or more and if you make your selections early, you’ll very probably get bigger odds than will be available on the day because you’re backing “ante-post”. This means that if your horse is withdrawn at any time before the race, due to injury, for example, you’ll forfeit your stake – so it’s a quid pro quo – or maybe simply a lost quid.
So there we are, you’re looking for a nine-year-old that has won over three miles, is a good jumper, is carrying less than about 11-03 and at decent odds – like the Willie Mullins-trained Pleasant Company for example – because, after all, you’ve been such pleasant company.