Saturday 6th April is the day for the biggest betting race of the year when an expected maximum field of 40 line up for the 2013 Grand National over four and a half miles at Aintree.
The fences may not be as daunting as they once were but the likelihood is that by making them ‘easier’ the speed of the race may be quicker making it no less of a test than before for horse and rider (and in my own mind no less likely to cause the occasional unfortunate accidents)
Until the final declarations are revealed on Thursday there still remain 49 entries – if no more drop out than all of the lowest weights from Major Malarkey down will be eliminated ( current entry list is here http://www.racingpost.com/horses2/cards/card.sd?race_id=571196&r_date=2013-04-06#raceTabs=sc_)
Some basic stats to help pinpoint the winner:
Age: Experience tends to count for a lot in this event. 8-12 is definitely required but 9-11 would be the ideal range.
Stamina : We have to go back to Gay Trip in 1970 to find a winner that hadn’t won over at least 3 miles previously. It used to be said that a good 2 and a half mile chaser was ideal for this (by Gay Trip’s trainer funnily enough!) but there isn’t much evidence to support this now. Being able to have the pace to win over that trip is desirable but further stamina is most definitely required. Even after the last fence a lot can change in this race – just watch Specify’s win in 1971 if you can to find this out
Course experience: Not essential (last two winners were untried over the course ) but having jumped round before has to be desirable.
Weight: This used to be crucial in the past with a big leaning towards those weighted 11 stone or less. In recent times we have seen this matter somewhat less. This could well be down to the course becoming easier (and the ground not being so soft) but I still recall John Francome’s words that this race was much more of a test of weight carrying on a horse than any normal race. I still believe that lower weighted horses have some advantage in the race – last year 4 of the first 5 were less than 10st and although the winner was higher it could be argued he was leniently treated on his past form and was a very classy animal. Higher than 11 stone and you need a horse that would not look out of place in a Gold Cup field
Preparation: Nowadays if you want to maximise your chance win this you need to get weighted leniently by the official handicapper. Running at the Cheltenham Festival a few weeks earlier is usually a no-no. Many trainers have run their aspiring winners over hurdles rather than chases in recent years – the aim is not to show your hand before the weights are released – having too high a weight then could spell doom. Worst prep races for me are Haydock’s Grand National Trial – usually raced in bog-like conditions and can often can finish off a horse for the season before it’s even lined up for this. Also the John Hughes Trophy over the course earlier in the season – having a pop round the fences down the field is good – winning it and running your handicap mark is a cardinal sin!
Time to look at some runners:
The best race as a pointer for this year is probably last year’s event:
From that we have:
(1st Neptune Collonges (now retired))
2nd Sunnyhillboy 10st 5lbs (rating 142) – this year 11st 4lbs (152)
3rd Seabass 10st 12lbs (rating 149) – this year 11st 6lbs (154)
4th Cappa Bleu 10st 10lbs (rating 147) – this year 10st 11lbs (145)
6th Ballabriggs 11st 9lbs (rating 160) – this year 11st 4lbs (152)
10th Swing Bill 10st 3lbs (rating 140) – this year 10st 8lbs (142)
Fell – Weird Al 11st 8lbs (rating 159) – this year 11st 8lbs (156)
Fell – Quiscover Fontaine 10st 4lb (141) – this year 10st 7lbs (141)
Fell – On His Own 10st 11lb (148) – this year 11st (148)
Fell – Becauseicouldntsee 10st 3lbs (140) – this year 10st 6lbs (140)
Brought Down – Rare Bob 10st 9lbs (146) – this year 10st 6lbs (140)
Brought Down – Chicago Grey 10st 13lbs (150) – this year 10st 7lbs (141)
Caught on the line last year, Sunnyhillboy has lost his chance for me now having to carry nearly a stone more. Seabass looked to not quite stay the trip and also has increased weight to overcome so is passed over. Ballabriggs had a massive burden last year after winning in 2011- he has less to carry here but still is over the weight I would be happy to see him carrying – quite conceivable he could be around 4th or 5th again though (but without winning)
The interesting ones from the ‘class of 2012’ for me are:
CAPPA BLEU. 12 lengths behind Sunnyhillboy and 7 behind Seabass, he is better off with both this year. Moreover he was twice hampered in the race and got further behind than was ideal when the action started to hot up. Given more luck in running I can see him turning the form around with both as he finished stronger than any of those in front of him. He’s always had a touch of class about him since winning the Cheltenham Foxhunters as a 6yo (now 11 but lightly raced for one his age). His prep run at Ascot was eyecatching and makes his rating of 145 look lenient – gave 7lbs to Vino Griego and that one is now rated 151
ON HIS OWN. Looked a big contender when falling at Bechers Brook on second circuit and will be bidding to emulate West Tip who won this race after having departed at the same fence when travelling equally well the year before his win. His hurdles prep looked ideal and he has got in off the same mark. Currently around the 7/1 mark and favourite which will be cemented if Ruby Walsh takes the ride. The worry is that’s plenty short enough for this race and that was a nasty fall he took here last year – will he remember it? Nevertheless has to be on the shortlist.
QUISCOVER FONTAINE. Take no notice of Racing Post comment that he was ‘always in rear’ when falling at 17th last year. He was still travelling nicely then and travelling alongside eventual winner Neptune Collonges when he fell. Has been given an interesting prep over trips that are probably too short for him now and handicap mark has been protected. Some concerns over stamina (hasnt won over 3 miles or more yet) but ran perfectly well in the Irish Grand National in 2011 when 4th – 4.5 lengths behind Sunnyhillboy there but a stone better off in this race.
CHICAGO GREY. Too early to say what would have happened with him here last year when State of Play brought him down. We do know he is very well in and possibly the best handicapped horse in this race on past form having slipped down to 141. He has won since this weight was allotted and has performed at 150+ level in the past. Another for the shortlist but the worry with him is that he does get behind in his races. That isn’t always suited to this race but he is likely to have the best pilot on board to cope with this problem in Paul Carberry
Previous National form is also brought to the table by Big Fella Thanks (4th in 2010, 7th in 2011). Both times he has jumped round for fun and then patently failed to stay the trip – no reason he should do any differently here. Always Waining is also a course specialist having won the shorter Topham Trophy 3 times – he has never raced here off the sort of mark he has here though and no reason to suggest the increase in trip is what he needs. Both of these should be running in Friday’s Topham in my view
Non course form is headed by the top weight and former Gold Cup winner, Imperial Commander. He is 12 now and has had his problems – his mark of 158 is on the lenient side but it’s a huge ask to carry 11st 10lbs to victory here – Red Rum was the last to carry more nearly 40 years ago. He would be seeking to emulate another old Gold Cup hero, L’Escargot who won this as a 12yo. L’Escargot did win this at his third attempt though and carried 7lbs less.
Teaforthree (11st 3lbs) has long looked a likely National type. I do worry that a hard race in the Welsh National may not be the ideal prep though and his mark of 151 is plenty high enough. He has some ground to make up on JOIN TOGETHER (11st 2lbs) as well from last year’s form and that one appeals more ( he also has run over the course in the John Hughes and has done very well to only get a 2 lb rise for that effort)
Roberto Goldback (11st 6lbs) was bought as a National horse and supposedly trained for the race all season. So why on earth did they start him off by running him in a valuable handicap at Ascot which he won by 9 lengths and destroyed his handicap rating? His form tailed off since and he is now 4lb higher than at Ascot – not convinced he has all of the stamina attributes for this test though
Across The Bay (11st 2lbs) doesn’t appeal as the type to like these fences for me despite being trained by Donald McCain who has few peers for this race (Ballabriggs his best chance this year for me)
Colbert Station (11st 1lb) is figuring highly in markets but is running off a far higher mark than ever before. His price is more to do with his trainer (Ted Walsh) and likely jockey (AP McCoy).
We get to my favoured 11 stone and unders now and of those not already mentioned, BALTHAZAR KING (10st 12lbs) has to be of interest. He has lots of Cross Country chasing form which ought to translate well to the demands of this race, stays well and likes to race prominently – all attributes that could stand him in good stead for this. He should like the ground also while it remains good or good to soft. Another one for the shortlist.
Saint Are (10st 8lbs) should also get a mention further down the handicap as he has such a good record at this meeting having won here for the last two seasons. That wasn’t over the national fences however and his age of 7 heavily counts against him – he does tend to ruin his chances sometimes with bad errors and these fences aren’t the place for that!
After this analysis I have the following shortlist for this year’s race
ON HIS OWN
I couldn’t put anyone off backing any of these so it just comes down to prices available and value to break them down further now. Join Together is just over the weight level I am looking for but all others have 11 stone or less.
Betvictor head the list of firms offering said ‘value’ by paying out ¼ odds a place on the first 6 places. This is likely to be highly unprofitable for them and is a shop window offer to bring in more customer interest. For those who like to back several each way selections they have to be the main port of call as will pay out on 2 more horses than many High Street firms. If you can’t bet with them then take one of the firms that offer ¼ odds first 5 places (Bet365, Skybet, Boylesports, Paddy Power at time of writing out of the major firms).
The only reason for me to touch other firms is if they are considerably higher win odds than anyone else but this isn’t that likely – Betfair is usually the place to get the highest ‘win only’ offer.
Bear in mind that many firms will offer ‘Best Odds Guaranteed’ after final declarations come through on Thursday. If the SP ends up greater you would get the higher price also but recent evidence suggests that most will have a lower SP so I would always advise taking the highest price (as long as place terms are acceptable).
If push comes to shove, best value for me of those at the head of the market is CAPPA BLEU at 11/1 ¼ 12345 ( 10/1 first six with Betvictor)
Best outsider : QUISCOVER FONTAINE at 50/1 ¼ 12345 (40/1 first six Betvictor)
Good luck with whatever you back and enjoy the race (and lets hope they all come back safely!)
**Thurs morning update – final decs now out – lists of odds and who offers best place terms can be found here http://www.oddschecker.com/grand-national-betting-odds/winner