Jumps Season - At The Races


Randox Health Grand National

    Aintree, Saturday 10th April 2021
  • Stats Guides

Winner of last renewal: Tiger Roll

Davy Russell
Gordon Elliott
11st 5lbs
Starting Price:
Season Form Figures:
Previous Best:
1st - Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade 3), Aintree (Apr 2018)

By Paul Jones


Hopefully Tiger Roll will get the opportunity to emulate Red Rum and win three Grand Nationals, with his bid derailed due to Covid-19 last year. If successful, in his case it would be three consecutive victories as Red Rum finished runner-up twice in between his second and third successes.


Having missed out last year, he will be an 11-year-old for this season’s race. Prior to 2015, 11-year-olds had won the three previous runnings, in fact, horses aged 10+ have won 17 times in the last 30 runnings but the most recent results are the most important and the tide has certainly turned in favour of horses aged in single figures, and second-season chasers have won three of the last five renewals. Six years ago Many Clouds became the youngest winner since Bindaree 13 years earlier which was the first of many trends that the Oliver Sherwood-trained eight-year-old overcame to secure a famous victory. However, the nine-year-old Rule The World managed to even trump Many Clouds’ s trends-busting success being a maiden over fences so he became the first novice (albeit a second-season chaser) to win since Mr What in 1958 and, for the fifth year running, it was a relatively young horse that came on top with Tiger Roll winning the race for the second time aged nine.

The evidence of those last five runnings, where all winners were aged eight or nine, suggests that looking for a vastly-experienced chaser is maybe now not the best punting policy given the recent race modifications but I’d still struggle to support a seven-year-old. Six-year-olds are no longer eligible to run but it has still been a huge struggle for horses aged seven as their last winner was Bogskar in 1940. In fact, no seven-year-old has even placed in the first four since 1971 and only 13 of their 54 contenders have completed the course since 1992.

Although there have been nine 12-year-old winners stretching back to 1962, no teenager has won since Sergeant Murphy in 1923 and only Vics Canvas aged 13+ has placed since Rondetto in 1969. The least amount of chases previously contested by a Grand National winner in the last 27 years is ten; One For Arthur, Many Clouds and Numbersixvalverde in 2006. Although officially a novice, Rule The World was having his 14th chase start when successful as a second-season chaser.


Six of the last 19 winners ran in the previous season’s Grand National and 11 winners in the same time period had run in any race over the spruce-topped fences. One For Arthur became the second winner to prep in the Becher Chase of the same season when successful three years ago. Since Hallo Dandy won in 1984 having finished fourth the previous season, only Amberleigh House had gone on to win the Grand National having finished in the first four 12 months earlier until Tiger Roll’s second success in the race. Therefore he was succeeding where 19 defending title holders and 58 horses placed second, third or fourth to take their chance again had failed, bar Amberleigh House, in the previous 25 years.


For the second year running it was an Irish domination with Tiger Roll leading home a 1-2-3-5 for the raiders in 2019 a year on from supplying the 1-2-3-4 plus the sixth and eighth for good measure. Interestingly, six of the last eight Irish-trained winners going back to 1999 had run over hurdles in one of their previous two races. Tiger Roll having done so when winning the Boyne Hurdle at 25/1 no less.


The race distance was cut to 4m3½f in 2013 but since then it has been re-measured at 4m2f and 74 yards so just about remains the longest race in Great Britain so possessing sufficient stamina levels is clearly still a prerequisite. In fact, and as daft as it sounds, maybe even more so following the reduction of the race distance by a furlong eight years ago in tandem with making the fences easier to negotiate, which should lead to a faster overall gallop, so there is even less of a let up in the pace ensuring that horses have to stay extra well to win. Contrary to what is often quoted by ultra-positive thinking connections, statistics tell us that you certainly do not “need a two-and-half miler for the Grand National”. There is no better evidence than that to scan the records and note that we have to search back to Gay Trip in 1970 for the last such winner. The very minimum requirement is that our selection should have won over at least three miles like the last 48 winners.


The Cross Country Chase over 3m6f at the Cheltenham Festival has developed into the best guide of late. In addition to Tiger Roll completing the Cross Country-Grand National double twice (Bless The Wings was also third in the Grand National in 2018 after he ran in the Cross Country), Gordon Elliott also ran Silver Birch and Causes Of Causes in that contest before they finished first and second in the Grand National and Balthazar King only found one too good at Aintree after he won the Cross Country.


Of the last 23 Grand National winners, as many as 14 had won or finished placed in a National of one description or another. In fact, the 1-2-3-4-5 in 2013 had all finished in the first four in an Aintree, Scottish, Welsh or Irish National before so checking out the form from other Nationals is a more than worthwhile exercise. With regards to the Welsh Grand National, that gruelling test of stamina has cooled as a guide of late featuring just one winner since Bindaree (2002) having contained as many as eight winners between 1976-2002, three of which completed the double (Rag Trade, Corbiere and Earth Summit).

The previous season’s Irish Grand National is the leading Irish guide featuring six winners in the last 22 years (Bobbyjo, Papillon, Red Marauder, Numbersixvalverde, Rule The World and Tiger Roll) and also note the Scottish Grand National as three of the last 11 Aintree heroes contested that 4m1f handicap race the previous spring where they finished ninth, sixth and second respectively.


The Ladbrokes Trophy used to be an excellent guide as between 1987-2005 as many as 18 of its field went on to finish in the first four, of which seven won. It went quiet for ten years until Neptune Collonges ran at Newbury and, of course, Many Clouds completed a famous double in 2014/15. Surprisingly, no winner of the Grand National Trial at Haydock has won but Red Rum prepped in that trial ahead of all five of his Aintree appearances and seven Grand National winners since 1973 used that trial as a successful platform. Two of the last 12 winners ran in the Handicap Chase over 3m3f at The November Meeting at Cheltenham.


Ten Grand National winners going back to 1991 (Seagram, Miinnehoma, Rough Quest, Bindaree, Silver Birch, Don’t Push It, Pineau De Re, Many Clouds and Tiger Roll x2) ran at the Cheltenham Festival and Tiger Roll became the first horse to win at both meetings since Seagram in 1991. It was a further 30 years back to Nicolaus Silver to find the previous horse to manage this feat, though the J P McManus-owned pair of Sunnyhillboy and Cause Of Causes finished second here after winning at Cheltenham. The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase is a notable guide. Sunnyhillboy could not have gone any closer when nosed out by Neptune Collonges after winning that amateur riders’ race at Cheltenham, which was also the final race contested by Mr Frisk (1990) where he finished fourth before winning the Grand National in a course record time. Greasepaint (1983) and Encore Un Peu (1996) also finished runner-up after winning and finishing second in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir. Ballabriggs (2011) did win a Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir, but that success was recorded 13 months before his Grand National triumph.


Many trainers now like to use a race over hurdles to help put the final touches to their preparation and Don’t Push It (2010) and Pineau De Re (2014) both had their final start in the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival where they finished pulled up and third respectively. On the subject of hurdling, ten of the last 16 winners had run over hurdles at some point earlier in the season.


The modifications to the fences ahead of the 2013 renewal produced an immediate impact as all 40 horses were still racing after seven fences and only two horses fell throughout the whole contest and 33 got past half-way. Therefore it can be argued that being on a super-safe jumper is not quite the advantage it used to be and the main argument against Tiger Roll when he won his first Grand National last season was that he may be too small to win. The first two winners since the safety modifications are unlikely to have got away with their jumping mistakes in years gone by.

In fact, the winner of that first running since the modifications where the fence frames were altered from wood to EasyFix plastic birch, Auroras Encore, was statistically the worst jumper to win the Grand National since Maori Venture in 1987 (who had seven previous falls/unseats) if purely judging by number of previous falls/unseats, which he had totalled six. Good jumpers still have to be preferred of course as although the fences have been modified to be kinder if a horse makes a mistake, they still provide a stern test of a horse’s jumping. The last four winners have never fallen or unseated their rider during their career and 20 of the last 23 winners had no more than two falls/unseats to their name beforehand but, that said, two of those winners came in the last seven runnings.


Six years ago Pineau De Re became the busiest Grand National winner for 25 years having raced on eight occasions since the start of August whereas all other winners since Little Polveir (1989) had run between three and six times. The last winner to have missed the whole of the previous season was Royal Athlete in 1995.


Four of the last 13 winners were officially at least 5lb ‘well in’ having improved since the weights were unveiled in mid-February. Despite having won the Grand National the previous season, Tiger Roll was in fact as much as 8lb ‘well in’ for his second success having won the Cross Country Chase by 22 lengths after the weights were framed. In addition, Sunnyhillboy was defeated by just a nose in 2012 attempting to do likewise. This is significant as few contenders are ‘well in’ at all, let alone to the tune of 5lb+. Trying to find the best handicapped horse is usually the best way of attacking handicaps but that sometimes gets lost in all the facts and figures and luck-in-running required to win the Grand National.


The consensus view after Neptune Collonges became the first winner since Red Rum to carry over 11st 5lb nine years ago (98 horses had tried and failed in the intervening 24 years) was that it was time to raise the white flag regards opposing the top weights. Every Grand National winner between 1984-2004 had carried no more than 11st but, with four consecutive winners between 2009-2012 carrying a minimum of 11st, the tide had not just started to turn, it had seemingly fully turned. The more compressed nature of the handicap appeared to suggest that this once-critical trends factor had seemingly run its course but then the 2013 and 2014 runnings were totally dominated by lower-weighted horses which coincided with the timing of the safety modifications.

To confuse the issue even further, class then came to the fore in 2015 with Many Clouds carrying 11st 9lb to victory, comfortably the biggest weight of any winner since Red Rum but then seven of the first eight home in 2016 carried between 10st 5lb-10st 9lb. A year later just one horse carrying over 11st finished in the first 15 (and Blaklion (4th) carried only 1lb over that threshold) and in 2018 six of the first seven home carried under 11st. Tiger Roll carried 11st 5lb to his second success in the race, but few argue that we are not dealing with a remarkable horse in his case.


Nigel Twiston-Davies and Gordon Elliott are the only trainers currently holding a licence to have won the Grand National more than once. Nicky Henderson has yet to win the Grand National from 40 runners (eight departed at the first fence) of which four have placed, notably his very first runner, Zongalero (1979) who was one of two runners-up for the master of Seven Barrows. Jonjo O’Neill never completed the Grand National course in eight attempts as a jockey but one victory, two seconds and three thirds from 32 runners as a trainer is a superb return.


Gigginstown were winning the race for the third time in four years when Tiger Roll won it a second time to add to Rule The World’s success. Trevor Hemmings has a love affair with the Grand National and has had at least one runner every year since 2000. His colours have been carried to victory on three occasions via Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Couds. J P McManus may well have had owned three individual winners had the line come one yard earlier for Sunnyhillboy (2012) or if Clan Royal (2004 and 2005) had kept a straight line after the final fence or not been carried out when six lengths clear but Don’t Push It (2010) gave him a famous victory in between. He has owned a top-four finisher in nine of the last 16 years.


All but four of the last 21 winners were bred in Ireland from marginally over 50% representation but, with Mon Mome, Neptune Collonges and Pineau De Re successful in the last 12 years from approximately just 20% representation, the days of opposing French-breds (no winner for 100 years up until 2009) are well and truly over.


Regarding race tactics, although 21 of the last 29 winners raced prominently after the first circuit enjoying themselves in front or just off the pace, very recent winners have been given more patient rides since the race modifications. Prominent racers have a tremendous record in one-lap races over these fences, which is not quite as strong as over longer distances anymore. Of those most-recent Grand National winners not to have raced bang on the pace once the field heads out for the second circuit, six have been in just the last ten years.


There have been five winning favourites or joint-favourites since 1996, with Tiger Roll the shortest-priced winner since Poethyln won at 11/4 in 1919 (just 22 runners) when he successful as the 4/1 fav for his second victory. And that was never really in doubt from after Becher's’ on the second circuit when he poked his nose into a gap for the first time at which he point he would have fairly taken on off but for Russell such was the way that he grabbed hold of the bridle. The fact that 19 of the last 29 winners were sent off in the first eight in the betting would suggest it is not as impossible as many believe. However, winner finding has undeniably been far tougher of late with seven of the last 13 winners sent off at 100/1, 66/1, 33/1 (x3) and 25/1 (x2). The credit (if that is the right word as far as Form-Book students are concerned who like to concentrate on the leading fancies) for that can go to down to the BHA Handicapper who has certainly succeeded in his brief to make the race more competitive.

At a glance summary

Finished in the first four in a National of another description
Officially 5lb+ well in since the weights were released
Ran over hurdles earlier in the season
Contested the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival
Contested the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury
Owned by Trevor Hemmings, Gigginstown or J P McManus
Bred in Ireland
Failed to win over at least three miles
Aged 7 or 12+
Fallen or unseated their rider more than twice earlier in their career
Winner of the Haydock Grand National Trial
Trained by Nicky Henderson
More than six runs or fewer than three runs this season

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