Jumps Season - At The Races

Randox Health Grand National

    Aintree, Saturday 8th April 2017.
  • Stats Guides

Last Year's Winner: Rule The World

Rule The World
D J Mullins
M F Morris
10st 7lb
Starting Price:
Season Form Figures:
Previous Best:
2nd - Irish Grand National Chase (Grade A), Fairyhouse (Apr 2015)


Two 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, Rule The World managed to even trump Many Clouds’ 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.

Following Many Clouds there have now been four winners aged eight going back to Corbiere in 1983 though, freakily enough, on three of those occasions it was eight-year-olds that twice supplied the 1-2-3 and a 1-2 on the other occasion. 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. Only 11 of their 49 contenders have completed the course since 1992.

Prior to 2015, eleven-year-olds had won the three previous runnings. The odds are more in their favour than you might think as horses aged 10+ have won 17 times in the last 27 years. 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 25 years is ten, Many Clouds in 2015 and Numbersixvalverde in 2006. Although officially a novice, Rule The World was having his 14th chase start when successful last year.


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 four 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. Maybe it was a coincidence or maybe it wasn’t but the 1-2-3-4-5 in 2013 had all finished in the first four in an Aintree, Scottish, Welsh or Irish National before underlining the stamina argument. In 2014 the winner, second and fourth had all won races over at least the best part of 3½ miles and, in 2015, a Hennessy winner beat a strong stayer in Saint Are into second with winners of the Welsh, Irish and Durham National finishing third, fifth and sixth. The fourth, Alvarado, was placing in the race for the second year running. The 2016 running saw the previous year’s Irish Grand National runner-up beat the Grimthorpe Chase (3m2f) winner and the Cork National (3m4f) winner.


Of the last 20 Grand National winners, as many as 13 had won or finished placed in a National of one description or another, Rule The World (second in the Irish National) being the latest. 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 five winners in the last 18 years (Bobbyjo, Papillon, Red Marauder, Numbersixvalverde and Rule The World) but it has been the previous season’s Scottish Grand National that has had most impact of late as three of the last eight Aintree heroes contested that 4m1f handicap race the previous spring where they finished ninth, sixth and second respectively.


The Hennessy Gold Cup used to be an excellent guide as between 1987 and 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 four seasons ago 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 nine winners ran in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase at The Open Meeting at Cheltenham in November.


Eight Grand National winners going back to 1991 (Seagram, Miinnehoma, Rough Quest, Bindaree, Silver Birch, Don’t Push It, Pineau De Re and Many Clouds) ran at the Cheltenham Festival. However, just one Cheltenham Festival winner from the same season has followed up in the Grand National since Nicolaus Silver won in 1961.

The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase is a notable guide. Sunnyhillboy could not have gone any closer here five years ago 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 Network Final at the Cheltenham Festival where they finished pulled up and third respectively. Silver Birch (2007) finished third in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase prior to his victory here but, a little surprisingly, only Bindaree (2002) since 1991 contested the valuable Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase on his previous start.


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 45 winners.


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. 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. Rule The World never fell or unseated his rider in his 26-race career and 17 of the last 20 winners had no more than two falls/unseats to their name beforehand but, that said, two of those winners came in the last five years.


Since Lord Gyllene won in 1997, only Ballabriggs of subsequent winners had won more than once earlier in the season and his successes were achieved in novice hurdles. That was until Many Clouds broke yet another strong pattern two years ago having won three times over fences earlier in the campaign. On the subject of hurdling, nine of the last 14 winners had run over hurdles at some point earlier in the season.


A total of 56 days had passed since Neptune Collonges (2012) had his previous start when he was narrowly beaten in the Grand National Trial at Haydock meaning that he became the first winner since Aldaniti (1981) to have been off the course for over 50 days. In the whole scheme of things six days is neither here nor there, the underlying point is that a fairly recent run is important and it also doesn’t necessarily have to be a good one.


Three 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.


Five of the last 16 winners ran in the previous season’s Grand National and nine winners in the same time period had run in any race over the spruce-topped fences. Since Hallo Dandy won in 1984 having finished fourth the previous season, only Amberleigh House has won having finished in the first four 12 months earlier from as many as 19 defending title holders and 55 horses placed second, third or fourth to take their chance again. Top-four finishers from the previous year have an excellent completion record though with 48 of those returning 74 contenders safely negotiating all 30 fences again.


Three of the last ten winners were officially at least 5lb ‘well in’ having improved since the weights were unveiled in mid-February. 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 five 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 and 2004 had carried no more than 11st but, with four consecutive winners between 2009 and 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. However, class came to the fore in 2015 with Many Clouds carrying 11st 9lb to victory, comfortably the biggest weight of any winner since Red Rum. Seven of the first eight home last season carried between 10st 5lb-10st 9lb.


Ruby Walsh has the best record of current jockeys having won on Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2006) and he has completed the course on seven other occasions (four of which finishing second, third or fourth) from 12 rides. Leighton Aspell has ridden two of the last three winners and Barry Geraghty won on Monty’s Pass (2003) and has also ridden four other horses into a place from 16 attempts. Paul Moloney has not ridden the winner but he remarkably reached a place for seven consecutive years up until finishing 12th last year.


Nigel Twiston-Davies is the only trainer currently holding a licence to have won the Grand National more than once courtesy of Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002) from his 46 runners. Nicky Henderson has yet to win the Grand National from 39 attempts (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 30 runners as a trainer is a superb return.


A total of 25 Irish-trained horses have won the Grand National (Matthew being the first in 1847) and Rule The World became the first for eight years last season. Interestingly, five of the last six Irish-trained winners going back to 1999 had run over hurdles in one of their previous two races.


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-three finisher in seven of the last 13 years.


All but four of the last 18 winners were bred in Ireland from marginally over 50% representation but, with Mon Mome, Neptune Collonges and Pineau De Re successful in the last eight years from just 20% representation, the days of opposing French-breds (no winner for 100 years up until 2009) are well and truly over. Old Vic is the sire with the best recent record having produced Comply Or Die (2008) and the 1-2 two years later when Don’t Push It (2010) beat Black Apalachi. Another of his progeny, Sunnyhillboy, was just a nose away from giving him a third Grand National winner.


Regarding race tactics, although 21 of the last 27 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. Prominent racers have a tremendous record in one-lap races over these fences, which is not quite as strong as over longer distances but it is not too far off. However, of those most-recent Grand National winners not to have raced bang on the pace once the field heads out for the second circuit, four have been in just the last eight years.


The fact that 16 of the last 26 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 ten 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.


There have been four winning favourites or joint-favourites in the last two decades; the very well-handicapped Rough Quest (1996) having finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his previous start after the weights had been announced, Hedgehunter (2005), who fell at the final fence 12 months earlier when looking likely to finish third, Comply Or Die (2008) for David Pipe in his second season as a trainer and Don’t Push It (2010) who gave AP McCoy a famous victory.

At a glance summary

Finished in the first four in a National of another description
Aged 10+
Officially 5lb+ well in since the weights were released
Ran over hurdles earlier in the season
Contested the Hennessy Gold Cup
Owned by Trevor Hemmings or J P McManus
Failed to win over at least three miles
Aged 7 or younger or 12 or older
Arriving off a break of over 50 days
Won more than once earlier in the season
Fallen or unseated their rider more than twice earlier in their career
Finished in the first four in last season’s Grand National (for win-only purposes)
Won at this season’s Cheltenham Festival
Not bred in Ireland or France
Winner of the Betfred Grand National Trial
Trained by Nicky Henderson
More than six runs or less than three runs this season

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