Jumps Season - At The Races

Randox Health Grand National

    Aintree, Saturday 14th April 2018.
  • Stats Guides

Last Year's Winner: One For Arthur

One For Arthur
Jockey:
Dominic Fox
Trainer:
Miss Lucinda Russell
Age:
8
Weight:
10st 11lb
Starting Price:
14/1
Season Form Figures:
151
Previous Best:
1st - Classic Handicap Chase (Grade 3), Warwick (January 2017)

AGE

Three 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 third year running, it was a relatively young horse that came on top with the eight-year-old One For Arthur emerging on top and surely his 14/1 success proved popular with Guinness drinkers.

The evidence of those last three years suggests that looking for a vastly-experienced chaser is maybe now not the best punting policy given the recent race modification 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. Only 12 of their 52 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 have thought as horses aged 10+ have won 17 times in the last 28 years but the most recent results are the most important and the tide has certainly turned in favour of second-season chasers who have won the last three renewals.

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, One For Arthur last season, Many Clouds in 2015 and Numbersixvalverde in 2006. Although officially a novice, Rule The World was having his 14 th chase start when successful.

STAMINA

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 five 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 and last year’s race was won by the Betfred Classic (3m5f) winner beating the Cross Country Chase winner and a former Grand National runner-up.

TWO-AND-A-HALF-MILERS

On that evidence do you still want to be on the classy three-miler or, even worse, the 2½ milers? 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 46 winners.

NATIONALS EXPERIENCE

Of the last 21 Grand National winners, as many as 13 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 five winners in the last 19 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 nine Aintree heroes contested that 4m1f handicap race the previous spring where they finished ninth, sixth and second respectively.

KEY TRIALS

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 ten winners ran in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase at The Open Meeting at Cheltenham in November.

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL RUNNERS

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 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.

PREP OVER HURDLES

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. On the subject of hurdling, nine of the last 14 winners had run over hurdles at some point earlier in the season. 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.

JUMPING

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. The last two winners never fell or unseated their rider during their career and 18 of the last 21 winners had no more than two falls/unseats to their name beforehand but, that said, two of those winners came in the last six years.

RUNS DURING THE SEASON

In 2014 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.

PREVIOUS GRAND NATIONAL EXPERIENCE

Five of the last 17 winners ran in the previous season’s Grand National and ten 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. 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 56 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 49 of those returning 75 contenders safely negotiating all 30 fences again.

‘WELL-IN’ AT THE WEIGHTS

Three of the last 11 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.

WEIGHT CARRIED

The consensus view after Neptune Collonges became the first winner since Red Rum to carry over 11st 5lb six 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 and, last year, just one horse carrying over 11st finished in the first 15 and Blaklion (4 th) carried only 1lb over that threshold.

JOCKEYS

Ruby Walsh has the best record of current jockeys having won on Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2006) and he has completed the course on eight other occasions (four of which finishing second, third or fourth) from 13 rides. Leighton Aspell has ridden two of the last four 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 2016.

TRAINERS

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 47 runners. Nicky Henderson has yet to win the Grand National from 40 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 31 runners as a trainer is a superb return.

LUCK OF THE IRISH

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 two years ago. Interestingly, five of the last six Irish-trained winners going back to 1999 had run over hurdles in one of their previous two races.

OWNERS

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 eight of the last 14 years.

BREEDING

All but four of the last 19 winners were bred in Ireland from marginally over 50% representation but, with Mon Mome, Neptune Collonges and Pineau De Re successful in the last nine 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.

TACTICS

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.

SP

The fact that 17 of the last 27 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 11 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 since 1996.

At a glance summary

Positives
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 Ladbrokes Trophy
Owned by Trevor Hemmings or J P McManus
Bred in Ireland
Negatives
Failed to win over at least three miles
Aged 7 or 12+
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
Winner of the Haydock Grand National Trial
Trained by Nicky Henderson
More than six runs or less than three runs this season

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