It’s that time of year again, when everyone who knows I work in the betting industry asks me ‘any tips for the National?’
It’s as though they conveniently overlook the fact that it’s a 40 runner handicap and expect an inside line about who is going to win the Aintree spectacle. To be honest though, most of those asking wouldn’t know what a handicap was, let alone the fact that 40 runners in one race is unique to the Grand National and is about four times bigger than average field-size of races I bet on.
However, failing to provide a pick for the National is bordering on fraudulent for anyone who pays an iota of interest in National Hunt racing, let alone someone who carves a living from the sport. Therefore, I always have a couple of National selections on hand for those who expect me to know the winner like some equine clairvoyant.
I actually enjoy the annual battle with the Racing Post website as I try to untangle the Grand National and whilst finding the winner is a colossal task, I do approach it in a totally different way than I would any other race and I’m sharing that process on the blog this year.
I do consider trends when looking at any race but since I prefer to bet in non-handicaps, I tend to find that assessing ability of a horse in terms of its rating along with consideration of the other core variables such as distance, going and breeding is the most sustainable way of finding winners. However, when there’s 40 runners to consider and an infinite amount of measurables, something has to give and therefore, I reduce the Grand National field based on trends and this year I have chosen to illustrate the process of elimination I use that has seen me make the Grand National a 12 runner race (click the spreadsheet link or image below to view the full data).
Taking 12 factors that each of the last 10 National winners have all shared going in to the race, I produced the spreadsheet below. The 12 criteria are as follows – every winner of the Grand National since Amberleigh House in 2004;
- Was aged between 8 and 12
- Carried 11 stone 6lb or less
- Had won a chase over at least 25f (3 1f)
- Had placed in a race over 26f (3m 2f)
- Had won a chase worth at least £29,000
- Had at least three prep runs during the season
- Had won at least three times over fences
- Had raced at least eight time over fences
- Had an official rating between 136 and 157
- Had run during the 53 days prior to lining up in the Grand National
- Had either won or been placed in chase that featured 15 or more runners
Collectively, I think these 12 commonalities constitute a strong profile for a Grand National winner and eight of this year’s entries satisfy all 12 criteria, they are:
Lion Na Bearnai
Chance Du Roy
Raz De Maree
There are also 12 who meet 11 criteria and of those, I’m happy to consider the one’s who miss out on either ‘days since last run’ or ‘number of prep runs’, two criteria that I think can be overlooked. I wouldn’t ignore question marks about ability to stay the trip, jumping and big field experience or value of races won but if they are a couple of weeks short on days since last run or have two runs for the season, I’m happy to include and they are:
Prince De Beauchene
The Rainbow Hunter
So there you have it, the Grand National looks a much more manageable 12 runner race, they question now is which of the earmarked dozen is capable of finishing ahead of the rest? Of those 12, I am happy to draw a line through Mountainous straight away as he is a horse that has only ever won on ground with the word soft or heavy in the going. Unless the heavens open over Merseyside over the next week I can’t see him featuring, if he runs at all. For similar reasons, I am happy to dismiss the chances of Raz De Maree, who has done all his winning on rain soaked ground.
I should point out that one that missed out on inclusion on my short-list having ticked 11 boxes was Hennessy winner, Triolo D’Alene, who is arguably a top class prospect in the making and the only negative is that he is seven-year-old and not horse younger than eight has won the National since Bogskar in 1940! There’s also the question about how much the Gold Cup took out of him but I like him and think he provides Nicky Henderson with the best chance of ending his wait for Grand National glory.
From a value perspective alone, Lion Na Bearnai (50/1), Chance Du Roy (40/1) and Big Shu (40/1) are the biggest priced runners of these who make the cut and for little more reason than they meet all criteria and are big prices, all merit each-way consideration on the grounds of value.
Of the others, I really like Balthazar King, who is just one pound higher than last year and heads to Aintree on the crest of four consecutive wins this season, the most recent of which came in the Cross Country at Cheltenham, however, he ran out of fuel in last year’s race after leading after the 16th fence before the light went out and I can’t see him staying the distance again this time around.
I also like Godsmejudge, winner of the Scottish Grand National last year and off a mark of 148 he looks well treated on that form but his last two runs leave a lot to be desired having been pulled up on both occasions and whilst the Alan King yard may have always had one eye on a tilt at the National I’d like to have seen more since that win at Ayr.
It can’t go unnoticed that the ante post favourite, Teaforthree, also ticks all the boxes and whilst I could make a solid argument for the Rebecca Curtis runner going one better than when third twelve months ago, especially now 5lb lighter, I simply can’t have the favourite for a 40 runner race on the grounds of value alone but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 10-year-old win and if you think 9/1 is value, go ahead and take that price.
Former Welsh National winner, Monbeg Dude, is another that makes plenty of appeal but there is just one too many below par runs in his form for me to get excited and I think that Teaforthree will easily reverse Welsh National placings with just three pounds between the pair at Aintree instead of the 16lb difference that saw the Michael Scudamore runner get the better of the pair by half a length at Chepstow last year.
The one for me though is Burton Port, who is a best price 33/1 shot and whilst he’s not won in over three years, he has finished second on four of the ten runs since that last victory, including the Grade One Betfred Bowl at Aintree’s Grand National meeting two years ago. Three weeks prior to that, he had finished fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Synchronised and those two runs saw him rated 166, some 21lb greater than his current mark of 145!
This is a horse full of ability, there’s no doubt about it and at 10-years-old, he should have more than enough left in the tank to see that ability exploit the 10 stone 8lb he is set to shoulder on Saturday, 5th April. He has had five runs this season following an 18 month lay-off and whilst none of those have suggested he is anywhere near the Grade One winner he threatened earlier in his chasing career, he did finish second at Newbury last time out on heavy ground and that was enough for me to think he is far from finished, especially after a recent breathing operation should also see him improve some more on that latest run. Add to the equation that he is trained by Jonjo O’Neil and owned by Sir Trevor Hemmings, neither of whom are strangers to Grand National success, Burton Port is my pick to win the 2014 Grand National at odds of 33/1.
At the end of the day, it’s a lottery as several big price winners have shown in recent years and whilst I’m anything but confident, I do think the selection satisfies the objective of finding a horse that has a profile that matches the last 10 winners of the Grand National together with the proven ability to potentially exploit his handicap mark.
There’s bound to be a few changes over the next week and I’ll aim to update the spreadsheet at the 48 hour decs but if you find it useful, please let me know.
2014 Grand National Pick – Burton Port @ 33/1