The whole nation loves a bet on the Grand National and everyone seems to have their own method of making their selection. For many it will be their only bet of the year and so their choice may be based on nothing more scientific than their lucky number, their house number, or the name of a friend or relative. Similarly, the rather politically incorrect “housewives choice” is unlikely to emerge after long nights of studying the formbook, but will instead be a grey, or be based on the jockey, trainer or name (such as Party Politics, who cost the bookies by winning the race just five days before a general election).
Believe it or not, it is possible to apply an element of science to the selection process and whilst, as the saying goes, there are lies, damn lies and statistics, it is hard to ignore certain of the historical trends.
In particularly, until recently it was common knowledge among more regular punters that horses carrying in excess of 11 stone rarely seemed to win the National allowing them to rule out a good chunk of the field. However, this trend has shown signs of being reversed in recent renewals, not least last year when Many Clouds carried the monster weight of 11st 9lb to victory.
The next thing to bear in mind if you intend to have a bet before the day of the big race is that, of the horses entered (see the Grand National entries), only forty can run and so any horse below, say, number fifty in that list ahead of the final declaration stage has very little chance of making the cut and taking part.
The key to having an ante post bet, of course, is to try to find a horse that is guaranteed to make the line up on the day and with the National this task is made even trickier than usual because of the limit on the number of runners who can take part. As always, well fancied horses will drop out right up to the day of the race due to injury, illness, loss of form etc. However, if your selection is below number 40 then there is this additional risk to take into account.
Finally, there is one completely unscientific factor to take into account. Almost without fail there is a fairy tale behind every Grand National winner and when analysing the form of this year’s runners it is always worth having at the back of your mind whether there would be a fitting National story behind a win for a particular horse. The Grand National history section of this site relives the greatest National stories of all time and a further chapter could be written this year if, for example, Many Clouds can become the first back to back winner since Red Rum, or Richard Johnson can end his streak as the losing most jockey in National history.
Whatever method you use, you certainly won’t be alone in staking your hard earned cash on the great race. Nearly half the UK adult population have a flutter on the Grand National betting a total £300 million, at an average of £8 per bet and Grand National day is the one day of the year when women close the gap on men in the betting stakes – one in every three Grand National bets is placed by a woman.
To give you an idea of the scale of our betting activity, it is estimated that if all of the betting slips from the Grand National were placed end-to-end they would stretch all the way from Liverpool to Las Vegas and back, a distance of more than 5,000 miles!
To put it another way, the horses will complete almost two circuits of the two-mile Grand National course, but if the £300 million in stakes was arranged in £20 notes around the Grand National course, they would circle the famous track more than 1,000 times.
Beginner’s Betting Guide
What does the handicap mean?
Each horse running in the Grand National is allotted a weight with the intention of equalising the chance of every runner – i.e. the better horses carry the most weight. It’s not an exact science and the statistics used to point markedly to the fact that horses with higher weights struggled in the National, but five of the last seven winners have all carried at least 11st, suggesting this stat may be in the process of being turned on its head.
In terms of handicap marks, as the course had been modified on safety grounds and the handicap has been compressed, the most famous race of the jumps season has attracted better horses – the last three winners before Aurora’s Encore were all rated 150 or above, while the previous seven winners´ ratings averaged out at just over 140. Last year’s winner, Many Clouds, competed with distinction in the Gold Cup before his Aintree success and ran off a mark of 160.
Does the horse’s age matter?
Two seven-year-olds ran in the 2011 Grand National, three in 2012, one in 2013, two in 2014 and 2 in 2015, but no horse of that age has won the race since 1940. Eleven-year-olds have proved the most successful age group in recent years, providing 11 of the last 36 winners, including three of the last four, but 9 and 10 year olds (each with nine of the last 36) have also enjoyed plenty of success. The oldest ever winner, Peter Simple in 1853, was 15, whilst Many Clouds was the first 8 year old to win since Bindaree in 2002.
What is referred to by the going?
The condition of the turf, largely how wet or dry it is, is measured on a scale which varies from ‘heavy’ to ‘hard’, but usually the going for the Grand National is either good or good to soft. Some horses have a notable preference for a certain type of ground, but the majority of horses handle most types of going.
However, one statistic invariably holds true and that is the softer the ground the fewer the finishers. Soft or heavy ground not only saps horses’ stamina (causing more of them to pull up and not complete their round) but it is also harder to jump out of, leading to more fallers.
The best recent example of this was the 2001 renewal on heavy ground, when only four horses completed (and two of those had to be remounted).
With the growing concerns over animal welfare, and the improvement in the quality of watering facilitates at the large tracks, it is unlikely that we will see the great race run again on a good to firm surface or quicker.
The quicker the ground, the quicker the horses travel, thus increasing the dangers for both horse and jockey, so the executive at Aintree will, unsurprisingly, look to add water to the course artificially if there is insufficient rain in the build up to the race.
The ground was pretty lively in 1990 when Mr Frisk won in a time of 8 mins 47.8 secs, but on last year’s good to soft surface Many Clouds was still able to record a time only 11 seconds slower. Those two horses are the only ones to have broken the 9 minute barrier.
Lottery’s winning time in 1839 was 14 mins 53 secs, whilst the 2001 renewal took just over 11 minutes.
Time comparisons aren’t perhaps as helpful as they once were, however, given the recent adjustments to the course and the distance of the contest.
Is there an optimum place at the start?
No, not really. Each jockey has their own preference as to where they like to be in the early part of the race, either towards the front or the rear or somewhere in between. Some riders prefer to stay close to the inner rail, saving ground around the bends, whilst others prefer to take a wider route around the outside where their horses can get a clearer sight of the fences and run less of a risk of being hampered or brought down by fallers.
Having said that, those that go flying off at the start are rarely there at the finish and it also rarely pays to get too far behind early on.
One other point to note is that some of the fences (most notably Becher’s Brook) are much steeper on the inside.
Should anyone back the favourite?
There have been just 7 winning favourites of the Grand National since 1950. The last horse to go off at less than 5/1 was Red Rum – unfortunately that came on one of the two occasions when he was beaten in the race rather than in one of the three years when he was successful. He was 7/2 when beaten by L’Escargot in 1975.
What happens to loose horses?
There is only so much anyone can do to stop 600kg of prime thoroughbred. Whilst some horses continue to run with the field, others gallop straight back to the comfort of the stables. Horses that lose their jockey in the early stages can play a further part in the race when running loose. In 2005, Tony McCoy looked set to break his duck in the world’s most famous jumps race until a loose horse ran at right angles in front of his mount, Clan Royal, forcing him out of the contest on the run to Becher’s Brook on the second circuit.
In the past, loose horses have sometimes been remounted. For example, as mentioned above, Blowing Wind and Papillon finished third and fourth respectively after being remounted in 2001. However, for welfare reasons jockeys are now forbidden from getting back on board a horse that has fallen.
In 2009 the course was widened so there was enough room for runners to bypass fences if required, including Becher’s Brook.
When does a likely winner emerge?
This varies from race to race. For the last two years, the winner has been in command at the last (even though in both cases most of the field was still intact going out on to the final circuit), whilst in 2011 a dozen horses were still in with a chance at the penultimate obstacle until Ballabriggs emerged from the pack to pull clear. A year previously, the first three had the race to themselves from some way out. Each Grand National is different. Don’t forget Foinavon, who was left furlongs clear in 1967 when only he survived a pile-up at the 23rd fence.
Grand National Betting History
Due to the size and competitive nature of the Grand National field, the race is often won by a horse with a double-figure starting price.
Only Grittar (7/1), West Tip (15/2), Rough Quest (7/1), Earth Summit (7/1), Hedgehunter (7/1) and Comply Or Die (7/1) have been returned at less than 10/1 since 1978.
Since 2000, only three favourites have won: Hedgehunter in 2005, Comply or Die in 2008 and Don’t Push It in 2010.
There have also been a number of long-priced shocks in recent renewals, most notably Mon Mome at 100/1 (2009) and Aurora’s Encore at 66/1 (2013).
In total 5 winners in the race’s history have started at 100/1: Tipperary Tim (1928), Gregalach (1929), Caughoo (1947), Foinavon (1967) and Mon Mome (2009).
Poethlyn (1919) is the shortest-priced winner of the race at 11/4.
Below we track the record of Grand National favourites over the last few years (winners are in CAPS):
|Year||Grand National favourite||Result|
|2016||The Last Samuri / Many Clouds (8/1)||2nd / 16th|
|2014||Double Seven / Teaforthree (10/1)||3rd / Unseated Rider|
|2012||Seabass / Shakalakaboomboom (8/1)||3rd / 9th|
|2011||The Midnight Club (15/2)||6th|
|2010||DON’T PUSH IT / Big Fella Thanks (10/1)||WON / 4th|
|2009||Butler’s Cabin (7/1)||7th|
|2008||COMPLY OR DIE / Cloudy Lane (7/1)||WON / 6th|
|2007||Point Barrow / Joe’s Edge / Monkerhostin (8/1)||Fell at 1st / Pulled-up at 20th / Refused 7th|
|2006||Hedgehunter / Clan Royal (5/1)||2nd / 3rd|
|2004||Clan Royal / Bindaree / Joss Naylor / Jurancon II (10/1)||2nd / Unseated at 6th / Pulled-up before 19th / Fell at 4th|
|2003||Shotgun Willy (7/1)||Pulled-up after 21st|
|2002||Blowing Wind (8/1)||3rd|
|2001||Edmond / Inis Cara / Moral Support (10/1)||Fell at the chair (15th) / Fell at 4th / Refused Canal Turn (8th)|
|2000||Dark Stranger (9/1)||Unseated rider at 3rd|
|1999||Fiddling The Facts (6/1)||Fell at second Becher’s Brook (22nd)|
|1998||EARTH SUMMIT (7/1)||WON|
|1997||Go Ballisitc (7/1)||Pulled-up at the 29th|
|1996||ROUGH QUEST (7/1)||WON|
|1995||Master Oats (5/1)||7th|
|1994||Moorcroft Boy (5/1)||3rd|
|1992||Docklands Express (15/2)||4th|
|1991||Bonanza Boy (13/2)||5th|
|1990||Brown Windsor (7/1)||5th|
|1989||Dixton House (7/1)||Fell at first Beecher’s Brook (6th)|
Grand National Wacky Wagers
Over the years there have been many bizarre bets on the Grand National – some winners and some losers. Here are some of our favourites:
One of the earliest National gambles was landed in the 19th century. In 1866 owner/trainer Edward Studd had £1,000 at 40/1 about Salamander. His £40,000 winnings would equate to nearly £3 million at today’s values.
Manifesto hit the bookies hard on both occasions he won the Grand National, in 1897 and 1899. He was sent off 6/1 favourite for his first win when owned by heavy-gambling Irish solicitor Harry Dyas. He was 5/1 second favourite two years later when scoring for new owner John Bulteel. The 4/1 favourite was his half-sister Gentle Ida, who fell.
A confident Vincent O’Brien told owner Joe ‘Mincemeat’ Griffin to have a good bet on Early Mist in the 1953 race. Griffin won £100,000 when his horse came in. He also owned the 1954 winner Royal Tan, also trained by O’Brien.
Amateur rider and optimist Peter Walker, from Blackpool, bet £10 at 1000/1 with William Hill in 1993 when he was 54 that one day he would become the oldest man ever to ride in the National. He is still waiting to collect…
Judy Higby from St Albans, Herts, tried to bet that the 1993 Grand National would not be run after she had a premonition. Her bookie said he’d do her a favour by not taking her money because it couldn’t happen. The race was cancelled after a false-start fiasco!
Terry Ramsden staked over £100,000 on his own horse, Mr Snugfit, in 1986 and stood to win over £1 million. With three fences left Mr Snugfit, the 13/2 favourite, had most of the 20 runners in front of him but jockey Phil Tuck galvanised him so well that he passed all but three and finished in fourth place to give his owner a small profit from his each-way bets.
Bingo club tycoon, Mike Futter, who owned 2003 Grand National winner Monty’s Pass, won nearly £1 million on the race. His biggest bet was £10,000 at 50/1 which earned him £500,000. So when Barry Geraghty crossed the line, Futter landed the biggest gamble in the race’s long history.
Headmaster Peter Rogers collected £6,000 in 1983 after betting the parents of children at his St Michael’s Junior School in Kirby that he could complete the Grand National course – without a horse. He did it in 40 minutes – and donated his winnings to school funds.
In 1971, Lord Poulett, owner of The Lamb, had a dream in which his horse won the National, ridden by jockey Tommy Pickernell – so he hired Pickernell. The Lamb started 11/2 second favourite – and duly won!
Papillon’s success in 2000 for trainer Ted Walsh and his jockey son Ruby was a popular victory. Tipped by the Racing Post’s Pricewise column at 33/1 on the morning of the race, he was sent off at 10/1 by race time.
The whole nation loves a bet on the Grand National in which 40 runners take on the demanding four-and-a-half mile Aintree course