French-breds struggle in the National – Myth or fact?

Last Updated 4 Mar 2020 | Commercial content | 18+
Becher Chase 2019

Becher Chase Raceday – Aintree Racecourse: Walk In The Mill ridden by James Best leads the field home to win the Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase during Becher Chase Raceday at Aintree Racecourse, Merseyside. David Davies/PA Images/Ritzau Scanpix

Among the many perceived wisdoms regarding the Randox Health Grand National one of the most spoken of is the apparent ‘fact’ that French-bred chasers aren’t up for the challenge.

In an era when French-bred chasers are a dominant force advertised by last year’s Cheltenham Festival where four of the six Grade 1 chases went to French-bred horses the jury remains out on their suitability for the Grand National.

After the likes of Pineau De Re, Neptune Collonges and Mon Mome prevailed in the space of six years between 2009 and 2014, the old adage looked ready to be put to bed once and for all but after five more barren years, plenty still believe that French-bred steeplechasers are not ideally suited by the Grand National test.

Here we look at the stats to uncover the truth.

Last year nine French breds went to post with fourth-placed Walk In The Mill and fifth-placed Anibale Fly the best of them. Both are expected to run in 2020 with the former one of the main fancies for the National beyond dual champion and favourite Tiger Roll.

The year before, 12 horses bred across the Channel went to post and it was Anibale Fly who finished fourth-faring best. Only five of the French breds finished although that was roughly equivalent percentage wise to the overall numbers.

In the pre-Tiger Roll days, 2017 saw One For Arthur triumph with third-placed Saint Are best of the dozen French imports. Eight of the 19 finishers were French so although the 12 had little bearing on the overall result they did better than average as far as getting round over the unique fences and 4¼m distance.

In 2016, when Rule The World provided a major upset, only four of the 10 French-bred runners completed and with Ucello Conti the best of them in a very remote sixth, that year was definitely a bad one for the French horses. That said conditions were pretty desperate and the race basically became a war of attrition.

It was 2015 that saw aforementioned Saint Are finish second to Many Clouds and that represents the best finish by a French bred since Pineau De Re who won his National in 2014.

Since Pineau De Re then we have seen 52 horses bred in France run in the Grand National and only Saint Are, who finished second and third, make the podium although French horses have finished fourth which rewarded each-way backers on two occasions also.

This year the leading French breds include Walk In The Mill and Anibale Fly who, a little like Saint Are, can be excused of any stats given prior efforts. The likes of second favourite Burrows Saint, Bobbyjo winner Acapella Bourgeois and last year’s National Hunt Chase winner Le Breuil however must buck the trend of recent years.

The overall conclusion is that there is little smoke without fire and French breds considering their dominance elsewhere do struggle to a degree in the National.

That said it would be a huge surprise if one of the aforementioned quintet don’t make the frame with Burrows Saint and Walk In The Mill holding very strong claims as the best alternatives to Tiger Roll.

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