Unravelling the Grand National riddle

Last Updated 7 Jul 2023 | By Enda McElhinney | Commercial content | 18+ | Play Responsibly | T&C Apply | Wagering

Image via @RacingPost on Twitter

The Grand National at Aintree is one of the most eagerly anticipated horse races in the world.

A marathon journey in excess of four-miles around the Merseyside track with some of the most punishing fences in racing to negotiate along the way, this race has long been the ultimate endurance test in National Hunt racing.

Picking the winner of the Grand National is no easy task, but there are certain trends and stats that can help us narrow down the field of 40.

Looking at some of the past trends for the race should allow us to shorten the list of potential winners and maybe even uncover the next Grand National winner.

Excelling eight and nine year olds

Generally speaking, younger horses tend to struggle in the Grand National. Just once since 1940 has any horse younger than eight-years-old won the Grand National – that was of course Noble Yeats for trainer Emmet Mullins and retiring amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen in 2022.

Pineau De Re in 2014 made it five in a row for horses aged 10 or 11-years-old but, since then, seven of the eight Aintree heroes have been aged eight or nine, with the exclusion of the aforementioned Noble Yeats.

Royal Athlete back in 1995 was the last horse aged older than 11 to win the prize.

Avoiding the top weights

Weight is another crucial guide to consider when assessing the Grand National puzzle. In an ideal world, the winner will carry less than 11st 5lbs in the race.

Since Red Rum completed his third victory in the race in 1977, only two horses have successfully carried more than this weight. They were the dramatic 2012 winner Neptune Collonges (11st 6lbs) for Paul Nicholls and Many Clouds in 2015 (11st 9lbs) for Oliver Sherwood.

Even the great Tiger Roll in the second of his two wins only had to carry 11st 5lb.

Stamina and experience matter

While few races match the stamina-sapping trip of the Grand National journey in excess of four miles, it is vital to seek out a horse with form at trips from three-miles and upwards.

To win the Aintree marathon, a horse has to dig into reserves it may not even know it has, but it is useful to know when a certain level of depth has already been proven.

In some cases, the best experience a horse can have is a previous run in the National.

Nothing prepares a horse more than having already tried and failed to land the race. In recent times Mon Mome, Silver Birch, Hedgehunter, Amberleigh House and Monty’s Pass have all won the Grand National having tried and failed before.

A horse will generally have won over fences at three-miles or more prior to Aintree glory.

Returning favourites

A generation passed by without a repeat winner from Red Rum in the 1970s before Tiger Roll laid that ghost to rest in 2019 by retaining the crown under Davy Russell for trainer Gordon Elliott.

The 2022 winner Noble Yeats was the latest to try and retain the great race, and he finished an honourable fourth as Corach Rambler justified favouritism in April.

Aged nine when he won in April, the Lucinda Russell-trained Corach Rambler could be the next to try and do it, while Noble Yeats is also likely to be back for another crack on Merseyside.

Furthermore, the likes of Vanillier (second) and Gaillard Du Mesnil (third) are others from the 2023 renewal that are deemed likely to return to Aintree next spring with crucial experience of this test on their CVs.

Enda McElhinney

Enda McElhinney is a racing writer with a growing portfolio of work on both British and Irish racing, with a particular fondness for National Hunt racing. While he acknowledges there have been many great runners; there has only ever been one Denman.

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