2023 Randox Grand National
Stats & Trends
The Randox Health Grand National is simply the biggest and most famous horse race in the world. Run at Aintree racecourse each year in early April the gruelling contest is run over a trip of 4 1/2 miles with the first ever winner being the appropriately-named Lottery.
With 40 runners to go through one popular angle on whittling down the field is to use some key trends - apply these to the 2022 Grand National runners and you'll at least build up a profile of the type of horse it takes to win the Liverpool marathon.
Did you know that since 1978 only two horses have won carrying more than 11-5 in weight?!
A novice having just his eighth chase start winning the world’s greatest steeplechase is not normal but that is what Noble Yeats achieved when recording a 50/1 surprise last year, though you could argue that it had been coming since the changes to the course and race conditions.
Up until Noble Yeats’ victory, the least number of chases previously contested by a Grand National winner in the last 29 years was 10. Although officially a novice, Rule The World was having his 14th chase start when successful as a second-season chaser.
The most recent results are the most important and the tide has certainly turned in favour of horses aged in single figures, and first and second-season chasers have won five of the last seven renewals. The change started in 2015 when Many Clouds became the youngest winner, at the age of eight, since Bindaree 13 years earlier, which was the first of many trends that he overcame to secure a famous victory. However, the nine-year-old Rule The World managed to even trump Many Clouds’ trends-busting success being a maiden over fences when he won, so he became the first novice (albeit a second-season chaser) to win since Mr What in 1958, and then One For Arthur, Tiger Roll and Minella Times were all successful at the age of eight. And then came along Noble Yeats to become the first winning seven-year-old since Bogskar in 1940.
The upshot of all of that is that horses aged under 10 have now won the last seven runnings, which is more or less timed in line with the safety modifications to the race following a run of 13 years in which the winner was aged in double digits on 10 occasions. 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.
What wasn’t a surprise at all last year was that the winner was trained in Ireland. Or that it was a 1-2-3 for the raiders (and seven of the first nine positions) bearing in mind that they were responsible for 10 of the first 11 home the previous season. After the 2020 running was abandoned, last season’s result meant an Irish domination for the fourth year running, with Tiger Roll leading home a 1-2-3-5 in 2019 a year on from supplying the 1-2-3-4. Six of the last 10 Irish-trained winners going back to 1999 had run over hurdles in one of their previous two races.
‘WELL IN’ AT THE WEIGHTS
As for this season, for the first time there were more Irish than British entries, and they also won three of the four handicap chases at this season’s Cheltenham Festival. However, it is currently a Scottish-trained contender in Corach Rambler that heads the market, attempting to give Lucinda Russell her second winner in the race following One For Arthur and being officially 10lb ‘well in’ after winning the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham for the second season running.
Four of the last 15 winners were officially at least 5lb ‘well in’ having improved since the weights were unveiled in mid-February, and second-best in behind Corach Rambler is Our Power (6lb). Despite having won the Grand National the previous season, Tiger Roll was in fact as much as 8lb ‘well in’ for his second success having won the Cross Country Chase by 22 lengths after the weights were framed. 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. Last season’s second and third were both officially ‘well-in’ having won since the weights were unveiled.
If you still prefer to look to a more experienced chaser, in spite of the strong recent evidence, six of the last 22 winners ran in the previous season’s Grand National and 11 winners in the same time period had run in any race over the spruce-topped fences. Since Hallo Dandy won in 1984 having finished fourth the previous season, only Amberleigh House had gone on to win the Grand National having finished in the first four 12 months earlier until Tiger Roll’s second success in the race. Therefore, he was succeeding where 20 defending title holders and 61 horses placed second, third or fourth to take their chance again had failed, bar Amberleigh House, in the last 29 years. Noble Yeats is on target to try and emulate him after he was a staying-on fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Regards the subject of weight, the consensus view after Neptune Collonges became the first winner since Red Rum to carry over 11st 5lb 11 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. A year later, just one horse carrying over 11st finished in the first 15 (and Blaklion - 4th - carried only 1lb over that threshold), and in 2018 six of the first seven home carried under 11st. Tiger Roll carried 11st 5lb to his second success in the race, but few argue that we are not dealing with a remarkable horse in his case. As for the 2021 running, only one horse in the top eight in the handicap could finish in the first 12.
Last season witnessed anther lower-weighted winner, but the second and fourth could be found in the top four in the handicap. I would still favour looking at the lower half of the handicap, if not even the final third like five of the last nine winners.
The race distance was cut to 4m3½f in 2013 but since then it has been re-measured at 4m2f and 74 yards, meaning the Grand National 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 10 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, thus ensuring that horses have to stay extra well to win.
Contrary to what is often quoted by ultra-positive-thinking connections attempting to justify their participation, the facts tell us that you certainly do not “need a two-and-a-half-miler for the Grand National,” though it has to be said that the last two winners had not won over 3m before their greatest success.
Minella Times had run well in defeat over 3m when second in the highly-competitive Paddy Power Chase, so couldn’t be labelled a 2m4f specialist, but he did become the first winner since Gay Trip in 1970 not to have won a race over 3m+ beforehand, and Noble Yeats had run over 3m+ on his four starts prior to winning at Aintree. Time, therefore, to re-word the advice in the final summary negatives section from: ‘Failed to win over at least three miles’ to ‘Considered to be a 2m4f specialist’.
It was Any Second Now who finished runner-up to Noble Yeats in the ownership of J P McManus. Therefore, Don’t Push It and Minella Times remain his two Grand National winners, but he may well have owned four 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. McManus has now owned a top-four finisher in 11 of the last 18 years. Any Second Now has placed in the last two runnings and so leads his team again, which could also include Capodanno , Enjoy D’Allen , The Shunter, Darasso and A Wave Of The Sea .
Of the other big owners, Gigginstown were winning the race for the third time in four years when Tiger Roll won it for a second time to add to Rule The World’s success. Delta Work , Coko Beach and Fury Road look their main three hopes this time around. The late Trevor Hemmings had a love affair with the Grand National and has had at least one runner every year since 2000. His colours were carried to victory on three occasions via Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds, with Cloudy Glen set to sport the same silks this year.
With four weeks between Cheltenham and the latest ever running of the Grand National this season, expect plenty of leading fancies to have run at Prestbury Park in March. Eleven Grand National winners going back to 1991 (Seagram, Miinnehoma, Rough Quest, Bindaree, Silver Birch, Don’t Push It, Pineau De Re, Many Clouds, Tiger Roll x2 and Noble Yeats) ran at the Cheltenham Festival, and Tiger Roll became the first horse to win at both meetings since Seagram in 1991. It was a further 30 years back to Nicolaus Silver to find the previous horse to manage this feat, though the J P McManus-owned pair of Sunnyhillboy and Cause Of Causes both finished second here after winning at Cheltenham.
GLENFARCLAS CROSS COUNTRY CHASE
The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase over 3m6f at the Cheltenham Festival has developed into the best guide of late. In addition to Tiger Roll completing the Cross Country-Grand National double twice (Bless The Wings was also third in the Grand National in 2018 after he ran in the Cross Country), Gordon Elliott also ran Silver Birch, Causes Of Causes and Delta Work in that contest before they finished first, second and third respectively in the Grand National, and Balthazar King only found one too good at Aintree after winning the Cross Country at Prestbury Park. This season’s 1-2 in Delta Work and Galvin look set to take each other on again.
Noble Yeats finished ninth in the Ultima ahead of winning the Grand National last season, but historically the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase has a better win/place record of the two staying handicap chases at the Cheltenham Festival. 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. Any Second Now also won the Kim Muir off top weight ahead of finishing placed in two Grand Nationals in later years. Mr Incredible finished third in an Irish-dominated running last month, in which they occupied the first seven places.
The Coral Gold Cup at Newbury 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 10 years until Neptune Collonges ran at Newbury and, of course, Many Clouds completed a famous double in 2014/15. Le Milos is attempting to emulate his achievement this season.
Surprisingly, no winner of the Grand National Trial at Haydock has ever 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. Quick Wave beat Snow Leopardess and Cloudy Glen earlier this season.
EXPERIENCE IN NATIONALS
Of the last 25 Grand National winners, as many as 14 had won or finished placed in a National of one description or another. Ten years ago, the 1-2-3-4-5 in 2013 had all finished in the first four in an Aintree, Scottish, Welsh or Irish National, but it is a different race now.
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 six winners in the last 24 years (Bobbyjo, Papillon, Red Marauder, Numbersixvalverde, Rule The World and Tiger Roll), and this year could feature the third and sixth; Gaillard Du Mesnil and Velvet Elvis . Also note the Scottish Grand National, as three of the last 13 Aintree heroes contested that 4m1f handicap race the previous spring, where they finished ninth, sixth and second respectively.
PREP OVER HURDLES
Many trainers now like to use a race over hurdles to help put the final touches to their preparation and both Don’t Push It (2010) and Pineau De Re (2014) had their final start in the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival, where they finished pulled up and third respectively. On the subject of hurdling, 10 of the last 18 winners had run over hurdles at some point earlier in the season.
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, with 33 getting past half-way. Therefore, it can be argued that being on a super-safe jumper is not quite the advantage it used to be, and the main argument against Tiger Roll when he won his first Grand National last season was that he may be too small to win. 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, for 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 six winners have never fallen or unseated their rider during their career under Rules, and 22 of the last 25 winners had no more than two falls/unseats to their name beforehand but, that said, two of those winners came in the last nine runnings.
RUNS THAT SEASON
Eight years ago, 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.
Nigel Twiston-Davies and Gordon Elliott are the only trainers currently holding a licence to have won the Grand National more than once. Nicky Henderson has yet to win the Grand National from 41 runners (eight departed at the first fence) of which four have placed, notably his very first runner in Zongalero (1979), who was one of two runners-up for the master of Seven Barrows. Mister Coffey is his only entry this year. Jonjo O’Neill never completed the Grand National course in eight attempts as a jockey, but one victory, two seconds and three thirds from 34 runners as a trainer is a very good return. He will be unrepresented this season, though.
All but four of the last 23 winners were bred in Ireland from marginally over 50% representation, but with Mon Mome, Neptune Collonges and Pineau De Re all successful in the last 14 years from approximately just 20% representation, the days of opposing French-breds (no winner for 100 years up until 2009) are well and truly over.
Regarding race tactics, although 22 of the last 31 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 since the race modifications. Prominent racers have a tremendous record in one-lap races over these fences, which is not quite as strong as over longer distances anymore. Of those most-recent Grand National winners not to have raced bang on the pace once the field heads out for the second circuit, seven have been in just the last 11 years.
There have been five winning favourites or joint-favourites since 1996, with Tiger Roll the shortest-priced winner since Poethyln won at 11/4 in 1919 (just 22 runners) when he was successful as the 4/1 favourite for his second victory. And that was never really in doubt from after Bechers’ on the second circuit, when he poked his nose into a gap for the first time, at which he point he would have fairly taken on off but for Davy Russell, such was the way that he grabbed hold of the bridle.
With eight of the last 15 winners sent off at 100/1, 66/1, 50/1, 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 the BHA Handicapper, who has certainly succeeded in his brief to make the race more competitive.