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This week saw the latest round of declarations for the 2012 John Smith’s Grand National, the world’s most famous horse race. With 59 horses still entered, there are some big priced runners – and therefore lots of potential value bets – to be found amongst the field. As usual, we’ll be taking a look at the key historical trends to emerge from past winners of the race, in our attempts to find the winner of the 2012 Grand National, and we’ve identified three horses that look like possible Grand National heroes this year, including a 40/1 (41.00) shot with Boylesports.

The Grand National. Four and a half miles of the famous Aintree racecourse, with thirty of the world’s toughest fences to negotiate. The race is the most valuable in National Hunt racing and will be viewed by an estimated 500 to 600 million people across the world, 70,000 of whom will travel to Liverpool to soak up what is undoubtedly the experience of a lifetime. £80,000,000 will be spent in the UK alone betting on the race, with both young and old, professional gamblers and elderly ladies alike, picking out their fancy in betting shops across the land. But who will win the race?

In an attempt to solve the 2012 Grand National puzzle, we will cast an eye over past winners of the race in a bid to pick out any trends that might help us thin the field from its current size of 59 runners, to a more manageable number.

The most important trend of all to emerge from analysis of past Grand National winning horses, concerns age. Only thirteen horses aged 12 or older have won in the entire history of the Grand National, while the last seven year old winner came way back in 1940. This means that we should really be looking for a horse aged 8 to 11, a range that has also been responsible for every single placed horse in the last seven renewals.

There used to be another golden rule when it came to picking a potential Grand National winner, which was related the to weight carried by the horse. Hedgehunter was the only Grand National winning horse for a quarter of a century to carry anything over 11st to victory (and then it was only 11st 1lb), making 11st a great cut off point when attempting to thin the field. However, the victory of Don’t Push It in 2010 smashed that particular trend, as AP McCoy’s mount lugged home 11st 5lb.

In recent years the tendency has been for the Grand National handicapper to compress the top end of the weights, which has seen an improvement in results for those horses nearer to the top of the handicap. In the past three years alone, the winning weights have been 11st, 11st 5lb and 11st. It seems to me that a change of tack is required with our approach to the Grand National weights and a ten year trend that has emerged shows that all of the last ten Grand National winners had carried no more than 14lbs in excess of the bottom weighted horse.

Obviously we won’t know the exact weight of the bottom rated horse until the final round of declarations, but we do know that it will be 10st 3lb at most, for that is the weight allotted to current 40th place holder Becausicouldntsee. So for now, I will be crossing out any horses allotted 11st 4lb or more for the 2012 Grand National.

Amongst that particular group of horses are two of the antepost favourites to win the 2012 National – last year’s winner Ballabriggs and recent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Synchronised. I am not too concerned by this, as Ballabriggs is up 4lbs when compared with last year’s already mammoth weight of 11st 5lbs, while Synchronised – a former Midlands National and Welsh National winner too – has been allotted 11st 10lbs, which is an incredibly tough ask for any horse, let alone one that ran the race of its career just four weeks before the race. Furthermore, the last horse to complete the Gold Cup / Grand National double in the same season was the peerless Golden Miller – a five time Gold Cup hero in the 1930s.

We know that the Grand National is an incredibly tough race, with four and a half miles of gruelling terrain to cover, with thirty of the toughest obstacles in National Hunt racing to negotiate. This means that we should be looking for a horse with proven stamina and sufficient experience to cope with the big day.

With that in mind, I will be eliminating any horse from the 2012 National field that has failed to win at least three chases in its career, as all of the past 14 winners had done just that before tasting success at Aintree, while thirteen of those same winners had won at least one chase that contained 13 or more runners, offering a little big field experience ahead of a unique 40 runner contest.

On top of that, all of the last twelve winners had taken part in at least ten chases, while every Grand National winner since Gay Trip in 1971 had won at least once over three miles or more, so a line will go through any names that can’t match this.

Jumping is crucial to Grand National success, as the fences are the biggest in the country and there are thirty of them. Any jumping errors will be punished, particularly near the end of the race when the runners are tiring. It’s no surprise therefore, to discover that all Grand National winning horses in the last 15 years had come into the race with fewer than two falls (including being brought down and unseating the jockey) in their career. Additionally, horses with five or more non-completions (e.g. pulling up) have all failed in their bids for Grand National glory.

By applying all of the above trends to the 2012 Grand National line up, we can thin the field out to eleven possible winners, but that’s still too many to work with. It’s time to look at some secondary trends.

We’ve already discussed how the Grand National is usually won by a horse with proven stamina and how every winner since 1971 had already bagged a race run over at least three miles, but it’s worth noting that seven of the last eight National winners had already won over 3m 2f. In an attempt to thin the field out further, I will now remove any horses that haven’t yet won over 3m 2f, as stamina is just so crucial in this race.

Another secondary trend that I like concerns the Cheltenham Festival. Nine of the last twelve Grand National winners had avoided Cheltenham and I’m definitely placing some importance on this. A horse that has been targeted at the Festival is ideally going to be at its peak during those four glorious days in March, so it is a massive ask to then run again at some point in the following four weeks – anywhere, let alone over the National fences across four and a half miles – having had one of the toughest races of the horse’s career.

These secondary trends reduce the 2012 Grand National field to just four runners: Chicago Grey, West End Rocker, Le Beau Bai and Giles Cross.

I really like West End Rocker – in fact I backed the Alan King trained horse in the 2011 Grand National and it did little wrong before being unluckily brought down. I think the best price about the horse of 21.00 (20/1) offered by Ladbrokes is about right, but everywhere else the price looks a little short. I do have a slight concern about the fact that it hasn’t had a run the beginning of December though, especially as it is common for Grand National winners to have had a prep race no more than 50 days before the big day (this trend applies to all of the last ten winners). I’m going to cross the ten year old off my list because of this.

Gordon Elliot’s Chicago Grey finished a creditable eighth in last year’s Scottish Grand National, despite heading to the Cheltenham Festival for the gruelling National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, which the horse won. These bits of form are encouraging – the Cheltenham race is run over four miles and shows the horse has a touch of class, while the Scottish National is run over four miles and a furlong, so we can be sure that the horse stays. I also like the fact that the horse has run over hurdles this season, which is a sure sign that connections were protecting his chase handicap mark ahead of the Grand National. Chicago Grey is currently a best price of 21.00 (20/1) with BetVictor and most of the major UK bookmakers, so I’ll be having a piece of that.

There is of course one highly negative trend concerning Chicago Grey – the colour of the horse! Only two greys have ever won the Grand National; The Lamb in 1868 and 1871 and Nicolaus Silver in 1961. However, grey horses only make up something like 3% of all thoroughbred horse population, so I’m not too concerned about this tongue in cheek statistic.

Giles Cross, trained by Victor Dartnall, is another interesting one. A runner up in the Welsh National over Christmas, we can surely be confident in the horse’s staying abilities, plus the horse won the recent Grand National Trial at Haydock. Racing off just 10st 1lb, he must have a terrific chance at a best price of 26.00 (25/1) with SportingBet, amongst other firms.

The only downside to this selection is that he appears to be very ground dependant. The horse’s five career wins have come on Heavy, Soft and Good to Soft and the horse has never even tried anything firmer. If you wish to back Giles Cross, it would be an idea to make sure it’s with a “Non Runner, Money Back” firm in order to avoid losing your antepost bet should the ground come up firmer and connections opt not to run.

Our final selection for the 2012 Grand National is Le Beau Bai, who beat Giles Cross in that Welsh National race. Again, this leaves me confident that the horse will stay at Aintree, while in the Haydock Grand National Trial the horse placed third. Another horse racing off a delightfully low weight (10st 3lb), you have to like the chances of this Richard Lee trained nine year old and it’s worth noting that the horse has never fallen, unseated or been brought down, so we can be confident that the horse will at least finish the 2012 Grand National.

Le Beau Bai may also need it on the softer side, but the horse has at least tried good to firm ground, so is less of a worry from an antepost betting point of view. Another possible negative is the perceived poor record of French bred runners in the National. Mon Mome was the first French Bred winner in a century, but that doesn’t tell the full story. French bred horses have provided around a quarter of the runners in recent years – far more so than in the past – and they have finished in the first five nine times in the last ten years. Nine from fifty represents a strike rate of 18%, so it’s not a massive discrepancy. I think people place too much emphasis on this “trend” that may have been fair enough thirty years ago, but is no longer relevant in my opinion.

So there you have it. Three selections for the 2012 Grand National that must surely have a good chance of winning. Whatever you choose to bet on, be sure to enjoy the Grand National for what it is – a truly amazing sporting spectacle. Good luck!

Advice:

The John Smith’s Grand National Chase
Saturday 14th April 2012, 16:15

Chicago Grey (Each-Way) @ 21.00 (BetVictor)
Giles Cross (Each-Way) @ 26.00 (SportingBet)
Le Beau Bai (Each-Way) @ 41.00 (Boylesports)