Aurora's Encore - Grand NationalIt’s almost time for the most famous horse race on the planet, with just a fortnight to go until the 2014 Grand National. Last year, Aurora’s Encore (pictured) busted a few trends to win the race at a massive 66/1, but who will be etched into racing history this time around? Read on for an in-depth take on the 2014 renewal of the Aintree showpiece race, complete with trends analysis and betting advice…

By looking over past winners of Aintree’s famous steeplechase, we can build a profile of what to look for in a Grand National winner. Here are the key Grand National trends:

Key Trends

Age

  • 17 of the last 18 Grand National winners were 8 to 11 years old

One of the most crucial Grand national trends is that of age. Just one horse older than 11 has won in the past 18 years (Amberleigh House back in 2004; the horse also finished third in 2003) while the last winner aged seven was Bogskar, way back in 1940.

In the past nine renewals of the Aintree showpiece, all but one of the places were filled by horses whose age fell into this range (the exception being Oscar Time in 2013; this horse also finished second in 2011).

Past Form

  • All of the last 25 Grand National winners had won a race of at least 3m
  • 18 of the last 21 winners had won at 3m 1f or further
  • 12 of the last 13 winners had won a chase worth £29,000 or more

Stamina is obviously a crucial factor when looking to pick a Grand National winner, as the race is a gruelling test. These days, almost all Grand National entrants have proven stamina at 3m and the vast majority have proven their capabilities over further. We also need a horse with a certain amount of class – a winner of many lowly handicaps is simply not going to cut it at this level, so look for a horse that has won valuable races in the past.

Current Form

  • 20 of the last 21 Grand National winners had run in the past 50 days
  • None of the last 13 winners had won more than 1 race that season
  • 14 of the last 17 winners did not go to the Cheltenham Festival
  • 16 of the last 19 winners finished in the front 5 last time out

These Grand National trends tell us that we need a horse that has been laid out for this race, rather than the Cheltenham Festival which is around three weeks earlier – it is tough to train a horse to peak fitness in time for the Festival, and to then keep it there for the best part of a month. That said, we don’t want a horse that’s too rusty, so avoid those off the track for longer than 50 days.

Because the Grand National is such of a test of stamina, we also want a horse that is well handicapped to ensure that it won’t be carrying too much weight. Any horse winning more than one race that season is likely to be hit hard by the handicapper. However, we don’t want our selection to be in dreadful form, as the majority of winners finished in the front five last time out.

Experience

  • All of the last 20 Grand National winners had contested 10 or more chases
  • 19 of the last 21 winners had won a race with more than 12 runners

The Grand National is always a big field affair, with 40 runners bumping and barging their way around Aintree. With that in mind, we should be looking for an experienced chase campaigner, who is used to big field races.

Ability

  • All of the last 16 Grand National winners had already won at least 3 chases
  • 15 of the last 17 winners had suffered no more than two career falls / unseats
  • Only 2 of the last 16 winners had failed to complete in five or more races

These trends tell us that we need to find a reliable horse with a certain level of ability, who is a good jumper. The Grand National fences at Aintree are some of the toughest in the world and the 4m 3f 110y long course is a real test of stamina and temperament. We should look to avoid horses whose jumping looks sketchy or that frequently fails to finish races.

Interestingly, the two exceptions to the last trend in the group also happen to be the last two winners of the race – Neptune Collonges and Auroras Encore. However, the evidence (as well as common sense) still strongly suggests that we should swerve horses that fail to finish too often, for whatever reason.

Official Rating

  • All of the last 14 Grand National winners carried 10st 3lb or more
  • 12 of the last 14 winners carried 10st 6lb or more

In recent years, it has paid to look towards the higher end of the weights, especially since 2009 when the manner in which the weights are allocated was modified (4 of the last 5 winners won off 10st 11lb or more). I am reluctant to call the events of a five year period a “trend” however, especially when last year’s winner did so off 10st 3lbs. So for now I will keep 10st 6lb as the lower end of the range.

Summary

I always aim to pick three horses for the Grand National, because it is just so tricky to find the winner of the Merseyside marathon. I usually plump for an outsider, a mid-range horse and a shorter priced selection from near to the head of the market. As luck would have it, applying all of the above trends allows us to whittle the field down to just three horses, priced at 20/1, 33/1 and 40/1, which just about fits with my preferred method of trying to find the Grand National winner. These horses are:

Monbeg Dude (20/1, Bet365)
The Michael Scudamore trained nine year old won the Welsh National in January 2013, proving his suitability to these stern tests of stamina, and was deemed talented enough to line up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup later that year. He suffered a setback this season when he scoped badly and missed his intended preparation race, but the gelding managed a creditable fifth at Doncaster at the beginning of March despite having been off the track for three and a half months. Trainer Scudamore said after that race that he was “delighted”, adding, “the way he kept on galloping, I think we’ve got to walk away happy”. He will surely be as sharp as can be come the day of the Grand National.

Burton Port (33/1, Ladbrokes)
This ten year old has arguably been unlucky in his career. A one time RSA Chase runner up and Cheltenham Gold Cup fourth, injuries set this undeniably talented chaser back somewhat at the height of his powers in 2010, but now connections are ready for a tilt at the Grand National. The gelding picked up another injury at the start of the year and has also had a recent wind operation, but his last time out effort over hurdles was encouraging as he finished second while obviously in need of the run. If he’s fit on the day, he must surely have a great chance.

Chance Du Roy (40/1, Paddy Power)
The only one of my three 2014 Grand National selections to have tried the Grand National fences before, and with good results; a fall in the Grand Sefton of December 2012 wasn’t the best result, but he’s also finished second in a Topham Chase (which he followed up with a 9th place finish the following year) and won the Becher Chase in December 2013. That experience will undoubtedly stand this ten year old in good stead and I wonder if his current odds might be on the generous side.

Here are a few others that only just missed the cut:

Long Run – A former Gold Cup winner and dual King George hero, Nicky Henderson’s charge has lost his way a little in recent times. He narrowly falls down on the 50 days trend (it will actually have been 51 days since his last run, come April 5th) and although that seems a very trivial way to discount the gelding, you do have to wonder whether he will be able to shoulder the enormous 11st 9lb burden allocated to him by the handicapper. Widely available to back at 16/1, there’s not much value there for me.

Raz De Maree – The nine year old meets all of the important trends, but when I opted to cap the lower weight range at 10st 6lb instead of 10st 3lb, I was forced to discount him. Currently a 50/1 shot with most bookmakers, I certainly wouldn’t argue too hard with anyone that suggested he was a good value bet.

Godsmejudge – Discounted due to poor recent form (pulled up on both of his last two starts) this eight year old is a former winner of the Scottish National, which can often be a pointer to future Grand National success. Since that race though, nothing has gone right for him. Currently a best price of 28/1, which doesn’t look too tempting to me.

Quito De La Roque – Pulled up last time out, so also discounted due to poor recent form, the ten year old strikes me as a bit of a mudlark that might be ground dependent. A good price though, at current best odds of 66/1.

Wayward Prince – Another discounted only on recent form, after finishing a well beaten 7th in the Grimthorpe earlier this month (having pulled up the outing before), he was winning Aintree form, but not over the National fences. Generally a 50/1 shot in the betting, I’m not too excited about the chances of this ten year old.

Advice

The 2014 Grand National
Saturday April 5th, 16:15

Monbeg Dude (Each-Way) @ 20/1 (21.00) with Bet365
Burton Port (Each-Way) @ 33/1 (34.00) with Ladbrokes
Chance Du Roy (Each-Way) @ 40/1 (41.00) with Paddy Power

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