Things We Learned » Grand National trends

Grand National trends

Despite the modifications to the course, the Aintree Grand National is still a strong trends race. Despite the easing of the fences – or perhaps even because of the easing of the fences – you have to look for an older horse who is towards the lower end of the handicap, and that seems to be more the case in recent years than it ever has been before.

Hedgehunter in 2005 broke through the 11st barrier that hadn’t been breached since Corbiere in 1983, and it is difficult to argue that Willie Mullins’ horse would not have won had he carried considerably more than the 11st 1lb that he had been allotted, such was the ease of his victory. Don’t Push It pushed the weight bar higher in 2010 when he won with 11st 5lb on his back, and Neptune Collonges’ 11st 6lb in 2012 was more weight than any other horse had carried to victory since Aintree legend Red Rum won his third National under 11st 8lb in 1977.

You can point to the fact that four of the last six National winners carried 11st or more, and you can conclude, therefore, that you need to focus on the top end of the handicap. Only 12 horses are set to carry 11st or more in the long handicap as things stand at present, so you can argue that it should pay to focus on just those 12.

However, dig a little deeper. The first four home in last year’s National all carried 10st 13lb or less, 10 of the first 11 home in 2013 carried 10st 11lb or less, the next four home after Neptune Collonges in 2012 carried 10st 12lb or less, and five of the first six home in 2011, including the winner Ballabriggs, carried 11st or less.

The age stat is even more compelling. The headline figures tell you that the younger horses are up against it. Bindaree in 2002 is still the last eight-year-old to win it, and he was just the third eight-year-old since Red Rum caught Crisp to win the first of his three in 1973. And don’t even start on seven-year-olds: Bogskar in 1940 is the last seven-year-old to win it.

Even nine-year-olds do not have a great recent record. The last five winners were 10 or 11, and nine of the last 12 winners were 10 or 11 or 12.

Last year, the first two home were 11 and 10, in 2013 the first two home were 11 and five of the first six were 11 or 12, and in 2012 five of the first seven home were 10 or older and one of them was 14, while in 2011 the first six home were all 10 or 11.

There is an angle to Rocky Creek, who ran so well last year as an eight-year-old, and who should do better this year as a nine-year-old, especially given that he can race off a 2lb lower mark for some reason. However, the percentage call is to side with horses aged 10 or older who don’t have highweights to carry. Horses like Soll and Chance Du Roy and Alvarado, those types of horses.

Irish National trends

Speaking of which, Nationals and trends that is, the age trend in the Irish Grand National is not at all strong. History tells you that a minor or a senior can win it.

In the last 10 renewals, a six-year-old has won once, a seven-year-old three times, an eight-year-old three times, a nine-year-old once and a 10-year-old twice. In the 10 years before that, a seven-year-old won three times, an eight-year-old won twice, a nine-year-old twice, a 10-year-old twice and an 11-year-old once.

But the weight stat is similar to Aintree’s: lower is better.

The last horse to carry more than 11st to victory in the Irish National was Commanche Court, and he was so good he won the Grade 1 Heineken Gold Cup at Punchestown on his next run. Before Comanche Court, it was subsequent Aintree National winner Bobbyjo, and the two before Bobbyjo were Flashing Steel and Desert Orchid. Shows you how good you have to be to carry big weights to victory.

Nine of the last 10 winners carried 10st 8lb or less. The only one who carried more was last year’s winner Shutthefrontdoor, who is now favourite for the Aintree National, despite the fact that he will have to race off an 11lb higher mark than last year’s Irish National mark. And eight of the last 10 winners carried 10st 5lb or less. So start at the bottom of the handicap and work your way up.

Moore has gone global

In the last two weeks, Ryan Moore has ridden at three different racetracks: Lingfield (in Britain), Sha Tin (in Hong Kong) and Rosehill (in Australia). That’s three different racetracks in three different countries on three different continents.

This afternoon, on Dubai World Cup day at Meydan, he will ride for seven different trainers: Andrew Balding, Kevin Ryan and William Haggas (from Britain), Noriyuki Hori and Hiroyoshi Matsuda (from Japan) and Tony Millard and Ricky Yiu (from Hong Kong). Seven rides for seven different trainers representing three countries and two continents.

If ever a rider traversed international frontiers, it is Ryan Moore.

Flemenstar back

It will be great to see Flemenstar back on the racecourse at Navan this afternoon. One of the most exciting novice chasers in training when with Peter Casey during the 2011/12 season, the Flemensfirth gelding looked destined for very big things when he beat Sir Des Champs and Rubi Light in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown in December 2013. Alas, events conspired against him, he didn’t win again that season, and he came back a sick horse from Aintree in April 2013.

Transferred to Tony Martin in advance of last season, he shaped encouragingly in winning the Fortria Chase on his debut last term, but a tendon injury has kept him off the track until now.

This afternoon’s race is a tough little heat, he may not have everything his own way, but at least we know that he will have a decent test. That said, at his best, he would have over a stone and more in hand of all his rivals today. He is still only 10 and he has raced just 12 times over fences. There is still a chance that he can get back close to his best.

Overheard in Dubai

Overheard in Dubai World Cup dispatches:

“I am not sure that the dirt will not be a positive for him.”

Please tick correct meaning:

(a) I am sure that the dirt will be a negative

(b) I am not sure that the dirt will be a negative

(c) I am sure that the dirt will not be a negative

(d) I am sure that the dirt will be a positive

(e) What happened to the Tapeta?

© The Irish Field, 28th March 2015