Things We Learned » Grand National changes

Grand National changes

There have been three Aintree Grand Nationals run now since they softened the bellies of the fences, moved the start to the far side of the Melling Road and decided that, actually, it was a four-and-a-quarter-mile race, not a four-and-a-half-mile race at all.

Three is a small sample size, but there is little doubting that the National is at least a slightly different race now to the race that it used to be, so it is worthwhile having a look at those three renewals and trying to glean what you can from them.  We know that the best indicator of what might happen in the future is what actually happened in the past.

So, in those three renewals, two of the three winners and five of the nine placed horses were 10 years old or older, while eight of the nine placed horses were aged nine or older.

Also, two of the three winners and four of the nine placed horses carried 10st 7lb or less, with eight of the nine placed horses carrying 10st 13lb or less.

Conclusion?  We are still looking for an older horse who is set to carry a relatively low weight.  A horse aged nine or more but ideally aged 10 or more, who is set to carry 10st 13lb or less or, even better, 10st 7lb or less.

You can shoe-horn 25/1 shot Shutthefrontdoor in there if you want to, a nine-year-old who is set to carry 10st 11lb, and you might want to, given how well he ran last year as an eight-year-old for AP McCoy, and given that he was keener than ideal, which was understandable on his first run for five months.

You don’t need a shoe-horn for another 25/1 shot though in Saint Are, a 10-year-old who is set to carry 10st 5lb, who excels at the track and in the spring, whose latest run was probably a career-best and who is 4lb well-in.

National weights set in stone

Try to explain this to a novice racing fan, a person who is interested in the sport and who wants to understand more.

The weights for the Aintree Grand National are framed in February.  The weights are set in stone at that point so, regardless of what a horse does between the time that the weights are framed and the time that the race is run, the handicap rating off which he will race will not change.  (You have to explain how handicap ratings work first, of course.)

This is why The Last Samuri is 12lb well-in for next Saturday’s race, and why Bishops Road is 10lb well-in and why Saint Are is 4lb well-in and why Cause Of Causes is 13lb well-in.  If he gets, eh, in.

The Aintree National is different in this respect to every other race on the calendar.  Even in the Irish Grand National, for example, a horse is subject to a penalty if he wins a race after the weights have been framed and before the race has been run.  Take the afore-mentioned Cause Of Causes.  If he had run in last Monday’s Irish National, he would have raced off a rating of 152, which is 10lb higher than the (British) mark off which he won the Kim Muir, and 12lb higher than the (Irish) mark that he was originally allocated for the Irish National.  So he would have been carrying a 12lb penalty in Monday’s race if he had run.

Furthermore, in Ireland, the penalty that a winner gets is at the handicapper’s discretion, and it usually equates to the magnitude of the hike that he has received from the handicapper for winning the interim race.  So the horse effectively races off his new mark, not his old one.

You still with this?

It is different in Britain.  If a horse wins a race after the weights have been framed for an early-closing race, he generally has to carry a penalty in the early-closing race that usually determined by the value or the class of the race that he won.  Say the conditions of the race determine that he gets a 5lb penalty, so he carried 5lb more than his originally allotted weight.  Say the handicapper has raised him by 8lb for winning the race, then he is still 3lb well-in.  But he is 3lb well-in, not 8lb well-in.

And in both jurisdictions, penalties are only applied to winners.  So if Cause Of Causes had been beaten a short head in the Kim Muir, but still raised 12lb by the Irish handicapper for the performance (oh I don’t know, say he was beaten a short head by Omerta), he would have been set to run in Monday’s Irish National off his old rating of 140, not his new rating of 152.

How are those barriers to entry doing?

Grand finale

Speaking of the BoyleSports Irish Grand National, last Monday’s renewal was one of those stories that had a good ending.  It was some ride by Ger Fox on Rogue Angel, it took some bottle from the rider to kick into a clear lead from flagfall and set out to make all.

It is difficult to remember the last horse to lead all the way in an Irish National.  Even Desert Orchid had to give best over the first four fences to Bold Flyer.  It could have been Tied Cottage in 1979.  Tied Cottage always made all.

It was great for Ger Fox, a local lad, still a conditional rider, to land an Irish Grand National, and it was great for Gigginstown House, 10 days after Don Cossack’s Gold Cup win, 12 months after their Thunder And Roses/Rule The World 1-2 in the Irish National.  But most of all, it was great for Mouse Morris.

Not because, in last year’s renewal, on the run to the final fence it looked like Mouse was going to have the 1-2 with Band Of Blood and Rule The World, but because last summer, he suffered the tragic loss of his son Christopher to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Monday’s result was laced with every emotion on the spectrum.  There could not have been a more popular winner.

Good raidings

There were good results all around at Fairyhouse this year.  Gavin Cromwell had his first Grade 1 winner when Jer’s Girl landed the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on Sunday.  Kerry Lee had her first Grade 1 winner when Kylemore Lough landed the Ryanair Gold Cup 70 minutes later, and she followed up with Top Gamble in the Grade 2 Norman’s Grove Chase on Tuesday.

Kerry Lee wasn’t the only raider who went home with the booty.  Dan Skelton landed the Grade 2 Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle with Value At Risk and Kim Bailey won the Grade 3 John and Chich Fowler Mares’ Chase with Emily Gray.  The British raiders added to the meeting, no question.  It was just a pity that there were only two British-trained horses in the Irish National.

And Barry Geraghty had five winners, Jer’s Girl and Kylemore Lough and Slowmotion and Sutton Place and Coney Island, four for his boss JP McManus and Kylemore Lough for Kerry Lee, a Grade 1 double on the first day, a Grade 2 double on the second.  It was good stuff from another local lad.

Low weight is key

Monday’s renewal proved once again how difficult it is to carry big weights in the Irish National.

Going into Monday’s race, 11 of the previous 12 winners had carried 10st 8lb or less, and all the previous 15 winners had carried less than 11st.  And sure enough, the first eight home on Monday carried 10st 9lb or less.

Also, five horses carried 11st or more, and all five – including two who were sent off among the first seven in the betting – were pulled up.

Remember next year, the Irish National is a race for the lowweights.


© The Irish Field, 2nd April 2016