Things We Learned » This year’s Grand National had everything

This year’s Grand National had everything

That was a great Grand National.  Really.  It had everything that you hope a Grand National will have: drama at the fences, a rousing finish, a brilliant winner, an incredible story, and everyone home safe and sound.

It was a high-class Grand National, a top weight rated 165, a bottom weight rated 145, and if you were any lower than that, you simply didn’t get to run.  The quality of the race was reflected in the pace, strong throughout, unrelenting, and it in the winning time, 0.12secs/furlong faster than Racing Post par.  And 16 horses completed, which was a fair achievement on soft ground.  The previous soft-ground Grand National was Numbersixvalverde’s in 2006 (despite the official description of good to soft), when only nine horses completed.

The recovery that Vics Canvas and Robbie Dunne made at Becher’s was quite incredible.  It would have put any horse out of the race, it would have put the favourite out of the race, not to mind the 100/1 absolute outsider of the field, 39th of 39, the only horse who was sent off at 100/1.  For the pair of them to recover as well as they did, and to arrive there with a live chance at the final fence, so live, in fact, that they traded at 6/4 in-running, was quite extraordinary.  Vics Canvas should be even better next year as a 14-year-old.

Rule The World and David Mullins made their own recovery too, at the fourth last fence.  It wasn’t as dramatic a mistake as Vics Canvas’, but it was a shuddering, momentum-halter, and it was at a crucial stage of the race, just when you want to hold your position and fill your horse up before the run back around to the racecourse proper.

It was a fantastically cool ride from Mullins.  Not just the manner in which he stalked, the rhythm in which he had his horse from early.  But going to the last with a chance in the most famous horse race in the world, instead of coming wide, giving yourself light at the final fence, he tucked inside, in behind The Last Samuri and Vics Canvas, and jumped the fence in their slipstream.

It was only on the run to the Elbow that Mullins pulled his horse out and asked him for his effort.  You never know where the winning or the losing of a race is for certain, but it may have been that the winning of the race was right there.  You would never have thought that David Mullins was only 19, or that he was riding in his first Grand National.

Remarkably, Mullins went out and won the last race too on Ivan Grozny, which gave him two wins for the meeting, the same number as leading rider Paul Townend.  And if Petit Mouchoir had beaten Buveur D’Air by a neck in the Top Novices’ Hurdle instead of getting beaten by a neck – and he traded at 1.12 in-running – then 19-year-old David Mullins would have been crowned leading rider at the Aintree Grand National meeting.

It was a great result too for Gigginstown House, seven years after Hear The Echo, three weeks after Don Cossack’s Gold Cup, 12 days after Rogue Angel’s Irish Grand National.  It has been some year for Gigginstown, some spring, and, as with Don Cossack’s Gold Cup, you could see what it meant to Michael and Eddie O’Leary.  As a bonus, it puts Gigginstown House on top of the owners’ list in Britain, just over £115,000 ahead of JP McManus with Susannah Ricci £122,000 or so behind in third in another Irish 1-2-3.

It has been a real roller coaster year for Mouse Morris.  No victory for any horse in any race will ever even take the first step on the road to compensation for the loss that Mouse suffered when he tragically lost his son last summer.  However, as with Rogue Angel’s Irish National win, the whole racing world celebrated with Mouse and with his son Jamie.  “Tiffer’s working over-time for us.”

Starting prices and starting time

The Grand National SPs weren’t bad.  An over-round of 149% was comparatively good, a margin of 1.25% per runner.  It’s a step up from last year’s aberration that was 165% anyway, and it’s better than the 151% of 2014.  Actually, it was the second most punter-friendly over-round in the last six years, so that was a big step back in the right direction.

And the late start time of 5.15pm was good.  Well it was good for viewership figures if not for Sunday newspaper writers.  Viewership figures this year had a peak of 10 million, which compared favourably with the last three years’ figures of, respectively, 8.9 million, 8.6 million and 8.9 million, when it was run at 4.15.  It may not have been just the later start time that did it, there may have been externals at work, but it may have been.   The later time allows for a good build up to the big event too, so hopefully it is here to stay.

Making it better

So how do you make it better?  Leave it alone I’d say.

It is still a great race.  The bellies of the fences may be softer than they used to be, the distance of the race may be slightly shorter, the brooks may be covered over and the drops may not be as severe as they once were, but it is still a true test of horse and rider.  The safety measures that were implemented are working, so leave it alone now.  There is no need to make it any easier.

It would have been nice to have seen Grand National stalwarts like Pineau De Re and Alvarado in the race for sure, but their handicap ratings were not high enough this year to get them into the top 40, so, disappointing though it is for connections, it is correct that they should not get to run.

It would be great to see the introduction of a consolation Grand National, a race for the next 40 down, run on the Thursday.  And isn’t it time now that every horse races off its correct handicap mark?  There really is no need to handicap for ‘The Aintree Factor’ any more (the Cheltenham factor is not taken into account when handicapping for Cheltenham, and it is easy to argue that that is more relevant than the Aintree factor), and there is no need to compress the weights at the top end of the handicap in order to try to convince the high-class horses to run.   They run anyway.  The prestige and the prize money of the race – the most valuable jumps horse race in the world – ensure that.

You can still have your jamboree at the unveiling of the weights, so no need to worry about that.

Lessons for next year

Lessons for next year?  You still need a relatively low weight for the Grand National, although that factor may have been exacerbated this year because of the soft ground.

The first three horses home carried, respectively, 10st 7lb, 10st 8lb and 10st 6lb, and 12 of the first 13 horses home carried less than 11st.  This, despite the fact that two of the horses who carried more than 11st – Many Clouds and Silviniaco Conti – were sent off at 8/1 joint favourite and 12/1 third favourite respectively.

That means that, in the four renewals of the Grand National since the course was modified, three of the four winners and six of the 12 placed horses carried 10st 8lb or less, while 10 of the 12 placed horses carried 10st 13lb or less.

This year’s renewal did put a question mark over the age-profile thing however.  The younger horses excelled this year.  While a nine-year-old won the race and a 13-year-old was third, three of the first seven home were eight years old and one of them was seven.  One of the eight-year-olds was 12lb well-in, but you cannot discount the possibility now that another eight-year-old winner, to follow Many Clouds’ win last year, may not be far off.  You probably can’t be putting a line through eight-year-olds any more.

Horses for next year

Horses for next year from this year’s race?  There are three.

First, Vieux Lion Rouge, who ran a remarkable race as a seven-year-old novice to finish seventh.  He was right there with a chance until after the third last fence too.  Mr What in 1958 is the last novice to win it (you’re not counting Rule The World as a novice, are you?!) and Bogskar in 1940 is the last seven-year-old.  Vieux Lion Rouge should be back again next year, a stronger horse and better equipped for the National.

Second, Gallant Oscar.  Tony Martin’s horse was travelling and jumping really well, he was in a lovely rhythm before he got in too tight to the second fence on the second circuit, and unseated his rider, despite Mark Walsh’s gallant attempt to remain on board, which nearly took him all the way to the big ditch.  Gallant Oscar will be 11 next year, but we know that 11 is not too old for a Grand National.

And third, Gilgamboa.  He ran a cracker to finish fourth under a superb ride from Robbie Power.  JP McManus’ horse just tired from the run around the home turn, but it was still a fine performance from an eight-year-old, a second-season chaser.  Again, he should be better set for the National next year as a nine-year-old, and there is every chance that he will be trained specifically for the race from now by Enda Bolger.

© The Irish Field, 16th April 2016