Things We Learned » Grand National learnings

Grand National learnings

We have learned lots about the Grand National over the years, and we have learned a little about it since the modifications. Whereas in times past you started your search for the Grand National winner by looking for the battle-hardened, wizened warrior who might be up for the energy-sapping test that the Grand National is, it looks like now, you are looking for a progressive staying chaser who has the potential to be ahead of the handicapper.

Just like other staying handicap chases then.

The age profile of the race appears to have changed.  There was no winner aged younger than nine between Bindaree in 2002 and Many Clouds in 2015, and now there have been two eight-year-old winners in the last three years. 

Not only that, but last year, three of the 10 eight-year-olds who lined up finished in the first six.  In 2016, two of the seven eight-year-olds who lined up finished in the first four, and three of them finished in the first six.  And in 2015, two out of the nine eight-year-olds who lined up finished in the first five.  

Also, nine of the last 12 Grand National winners had raced between 10 and 14 times over fences.  They had that mix of experience and potential to progress further.

It is a small sample size but, on this basis, it is the progressive horses that you should look for today.  And don’t rule out Baie Des Iles just because she is a seven-year-old, just because she is the only seven-year-old in the race.  It may be 78 years since Bogskar, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a seven-year-old will win it soon.


It appears, however, that the Grand National is now more difficult than it used to be.  In the decade that ran from Rough Quest in 1996 to Hedgehunter in 2005, only one winner was sent off at greater than 20/1 (Silver Birch, 33/1) and the average SP was 14/1.

In the last decade, that has run between Comply Or Die in 2008 and One For Arthur last year, the greatest winning SP was 100/1, the second greatest was 66/1 and the average SP was 32.7/1.

Don’t ignore the big-priced horses just because they are the big-priced horses.

Raiders plunder the spoils

So much for home-field advantage.

There were three Group races run at Longchamp last Sunday – or ParisLongchamp, we will get used to it, honest, there is a ring to it, and it was the first day of it – and two of them were won by British-trained horses.

There was just one British-trained runner in the Group 3 Prix La Force, the Martyn Meade-trained Chilean, and he won it under Oisin Murphy.  There were just two British-trained runners in the Group 2 Prix d’Harcourt, and one of them, the Ralph Beckett-trained Air Pilot, won it.  There were no raiders in the Group 3 Prix Vanteaux. 

It was a similar story on all-weather championships day at Lingfield on Good Friday, only in reverse.

There were four French-trained runners on the day at Lingfield.  Collectively, they contested three races, and they won the three of them. 

Funny Kid (SP 7/2) won the Marathon, City Light (SP 8/1) won the Sprint and Lucky Team (SP 40/1) won the Mile, with his better-fancied compatriot King Malpic (SP 16/1) finishing fourth.  That’s a near 1,660/1 treble.

It is difficult to know why the French raiders did so well this year.  There were also four French raiders on the day last year: Qurbaan, who finished fifth in the Mile, Carlton Choice, who finished 10th of 10 in the three-year-olds’ six-furlong race, Allez Henri, who finished third in the Classic, and Metropol, who finished sixth in the Classic. 

Perhaps the success of the French at this year’s all-weather championships is down to better preparation this year.  Perhaps it is down to the fact that the all-weather style of racing simulates the French style of turf racing more than it does the British style of turf racing.  Perhaps the French horses were trained to the minute, whereas British trainers have a longer season in mind.  Perhaps the French were just better on the day.

Then last Saturday at Kempton, the Henri-Francois Devin-trained Hunaina, a three-time winner for Michael Halford who has continued her progression since she went to France, was the only French-trained filly in the Listed Snowdrop Stakes, and she won it doing handsprings. 

Racing Post Trophy form gets stronger

Chilean was impressive in winning the Prix La Force.  Martyn Meade’s horse travelled well for Oisin Murphy through the early stages of the race just behind the leader My Pleasure.  He picked up nicely to hit the front at the furlong marker, and he kept on well to win by just over a length from the Pascal Bary-trained favourite Study Of Man.

Chilean was the third horse from last season’s Racing Post Trophy to run again.  The first was Theobald, who finished 12th of 12 in the Racing Post Trophy and who won a Dundalk two months later, and the second was Seahenge, who finished third behind Mendelssohn in the Listed Patton Stakes at Dundalk last month, and who then finished fifth behind his stable companion again in the UAE Derby at Meydan two weeks ago. 

Chilean finished sixth in the Racing Post Trophy.  None of the first five home have run yet.  Their respective returns are eagerly anticipated.

Leopardstown trial

Today’s Leopardstown 2000 Guineas Trial has been reduced in distance from a mile to seven furlongs, and it has been rewarded with a strong entry at the time of writing, which includes two of the top Ballydoyle Guineas aspirants, Gustav Klimt and US Navy Flag. 

Since the distance of the Guineas Trial was extended to a mile from seven furlongs in 1994, just two winners have gone on to win Classics over a mile: Saffron Walden, who won the Irish 2000 Guineas in 1999, and Refuse To Bend, who won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2003.  Aidan O’Brien gave the reduction in distance a positive mention at his press day last month, so it will be interesting to monitor the subsequent accomplishments of the winners of the race over the shorter trip over the next few years.

© The Irish Field, 14th April 2018