Things We Learned » National in numbers

National in numbers

Last Saturday’s Randox Health Grand National had the numbers.  Thirty fences and 38 runners and 12 finishers and a 40-year-old trainer and a 38-year-old rider and a horse who stood at less than 16hh.

But the 2018 Grand National was about more than just numbers.

It may have been Gordon Elliott’s second Grand National, but it didn’t mean that it meant any less to him.  On the contrary, it may have been that, paradoxically perhaps, it meant more to him than it would have meant had it been his first.

In one sense, he knew what it was like to win a Grand National but, in another, he didn’t really.  Silver Birch passed him by, he said.  He was only 29, he hadn’t had a winner in Ireland, he wasn’t able to take the time to fully appreciate it.  He said that if he was lucky enough to do it again, he would take the time.  It’s brilliant that he has.

It’s also brilliant that Davy Russell has now won a Grand National.  He is too good a rider to not have the Grand National on his CV.  The Grand National was made for Russell.  It is a horseman’s race, and Davy Russell is the consummate horseman.  

It has been an unbelievable season for the Youghalman.  Four winners at the Cheltenham Festival including an RSA Chase and a Ryanair Chase and top rider there for the first time.  Next Saturday, he will be crowned champion jockey in Ireland for the third time.  All of it laced in the sadness at the recent loss of his mother.

The rider is as thoughtful out of the saddle as he is in it.  We saw that when he dedicated his Grand National victory to Pat Smullen’s recovery, and we saw it in all that he did post-race.  Every question was answered.  He never resorted to banal stock-answers, he answered with an originality and a lucidity that demonstrated an unusual depth of thought. 

For owners Gigginstown House Stud too, they have had another remarkable season.  They may have won the Grand National two years ago, but this one appeared to be at least as special to Eddie and Michael O’Leary as the first.  It isn’t for nothing that a Ryanair flight gets delayed, or that every passenger gets a free drink.

Age theme continues

The eight-year-old theme continued.  Tiger Roll is eight, Anibale Fly is eight.  That’s two of the first four home this year.  And that’s three of the last four winners that were eight.

It is still a small sample size, and it probably wouldn’t be significant at all, were it not for the fact that, before the first of those three recent eight-year-old winners, Many Clouds in 2015, you had to go back to Bindaree in 2002, 13 years earlier, to find the last one.

There were only eight eight-year-olds in the race this year, they made up just 21% of the runners, and two of them finished in the first four.  That’s 50% of the places.  Add that to the stats for eight-year-olds for the previous three years (three out of 10 eight-year-olds finished in the first six in 2017, two out of seven in the first four and three in the first six in 2016, two out of nine in the first five in 2015) and it starts to take on a semblance of significance.

Notes for next year 

Horses to note for the 2019 Grand National?  Tiger Roll for sure.  He will be nine and he will have more weight to carry than he did this year, but he still has to be at the top of your list.

Red Rum was eight when he won the first of his three Grand Nationals in 1973.  At the time, he was just another Grand National winner, he was the villain in the Crisp tragedy.  They didn’t know then the National hero that Red Rum would become.

There are similarities too between Tiger Roll and Red Rum.  Both were flat-bred, both diminutive in the context of the Grand National.  You never would have looked at either one of them and said that he was a model for the Grand National. And each horse was eight years old when he won his (first) Grand National.

The handicapper has raised Tiger Roll’s rating by 9lb to a mark of 159.  That would mean that, all things being equal between now and then, he would have 11st 8lb to carry in next year’s National please God.  The handicapper might allow him a pound or two – it’s a ‘depression of the handicap’ thing – so maybe 11st 7lb or 11st 6lb.  And you can be sure that his rating will not go up between now and the middle of February next year.

Red Rum won his second Grand National with 12st on his back.  Neptune Collonges won it under 11st 6lb in 2012.  Many Clouds won it under 11st 9lb in 2015.  It’s doable.  Tiger Roll could be the modern day Red Rum.

Childrens List.  He ran a massive race in Saturday’s race.  He travelled really well for Jonathan Burke and he jumped the fences fluently.  He was probably just a little keener than ideal, he was still doing a little too much on the run to the Canal Turn final time.

He was still bang there on the run to the home turn, but he tired from there as his exertions took their toll, and he was ultimately pulled up after jumping the final fence.  It was still a big run from Willie Mullins’ horse, and this was just his fifth chase.  There could be lots more to come from him, and it would not be surprising if his trainer has the Grand National as the prime objective for him for next season, and trains him accordingly.

Ms Parfois also.  She didn’t run in the Grand National, but she ran in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase on the Friday, and she ran a big race to finish second to Terrefort.  The winner could be a King George horse for next season, and Anthony Honeyball’s mare was getting just the 7lb mares’ allowance from him.  She finished just four lengths behind him, and she was clear of high-class staying novices Elegant Escape and Black Corton. 

That race was over three miles and a furlong, but the Mahler mare proved that she could stay four miles when she was beaten just a half a length by Rathvinden in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.  She is only seven, she still has plenty of potential for progression, and we now know that she can go well at Aintree.

Reserves rules 

You can see both sides of the reserves rules.  On one hand, you want as many horses to get into the race as possible, you ideally want a maximum field of 40 runners.  And you feel for Trevor Hemmings, whose Vintage Clouds would have had a chance had he been afforded it. 

On the other, you need to declare the field early enough for racecards to be finalised.  And for a race that is as high-profile as the Grand National, you couldn’t have different bookmakers having different rules pertaining to reserves, some betting with reserves, some betting without, some implementing a Rule 4 deduction if the reserves don’t get in, some betting win-or-come-second-to-the-reserve.  It would be too confusing.  And it brings into focus the wider issue, that betting rules on reserves really need to be harmonised, even for races that are not as high-profile as the Grand National.

Whatever about the pros and cons of day-of-race reserves, the raising of the weights by 1lb when Minella Rocco defected really made no sense.  Every horse was in the handicap, so there was no need to raise the weights.  And even if every horse is not in the handicap, you still need to have a cut-off point.  It is not ideal when the weights in the racecard are inaccurate.

Elliott, the Cross-Country and the National

There is something about Gordon Elliott, the Cross-Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and the Grand National.

In 2007, Elliott trained Silver Birch to finish second in the Cross-Country Chase, then he won the Grand National with him three weeks later.  In March 2017, Elliott won the Cross-Country Chase with Cause Of Causes, then sent him to Aintree the following month to finish second in the Grand National. 

Then in 2018, the trainer won the Cross-Country Chase with Tiger Roll, and he won the Grand National with him four weeks later, with Bless The Wings, who fell in the Cross-Country, finishing third.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Philip Hobbs-trained Balthazar King won the Cross-Country Chase at Cheltenham and finished second to Pineau De Re in the Grand National three and a half weeks later.  It’s a good springboard.

© The Irish Field, 21st April 2018