Grand National 2018 Runner-by-Runner Guide

Thunder and Roses
Thunder And Roses has some solid form which would suggest that he would be suited to this race – he won the Irish Grand National in 2015. He unseated Mark Enright at a fairly early stage in this race last year, before going back to Fairyhouse and finishing 4th in the Irish National. Staying ability isn’t a great issue, but jumping is – he fell on both of his last two starts and has been out of sorts this season – even his 4th place finish in the Thyestes last January was a long way off his Irish National form.

Blaklion
Blaklion is undoubtedly a classy horse and was one of our selections last year when he finished fourth in this race carrying 9lb less than he is today. The hike in the weights is justified, with an impressive win in the Becher Chase last December showing his credentials for this. There is a debate over whether he failed to stay the trip last year or simply hit the front too soon, and whilst I would lean towards the latter, I can’t help but think that he has missed his chance off 9lb less. Expect him to put in a very good run today, but it’s hard to argue that he’s much of a value bet.

Anibale Fly
Tony Martin’s charge is probably the runner of most interest from those at the top of the weights or the top of the market. He ran a fantastic race to finish 3rd in the Gold Cup last time out and so is now officially 9lb well in, with the weights for this race having been released in February. Might Bite and Native River making the Gold Cup a real stamina test suited him and one would think that he should be seen to his best over this sort of trip.

The Last Samuri
This is his third time running in the race, having finished 2nd in 2016 and a more disappointing 16th last year. It’s hard to find an excuse for that run, but he chased Blaklion home in the Becher last December (having finished 3rd in that race the previous year). He definitely stays well and likes this unique test of jumping, and will be very much suited by the soft ground. He has been seen to good effect all season (including a decent 3rd in the Cross-Country at the Cheltenham Festival last time out) and he should put in a decent run again this year – although there is a sense that he may have left his chance of winning this behind back in 2016 when he carried a stone less than today.

Valseur Lido
Now 9 years old, the latter stage of Valseur Lido’s career hasn’t lived up to the early promise. He won the JNWine.come Champion Chase at Down Royal in November 2016 and then ran well to finish 4th in the Lexus a month later. He was then off the track for a full year due to injury and returned with a promising run in the race formerly known as the Lexus last Christmas. However, he didn’t come on from that run and has run poorly since, albeit over a shorter trip. This unique test could see him back to somewhere close to his best, but he runs off a mark of 158 and so is handicapped on the assumption that it will do so.

Total Recall
This has been the plan for Total Recall for quite a while and he has been in good form, winning at Leopardstown off a farcically low hurdles mark in February and running well before falling in the Gold Cup last time out. He would have a very good chance but has one major problem – he tends to run keenly and Paul Townend will have a very difficult job in trying to make him settle early on today. Whilst he would be a top contender if he does manage to settle, it’s too much of an “if” for him to be a bet around 12/1.

Alpha Des Obeaux
On his day, this is a very capable horse, but there are plenty of question marks – he ran poorly last time out and has had issues a few times in the last few years, having bled more than once. He’s a fairly unpredictable character, but there are a few patterns in his form which would suggest that this might not be ideal; all 5 wins have come in fields of 11 or less, all 5 wins came within 30 days of his last start (he hasn’t been seen for 69 days), all 5 wins came in January or earlier, and all 5 wins came at right-handed tracks.

Perfect Candidate
Now 11 years old, he showed that he has retained some ability when winning at Cheltenham last November. However, he has failed to impress on both subsequent starts and 154 looks like a fairly high mark considering his current form and his disappointing performance in this race last year when he carried just 2lb more than today.

Shantou Flyer
Shantou Flyer was pulled up in this race last year, having been fairly badly hampered. He has been in good form this season and certainly deserves a win, having finished 2nd on his last four starts. The last of these was in the Ultima at Cheltenham and he seems to have a chance here if he stays.

Tenor Nivernais
He simply looks to be very high in the weights based on recent form – he hasn’t shown any promise this season and it’s hard to see why this would bring out a better performance in him considering he didn’t challenge at all last year.

Carlingford Lough
Like a few of these contenders towards the top of the weights, Carlingford Lough has proven class, with his past victories including two Irish Gold Cups, a Punchestown Gold Cup, two grade 1 novice chases and a Galway Plate. He hasn’t really been at his best since that Punchestown Gold Cup win (and certainly not this season) and whilst his mark wouldn’t be insurmountable if he was to rediscover his best form, his jumping poses another question.

Delusionofgrandeur
The Grand National does tend to throw up some strange results and so it’s hard to discount anything. However, Delusionofgrandeur has an awful lot to find with a lot of these on past form (that’s not any poor reflection on the horse) and might prefer better ground. I also have suspicions that he may be more suited to a stiffer, more undulating track that Aintree, although that may not be of huge significance.

Tiger Roll
One of my favourite horses in training, Tiger Roll defied ground which wouldn’t have been ideal to record another Cheltenham Festival success in the Cross-Country last month. However, I’m not overly confident that he can back that up with another win today. I reckon he’s more suited by an undulating track like Cheltenham than he will be by Aintree, and I also think that he may not be at his very best following a tough run at Cheltenham. He tends to need a break (2 wins from 18 runs when back out within 30 days, 5 wins from 12 runs after a longer break. Even more impressive is his record after at least 60 days off – 3 wins and 3 places from 6 runs, including his three Cheltenham Festival wins). He ran at Cheltenham just 31 days ago in what was undoubtedly one of the toughest races of his career and probably his main target for the season. It’s also worth remembering that he was disappointing in the Irish National last year after winning at Cheltenham, after a similar break (34 days). Aside from these worries, jumping may be an issue – he’s physically a fairly small horse and may have some trouble with these Aintree fences.

Regal Encore
He put in a very good run last time out at Ascot and so comes into the race in better form than when running off the same mark last season. His eight-placed finish last year wasn’t overly impressive but he’s not an easy horse to disregard.

Vieux Lion Rouge
Vieux Lion Rouge has some form in the book which would suggest that he’s suited to the test – he won the Becher Chase in December 2016 and the Haydock Grand National Trial the following February, causing him to go into last year’s race at a price of 12/1. He only managed 6th, a slight improvement on the previous year’s 7th. He was probably undone by the stamina test both of the last two years, and it’s hard to see him coming out on top this year – he carries a higher weight than he did in either of the last two renewals which probably isn’t justified even if he ran a reasonably good race with blinkers on last time out.

Chase The Spud
Again, here we have a horse with form in the book that would suggest that he’s up for this, having won a Midlands National last year. He should stay and should enjoy the conditions but there haven’t been any real excuses for his last two starts (pulled up in both the Welsh National and the Eider). He’s very high in the handicap based on that form.

Warriors Tale
He has been running well of late, finishing a narrow 2nd in both of his last two starts. It’s possible that he’s not the type of horse that you want on your side in a battle approaching the line, and whilst there are major positives (his jumping has looked strong and Trevor Hemmings’ purchase has to be noted), I won’t end up backing a horse in this with such major question marks over staying ability and ability to see out a tough finish.

Seeyouatmidnight
He’s a very classy horse, having beaten some seriously good horses in the past. His jumping is also sublime and he was 3rd in the Scottish National in 2016, a key piece of form for this race. He’s the type of horse which would in theory be the perfect Grand National bet. However, only one start this season just a few weeks ago is hardly an ideal prep and I’ll have to be against him at 14/1 on that basis.

Gas Line Boy
The Becher is often seen as the most important piece of form for this race with experience over these fences a huge advantage. However, it’s worth remembering that Gas Line Boy won the Grand Sefton over these fences over just 2m 4f last December. He may be seen to better effect over a shorter trip, but did finish 5th in this race last year. This was a respectable placing considering he didn’t have a huge amount of luck in running. Robbie Dunne on board has to be a plus. He does carry 5lb more than last year which may be a big ask at the age of 12 but his 3rd to Buywise last time out was arguably as good as anything we’ve seen from him.

The Dutchman
The Dutchman landed the Peter Marsh at Haydock last January but was pulled up the following month back at Haydock in a gruelling Grand National Trial. It was later discovered that he had burst blood vessels on that occasion, but even with an excuse for that run, it’s hardly an ideal prep. I find him to be a tough horse to predict, particularly in terms of his jumping which seems to have good and bad days. The mud won’t be an issue but he’s not top of my list.

Pleasant Company
Pleasant Company seemed to be travelling very strongly in the race last season and looked a likely winner until fading in the last half mile. That could be excused, with a bad mistake at Valentines on the second circuit probably taking a lot out of him. He is a pound lower this year but widely available at 33/1 at the time of writing compared to 11/1 last year. However, there is a reason for this – he has run poorly on both starts this season, in the Paddy Power Chase and the Thyestes. It could be argued that he has been kept for the race or that a return to the course could revive him, but there are more attractive options in the field with less question marks.

Ucello Conti
A familiar name to those who have followed the race in the last couple of years, Ucello Conti finished 6th in 2016 and unseated at Bechers on the second circuit last year (he seemed to be travelling well at the time). He ran well in the Paddy Power Chase at Christmas (although soundly beaten by Anibale Fly) and then disappointed in the Thyestes at Gowran. It’s worth watching some of his race footage – like Warrior’s Tale, he doesn’t seem to be particularly strong in a tough finish and with that in mind he’s probably not one to back (although it would be no surprise to see him put in a good run without winning).

Saint Are
Saint Are is a true veteran of the race, having run in the last three renewals – he was 2nd in 2015, pulled up in 2016 and 3rd in 2017. He has been pulled up on both starts this season, but this has likely been the plan since the beginning. He carries the same weight as last year despite being a year older. Although Aintree might bring out the best in him once again, it’s a very tough ask to come and win a Grand National on his fourth attempt.

Walk In The Mill
Walk In The Mill looks like a progressive type and has the advantage of Sam Twiston-Davies. However, his run in the Peter Marsh on testing ground was poor and calls his stamina into question.

Raz De Maree
He is now 13 years old, but Raz De Maree put any doubts of that nature to bed when winning the Welsh National last time out. Having said that, he’s likely to be ridden patiently with a view to making his move late and I have my doubts over whether he’ll be able to keep up in the early stages of the race, which have been run at a ferocious pace in recent years. Tough conditions will help but I’ll have to oppose him.

I Just Know
This is a runner who should probably be respected based on his stable – Sue Smith certainly knows how to train a National winner, with Auroras Encore winning at a big price in 2016. He won the Yorkshire National well last January but has taken a 14lb hike in the weights as a result. His relentless running style, endless stamina and strong jumping make him an obvious National type. However, I’m inclined to think that his weight looks slightly high and his price looks slightly short, considering he would have to put in a real career best here. That said, I’m not overly keen to overlook him.

Virgilio
Virgilio showed definite class as a novice but has been disappointing this season. He hasn’t been seen since December and has subsequently had a wind operation, but realistically it would have to have a major effect if he’s to make an impact here.

Baie Des Iles
A significant market-mover during the week, Baie Des Iles is an obvious type – she’s a definite stayer and a good jumper. She comes into this off the back of finishing 3rd in the Punchestown Grand National Trial. The form from that race is rock-solid, with the top two finishers (Isleofhopendreams and Folsom Blue) both running massive races in the Irish National. She’s likely to be knocked on the basis of being a 7yo but this isn’t overly worrying as she’s very experienced from her time in France, having started running over fences at a much earlier age than most of these. She’s a definite contender, although how much value exists at her current price has to be questionable.

Maggio
Maggio put in a memorable display when he won the race before the National the year before last, having missed the cut for the National itself. Last year he didn’t make the race due to injury, so this has definitely been the target for a long time. He’s now 13 and it’s possible that he has missed his chance, but there have been some suggestions that he has still got his old ability. He’s not the worst 100/1 ever.

Pendra
Pendra is a good horse on his day but has had plenty of injuries and complications, and was slightly underwhelming in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham despite the fact that he usually runs very well first time out. He’s not the most attractive proposition in this field.

Buywise
The major concern here is jumping – Buywise is prone to putting in the occasional dodgy jump, and there are 30 tough fences to contend with here. He actually did make it around on his sole other start in the race back in 2016, but was well beaten in 12th. He’s likely to be ridden patiently and could simply be left with too much to do. An unpredictable type of horse, he may put in a good run but is hard to back.

Childrens List
Willie Mullins tends to set his own precedent when it comes to stats and trends, but this horse has only had 4 chase starts and 2 of these were in beginners’ chases. He was pulled up in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown last time out and probably didn’t stay that trip, so this will be a tough ask even if the ground isn’t quite as testing.

Lord Windermere
A past RSA and Gold Cup winner, it’s rare that Lord Windermere actually gets his day in the sun but when he does he can be fantastic. He actually put in a respectable run in this race last year, finishing 7th, but fell in the Becher on his sole start since then. Again, he may not jump badly, but there are 30 of these fences to contend with today and his fall in the Becher wasn’t his first error that day. He has serious class, but it may be worth looking elsewhere rather than backing him to record his first win since the 2013 Gold Cup.

Captain Redbeard
Captain Redbeard comes from a small operation so this would be a fantastic story if he was to win. However, there are a number of negatives – he’s not a definite stayer in my book, his run over these fences in the Grand Sefton was disappointing and jockey Sam Coltherd’s inexperience over these fences also has to be seen as a concern.

Houblon Des Obeaux
Although he carries 5lb less than he did last year, he will have to run a lot better in order to improve on his finishing position of 10th. The more testing conditions underfoot and sudden yard form may cause this improvement, however, and he proved that he’s still capable of running to a good level when winning at Sandown in November.

Bless The Wings
There’s a massive negative here in my book and that’s that only 12 days have passed since we saw this horse being pulled up in one of the most testing races in recent memory, the Irish National at Fairyhouse. This alone is enough to put me off him.

Milansbar
Milansbar’s prominent running style is suited to a Grand National and he has some good recent form in the book (2nd in the Midlands National). He should stay all day if he’s able to find his own rhythm up front (this may not be too easy in a race such as this one). There are a couple of question marks (will Bryony Frost take to the National on her first attempt, has he been aggressively campaigned with 4 runs since Christmas, all on testing ground and all over 3m 5f or further) but he’s definitely of interest.

Final Nudge
Unlike some of the horses who are well in because of the National weights being released so early, Final Nudge would actually carry 3lb less if the weights were calculated following his disappointing run in the Kim Muir. He’s a definite stayer, however, and may be of interest off what is still a low mark.

Double Ross
Double Ross put in a massive run to finish 4th in the Kim Muir last time out. He ran a decent race in this in 2016 until his saddle slipped. However, it would seem that Blaklion is much more fancied by the stable.

Road To Riches
Unfortunately, Road To Riches hasn’t been seen to his best for almost two years now, and he really doesn’t seem to be the force of old. It’s hard to see why that should change here.

The Grand National – Age Stats

When the Grand National comes around, trends and stats are used more than ever to analyse the big race (often viewed as an impossible puzzle). Rather than taking these at face value (eg, 8 of the last 10 winners were aged between 9 and 11), it’s worth taking a closer look at them:

10-Year Age Stats

10 Year Age

The grid above shows that all of the last 10 winners were aged between 8 and 11, as were 38 of the total 40 horses to which finished in the top 4. However, so were 84% of the total field. This suggests that this group of horses over-performed, if not by a huge amount. There was a significant underperformance from horses aged 7 or younger, despite this sample being relatively small. The slight underperformance from 10yo’s may suggest that we should focus on 8- and 9-year-olds, but the significant over-performance of 11yo’s would suggest otherwise.

The changes to the race in recent years are well documented, and it may be worth looking at the last 5 renewals to find out whether the trends are changing.

5-Year Age Stats

5 Year Age

3 of the last 5 winners were aged 8 or 9 – however, the other 2 were aged 11. Again, we see an underperformance from 10yo’s, but there is also an underperformance from the 9yo’s in the last 5 renewals. Some might argue that this shows a shift towards younger horses, but the 9% over-performance from 11yo’s (including 2 wins) suggests that this would be a knee-jerk reaction.

Conclusion

Horses aged younger than 8 or older than 11 have struggled to win the race –  although not a huge amount of them have run and it’s difficult to simply discard such runners on this basis.

Of the others, the best record has been that of 11yo’s, with 8yo’s also performing well. However, any useful trends should be backed up by logic and it’s hard to make a case for 11- and 8-year-olds performing well when 9- and 10-year-olds don’t.

Ryanair Gold Cup

It’s sometimes difficult to analyse a race at Fairyhouse based on previous renewals, as the make-up of the race can be quite different each year due to the fact that the date of the meeting varies a lot in comparison to other big meetings in the spring. The proximity of Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting to Cheltenham varies each year, and it can fall on either side of Aintree’s Grand National meeting. However, it tends to attract a few high-class Irish novice chasers, a couple of which have come from Cheltenham.

Cheltenham Last Time Out

This brings us to the first point – most years, horses run here having had their last run at the Cheltenham festival. Overall, their record has been fairly poor.

Year Horse Days Since Cheltenham Run Odds Finishing Position
2009 Golden Silver 33 days 11/2 7th
2010 Nicanor 17 days 16/1 Pulled up
2011 Noble Prince 38 days 13/8 Fell
Mikael Dhaguenet 39 days 3/1 4th
Loosen My Load 38 days 4/1 2nd
Realt Dubh 40 days 9/2 1st
2012 White Star Line 26 days 16/1 6th
Call The Police 25 days 6/1 4th
2014 Ballycasey 39 days 11/8 Fell
2015 Apache Stronghold 24 days 5/1 Fell
Valseur Lido 24 days 4/1 6th
Smashing 26 days 25/1 3rd
2016 Mckinley 12 days 14/1 4th
Outlander 10 days evens 2nd
2017 Baily Cloud 31 days 66/1 4th
Road To Respect 31 days 7/2 1st
Some Plan 33 days 20/1 6th
Yorkhill 31 days 4/7 2nd

 

According to Betfair SP, this table should include 3.4 winners and 7.2 total places. It actually contains 2 wins and 6 total places, so there’s just a small underperformance.

Last year, the success did come from Cheltenham runners. However, it had been over a month since the festival. If we narrow this down to years in which the race came within 30 days of the Cheltenham start, the table is shorter and shows less success:

Year Horse Days Since Cheltenham Run Odds Finishing Position
2010 Nicanor 17 days 16/1 Pulled up
2012 White Star Line 26 days 16/1 6th
Call The Police 25 days 6/1 4th
2015 Apache Stronghold 24 days 5/1 Fell
Valseur Lido 24 days 4/1 6th
Smashing 26 days 25/1 3rd
2016 Mckinley 12 days 14/1 4th
Outlander 10 days evens 2nd

 

If we look at these horses alone, they underperformed, but only marginally – the market would have expected 1 winner and there were none, while according the Betfair SP there should have been 3 places (there were 2).

Willie Mullins

Mullins has traditionally been the man to follow in Irish National Hunt racing at the end of the season, but this race has been an exception. In the last 10 years he has had 18 runners, with no winners and 5 places (this record doesn’t get any better if you go back further, with no winners and just 5 places from 26 runners this century).

In those last 10 races, he has failed to train a winner despite his runners accounting for 27% of the total field. On that basis, they’ve underperformed just marginally in terms of making the frame, filling 24% of the total places from 27% of the total field.

However, if we look at the horses behind these numbers we see that this underperformance is more significant than it may seem at first. Mullins trained the favourites in 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 at 4/7, evens, 5/4 and 11/8 respectively. They finished 2nd, 2nd, 4th and fell. Whilst it seems clear that Mullins horses underperform, it’s possible that they’re also overestimated by the market – the market certainly doesn’t seem to factor in this poor record. Based on Betfair starting prices, Mullins would have been expected to train 3.7 of the last 10 winners (actual number is 0) and 8.3 horses to make the frame (actual number 5).

2018 Renewal

Footpad was due to represent Willie Mullins here, and may have been a favourite worth taking on with these two angles in mind. However, it is interesting to see that the majority of the field are either trained by Mullins (only he and Elliott are represented in the race) or ran at Cheltenham:

  1. Al Boum Photo – Willie Mullins, ran at Cheltenham
  2. Invitation Only – Willie Mullins, ran at Cheltenham
  3. Montalbano – Willie Mullins
  4. Saturnas – Willie Mullins
  5. The Storyteller – ran at Cheltenham
  6. Tombstone
  7. Tycoon Prince – ran at Cheltenham
  8. Up For Review – Willie Mullins
  9. Shattered Love – ran at Cheltenham

William Hill are offering 5 places in this year’s Irish Grand National. When you sign up through our exclusive link, you’ll get €30 of free bets when you place your first bet of €10 or more. By signing up, you can support The Parade Ring and also be in with a chance of winning some cash prizes – find out more on our Free Bets page

The Irish Grand National – One For The Small Yards

This year, the Irish Grand National will play a vital role in the year’s Trainer’s Championship, which both Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott desperately want to win. Mullins has 4 runners, which Elliott has an incredible 13. Last year was similar, however, with Elliott running 9 horses but the race ultimately going to Jessica Harrington’s Our Duke.

Whilst Harrington’s can hardly be called a small yard, it has been worth looking beyond the obvious powerhouses in this contest in the past. In the last 10 years, only Mouse Morris has won the race twice. 5 of the last 10 winners were their yards’ sole representatives at the track that day, and these horses (96 of them in total) were, as one might expect, underestimated by the market (Betfair SP’s would have suggested that they would account for 3.3 winners – although the Betfair place market would have suggested 13.9 places, despite only 9 of them actually making the frame).

It’s quite incredible that neither Elliott nor Mullins has ever won this race despite the attractive prize money on offer and the fact that both have won the English equivalent. Mullins has fired 23 darts at the race in the last 10 years and has had just 2 placed horses to show for it, despite 7 of his runners going off at 10/1 or less (none of these 7 even made the frame). Elliott, meanwhile, has had 20 runners in the last 10 years and has come away with just 3 places. He hasn’t trained as many contenders at the top of the market as Mullins has (just one horse with a starting price of 10/1 or less), but last year his runners took up around 30% of the total book and just one made the frame.

This is not a critique of either Mullins or Elliott – the reason for their ducks in this race aren’t clear and it’s never an easy task to win a National of any description, but it may be worth looking beyond the obvious big names (particularly in a race which attracts once a year punters who are likely to back horses from iconic yards, causing their prices to contract). Indeed, at the time of writing, 7 of the top 8 in the market are trained by either Mullins or Elliott. It may pay to look beyond the obvious.

William Hill are offering 5 places in this year’s Irish Grand National. When you sign up through our exclusive link, you’ll get €30 of free bets when you place your first bet of €10 or more. By signing up, you can support The Parade Ring and also be in with a chance of winning some cash prizes – find out more on our Free Bets page