All posts by winningracing

Mares Hurdle – An Overview

The Quevega Factor

When looking at the Mares’ Hurdle, I’m not going to use the same stats as I did when looking at other races. The reason for this is that Quevega won 6 of the last 10 races, so any win figures would be completely skewed by whether Quevega fit the criteria, as in turn would any win%, P/L(BF), and A/E figures. However, I still want to try to find an angle into the race, so I’m going to focus not only on the winners but also on the placed horses. So, my main way of taking on this race is by comparing the percentage of the total field which fit a stat to the percentage of the total places filled by these horses.

Stamina

This race is (interestingly) run over 2m 4f. There’s no grade one hurdle run over a middle distance at the festival open to all horses (there is this race, for mares, and the Ballymore for novices) and the argument is that if they were to introduce one, it would dilute the quality of both the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers Hurdle (the latter doesn’t tend to be a particularly exciting division anyway and doesn’t need its quality diluted any more). A few weeks later, there’s a grade one over this trip at Aintree’s Grand National meeting so any horse which isn’t quite suited to 2 miles or 3 miles gets their chance there.

The distance is often a forgotten factor in this race, though. People forget that at 2m 4f, it is a test of stamina, not just pure speed like the 2m Champion Hurdle that takes place before it. All of the last 10 winners had won over this exact distance. These horses accounted for 18 of the total places – that’s 60% of the total places from 38% of the total field. If we were to count Quevega as just one winner for a moment, forgetting about her other 5 wins, this would be 52% of the total places from 37% of the total field – still an over-performance. Looking at horses which had previously won over 2m 4f or further, these horses took up 28 of the 30 total places on offer.

Britain v Ireland

All of the last 10 winners were Irish-trained (in fact, 9 of them were trained by Willie Mullins and the other, Apples Jade, moved to Willie Mullins’ yard from Michael O’Leary’s following the Gigginstown split). Irish-trained horses accounted for 18 of the 30 horses which made the frame – that’s 60% of the total places on offer from 27% of the total field. It would appear that the Irish have taken notice of the lucrative rewards that are now on offer for having top-class mares in training a bit quicker than the British. The form of the top-placed English finisher in the last 10 renewals reads 2224232342 – there’s often a British horse there or thereabouts, but there has always been a better Irish contender.

Class

8 of the last 10 winners won last time out and these horses over-performed significantly, filling 60% of the total places from just 28% of the total field. This points back to some recurring themes in these top festival races – firstly, form, and secondly, class. The latter might be of even more interest. 9 of the last 10 winners were officially rated 150 or higher. These horses accounted for just 11% of the total field, but they managed to fill 50% of the total places. Just 19 horses have run in the race in the last 10 years were an official rating of 150 or higher, and their form reads 7213171111F21132173. Last year was actually the exception – the two contenders were Apples Jade (3rd) and La Bague Au Roi (7th). However, it is probably worth pointing out that Apples Jade clearly wasn’t at her best last year, and we were subsequently given the explanation that she was in season.

Arkle Chase – An Overview

Strong Favourites in Recent Years

In the last few years, the Arkle has become a difficult race to assess based on stats from past renewals. The race has generally been very predictable with the best horse winning, meaning that it’s hard to find a clever angle based on past results.

When looking at this year’s race, it has to be considered that the market at the time of writing looks very different than it has in the last couple of years. In 6 of the last 7 years, we’ve had an odds-on favourite (and all 6 of these have won). It’s unlikely that we’ll have a similarly short-priced contender this year, with the Arkle looking a relatively open race. Nothing has dominated the division in either the UK or Ireland as much as Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Un De Sceaux, Douvan, Altior or Footpad did in previous years. These odds-on favourites have also tended to scare away the opposition – the average number of runners in the last 7 renewals was just 7.7 – there were less than 8 runners in 4 of the last 7 years, meaning that this hasn’t really been a race for each-way bettors.

Of course, odds-on favourites aren’t the only reason for these decreasing field sizes. The JLT Chase over 2m 5f was introduced for horses which would likely be aimed at mid-distance chases such as the Ryanair the following season, meaning that we have less horses running in the Arkle which are suited to further than 2 miles but aren’t quite up to the test of the RSA. This has meant that Arkle winners aren’t generally horses which could stay further – it’s more about speed than stamina.

Unbeaten Record

In the first grade one race covered, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, I looked at how an unbeaten record over hurdles isn’t necessarily a massive plus. The Arkle is a different story. Any horse which has been unbeaten in at least 3 starts over fences have performed excellently here:

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Unbeaten in 3+ chasing starts 9 5 55.56 6 66.67 4.74 1.36
100% W/P rate in 3+ chasing starts 21 6 28.57 9 42.86 -0.3 1.19

However, although the A/E suggests that these horses have outperformed market expectations, they haven’t exactly been massive prices – 4 of the 5 winners were odds-on favourites (Footpad, Altior, Douvan and Sprinter Sacre) and the form of odds-against horses which fit this criteria reads 12454 (not massively impressive considering the small fields that we’re dealing with). It might be worth noting that only 2 horses have run here having been unbeaten in 4 or more starts over fences, and both have won (Altior and Sizing Europe, who was 6/1).

However, the key to this stat might be fallers. It’s not at all uncommon for a novice chaser to fall at some stage over fences as their jumping improves with every run. If we look at horses which finished in the top 2 on all completed chase starts, allowing for horses which fell, unseated, slipped up or were brought down, the number of runners increases to 59 (63% of the total field), the number of winners increases to 10 (100% of the total field) and the number of places (including wins) increases to 22 (85% of the total places). This would suggest a significant over-performance from horses which have run consistently well over fences with no shock defeats, with the exception of the occasional jumping error bringing them to a halt.

Course Form

As this is a novice chase, there have been plenty of opportunities for horses to have had a run at the track in the past. In fact, over two thirds of the field in the last 10 years had done so. These accounted for 9 of the last 10 winners:

Ran at Cheltenham? Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Yes 66 9 13.64 21 31.82 10.36 0.96
No 27 1 3.7 5 18.52 -25.28 0.47

Like the last stat, this could just be indicative of the fact that the best horse tends to win. Those which were top-class hurdlers would probably been aimed at either a Supreme Novices Hurdle or Ballymore Novices Hurdle, or, if they had two seasons over hurdles, a Champion Hurdle in the past. This experience at the track seems to be a plus. The A/E isn’t particularly high, but we wouldn’t expect it to be considering the fact that these horses accounted for about 71% of the total field in the last 10 years. A simpler way of looking at the over-performance of these horses may be that they took up 71% of the total field and 81% of the total places (including 90% of the winners).

Won Last Time Out

Last start Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Won 47 9 19.15 16 34.04 22.64 1.07
Won or placed 62 10 16.13 18 29.03 16.09 1.04
Unplaced 31 0 0 8 25.81 -31 0

We can see a bit of an over-performance here from the horses which won last time out. They made up 51% of the total field but filled 62% of the total places. Those which made the frame last time out did account for 100% of the winners, but the W/P stat is probably more telling – they only marginally over-performed in terms of wins and places, filling 69% of the total places from 67% of the total field. So, the focus should probably be on horses which come into the race off the back of a win.

Grade One Form

All of the stats thus far have shown that in recent Arkles, the cream has risen to the top. This can be seen clearly in the next stat, which shows the performance of grade one winners. However, I’ve included not just the winners of grade one chases, but of grade one hurdles and even bumpers too:

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Grade One Winners 28 7 25 13 46.43 -4.34 1.05

The reason that this particular angle may be interesting is that it has not only covered the odds-on favourites which won in recent years, but also some over-performing outsiders. Sizing John was 2nd in 2016 at 9/1 and Gods Own was 2nd in 2015 at 33/1, for example. Narrowing it down to horses priced at 5/1 or higher, we see the win strike rate decreasing, but the win/place strike rates remaining relatively high:

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
5/1+ Grade One Winners 16 2 13 6 37.5 -0.02 1.32

Looking back at last year’s renewal, Footpad was a very impressive winner under an expert ride from Ruby Walsh. He was hardly a shock winner, having won a beginners’ chase in Ireland and then two grade one novice chases before coming to Cheltenham. The brilliance he was showing over fences was far greater than the ability that he had shown over hurdles, where he was a good enough horse to compete in grade ones but not quite good enough to win them – his form figures in graded contests over smaller obstacles read 313F4243. Altior and Douvan were different – both had won a Supreme Novice Hurdle and were by the far best 2 mile hurdlers the previous season.

Hurdling Form

Hurdling form is a very good indicator of which horses have the most class, and the market has undoubtedly caught on to this. However, every year we see horses which can increase by a stone when switching to fences and this may well be the case in this year’s market. Lalor and Kalashnikov head the market (the former won the grade one Top Novices Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting last year and the latter finished 2nd in the Supreme). Behind them in the betting are Le Richebourg (not a grade one winner over hurdles) and Dynamite Dollars (who won just twice over hurdles, in a class 3 and a class 4). It’s possible that horses such as these may be underrated by the market, which seems to be turning a blind eye to the fact that Lalor and Kalashnikov have both put in disappointing performances over fences.

The Supreme Novices Hurdle – An Overview

A Messy Race?

The Supreme has a bit of a reputation for being a big, unpredictable race but field sizes are actually decreasing. The average field size in the 10 years from 1998-2008 (no race in 2001) was 21.5 (including 30 runners in 1998). In the last 10 years, it has decreased to 16.1. Last year was a relatively large field of 19 runners, but in the 5 years before that, the field sizes were 12, 18, 12, 14 and 14. The smaller field can mean that it’s not a particularly messy race – there have only been 3 fallers in the last 10 years, whereas in the 10 years before that, there were 12.

Speed or Stamina?

The race is usually run at a serious pace so horses obviously need to have a high cruising speed in order to avoid being run off your feet in the first half of the race. However, the pace at which the race is run tends to turn it into a test of stamina and this is an interesting paradox. Throughout the season, there tends to be a lot of talk about whether a novice “has the speed for a Supreme” or “has the stamina for a Ballymore”. However, looking at past renewals, the longer race has often been won by horses which turned out to be 2 mile hurdlers, whilst plenty of Supreme runners have gone on to be successful stayers (even Gold Cup winners – Kicking King was 2nd in a Supreme and won the Gold Cup two years later).

Unexposed v’s Form in the Book

Most years, we’ll have hype horses or ones which are supposedly showing massive potential at home. These might be French imports who haven’t been run in top races in the UK or Ireland but have a lot of excitement surrounding them. However, there is a tendency to fall for this type of hype. This has been heightened by the fact that French imports Vautour and Douvan were extremely impressive winners for Mullins in 2014 and 2015 – however, we have to remember that both of them had won graded novice hurdles in Ireland before coming to Cheltenham. Two years later, Melon came to the Supreme having only won a maiden hurdle and was beaten (albeit in a bit of a shock result with Labaik winning the race).

So, graded form is very important. 19 horses have come into the race in the last 10 years having won a grade one hurdle in the UK or Ireland. 3 of them won (27% win strike rate) and another 4 made the frame (63.64% win/place rate). Grade one winning novice hurdlers don’t run every year – there were none in 2017 – but in last year’s race the two horses which fit the bill were Summerville Boy (won at 9/1) and Megli Khan (3rd at 14/1). In 2016, there was Bellshill (13th of 14 but his form in general would suggest that the track itself might be an excuse for this) and is 2015 the grade one winners were Sizing John (3rd at 25/1) and L’Ami Serge (4th at 7/2). This possibly shows that the market does underestimate these grade one winners who in theory have the best credentials.

Unbeaten Hurdlers

There are also runners each year who have been visually impressive and consistent, but with doubts over what they have beaten. Horses with a 100% record over hurdles (from at least 3 starts over hurdles in the UK or Ireland) have a record of 2 wins and a further 4 places from 13 runners – that’s a 15.38% win rate and a 46.15% win/place rate. Of the 13, 9 were single-figure prices, and the list includes 2 beaten favourites (as well as one winning favourite in Vautour, who was a grade one winner over hurdles). If we eliminate the grade one winning hurdlers from the list, we see that it’s down to 9 runners with 1 winner and 2 other places. In other words, grade one hurdling form is a massive plus, whereas an unbeaten record over hurdles isn’t quite as important.

Recent Form

So, 100% win records aren’t overly important, but what about recent form? The table below first shows the record of horses which won last time out, and then narrows this down to horses which won a graded hurdle last time out:

Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Won last time out 72 8 11.11 23 31.94 -1.24 1.02
Won graded hurdle LTO 26 6 23.08 16 61.54 28.42 1.29

Horses which won last time out made up 8 of the last 10 winners and 23% of the total places (winners and placed horses) on offer. However, they did account for over 45% of the runners in the last 10 years. If we narrow this down to horses which won a graded hurdle last time out, we still find 6 of the last 10 winners, but from just 16% of the total field (these horses made up 53% of the total places). The horses which won a graded hurdle last time out exceeded the expectations placed upon them by the market (based on the last figure in the table, A/E).

The latter group could be broken down further, to look into the never-ending competition between the British and the Irish at the festival. So, is it better to have won that last graded hurdle in Ireland or in Britain?

Won a graded hurdle last time out…
Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
… in Ireland 11 4 36.36 9 81.82 20.05 1.6
… in GB 15 2 13.33 7 46.67 8.38 0.93

The Irish runners who meet this criteria perform significantly better than the English, not only based on win strike rates and place strike rates, but also based on profit/loss figures at BFSP and the degree to which they outperformed the expectations of the market.

Britain v’s Ireland

This is backed by a preference for all horses which had their prep run in Ireland, but the difference in performance in the two groups isn’t as strong when we compare all runners in the last 10 years based on which country their final run before the festival took place:

Location of Prep Run Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Ireland 57 5 8.77 13 22.81 14 0.9
UK 104 5 4.81 17 16.35 -47.73 0.78

Hurdling Experience

Each year, we get a number of horses coming into the race with minimal experience over hurdles (just taking into account their runs over hurdles since they came to the UK or Ireland). These can often be quite high-profile horses. In 2017, Melon aimed to be the first horse since 1992 to win it after just one run over hurdles. Last year, Getabird came into the race after just two hurdles starts, as did Debuchet. The former went off a short favourite but both were beaten. Douvan, also from the Mullins yard, was an exception to this rule, having run just twice over hurdles (in Ireland at least) before winning the race in 2015. However, the record of horses with three or less starts over hurdles is far inferior to that of horses with 4 or more starts:

Runs over Hurdles Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
1-3 92 2 2.17 14 15.22 -83.76 0.3
4+ 69 8 11.59 16 23.19 50.03 1.52

On every single statistic, the more experienced horses outperform those with less experience. For anybody who may be wondering about the record of horses with exactly 3 hurdles starts (as this may seem a satisfactory number), I’ve added the record below:

Runs over Hurdles Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
3 41 1 2.44 7 17.07 -36.19 0.35

These horses made up about half of those with less than 4 starts over hurdles and performed no better than those with 1 or 2 previous starts over hurdles. The interesting thing is that these horses with just 1-3 starts over hurdles have included horses at short prices such as, to name just a few, Cue Card (7/4 favourite), Galileos Choice (6/1 favourite), Lami Serge (7/2), Min (15/8 favourite) and the aforementioned Melon (3/1 favourite) and Getabird (7/4 favourite). Of course, they do also include two winners – Vautour (7/2 favourite) and Douvan (2/1 favourite). There are exceptions to every rule, and both of these horses had run twice over hurdles in France before arriving in Willie Mullins’ yard. Overall, it looks like horses without the experience over hurdles are worth taking on.

Trainers

Willie Mullins has won the Supreme 3 times in the last 10 years and so is the obvious starting point when discussing trainers. He is also the trainer who has run the most horses (27 runners in the last 10 years – the next highest is Nicky Henderson with 18).

Trainer Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Willie Mullins 27 3 11.11 6 22.22 -13.1 0.87

Along with his 3 winners, Mullins has also had another 3 horses placed in the race, including the runner-up in both 2016 and 2017. However, it is worth noting that both of these 2nd-placed horses were favourites (Melon and Min) and both did come up short.

Gordon Elliott has had just 4 Supreme runners in the last 10 years, but they included a winner (Labaik in 2017) and a runner-up (Mengli Khan in 2018). Tombstone also finished just outside the places in the famously competitive 2016 Supreme, making Elliott’s form in the race 7413.

Trainer Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
Nicky Henderson 18 1 5.56 9 50 -12.31 0.51

Nicky Henderson’s win strike rates may not be as impressive as Mullins’ (1 win from 18 runners) but his win/place rates are outstanding (9 from 18). His overall form in the last 10 years reads 8U4032928232431635. If we narrow this down to his top-string each year (based on SP’s), the form reads 8422234135 – in other words, his horses have been incredibly consistent and are almost always there or thereabouts. The market hasn’t necessarily caught on to this – his top string horses in the last 10 renewals are listed below, along with their starting prices:

No other trainer has had more than one placed finisher in the last 10 years. However, the other trainers who have had at least 5 runners in the last 10 years are listed below:

Trainer Runners Wins W% W/P W/P% P/L(BF) A/E
David Pipe 6 0 0 0 0 -6 0
Phillip Hobbs 6 1 16.67 1 16.67 10.56 2.94
Paul Nicholls 5 1 20 1 20 5.64 2.13
Colin Tizzard 5 0 0 0 0 -5 0
Alan King 5 0 0 1 20 -5 0

The Ideal Candidate

Based on the findings above, we could in theory create a “profile” for the ideal candidate for the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Of course, it’s rare that we’d find a horse which ticks all of the boxes, but it is worth making out such a profile in order to keep an eye on Supreme contenders over the coming months and speculate over which horses might end up fitting the bill. Our ideal profile would look something like this:

  • Grade 1 winner over hurdles
  • Won a graded hurdle last time out
  • At least 4 starts over hurdles

There have only been 5 horses which met these 3 criteria over the last 10 years (considering we’re focusing on hurdles starts in just the UK and Ireland). These were Dunguib (3rd in 2010), Marsh Warbler (11th in 2011), Jezki (3rd in 2013), Champagne Fever (1st in 2013) and Summerville Boy (1st in 2018).

The main factor which narrows down the field here is the grade one win over hurdles. There are only a limited number of opportunities for a horse to pick up a grade one win over hurdles before the Supreme – the Challow Novices Hurdle over 2m 5f (won by Champ), the Tolworth Hurdle (won by Elixir De Nutz), the Royal Bond Novices Hurdle (won by Quick Grabim), Future Champions Novice Hurdle (won by Aramon) and the Slaney Novices Hurdle over 2m 4f (won by Battleoverdoyen). Still to be run at the Dublin Racing Festival are a 2m 6f novice hurdle and a 2m novice hurdle. It’s likely that only the latter will be of any significance to the Supreme, while the winners of the Challow and the Slaney Novices Hurdle are unlikely to run here.

So, so far this season our grade one-winning contenders are Elixir De Nutz, Quick Grabim and Aramon. Interestingly, all of these have run in at least 4 races over hurdles – 6, 6 and 5 respectively. Elixir De Nutz goes straight to Cheltenham so you would imagine that he will be our first definite contender. Quick Grabim has been ruled out with a setback. Aramon is currently 2/1 favourite for the grade 1 2m novice hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival and this would be an obvious stepping stone to the Supreme.

Saturday Selection – 21/7/2018

2:25 Newbury – JLT Cup – Class 2 Handicap – 2m½f

This is a tricky puzzle to start the day off, with 17 horses in contention. However, there is plenty of form to get stuck into and 4 places on offer (or 5 if you choose to take 1/5 of the odds), so it’s worth taking a look. Stratum is the 9/4 favourite and he has a very attractive profile – he ran well to finish 3rd at Royal Ascot last time out in the Ascot Stakes over 2m 4f, shaping as if this step back to 2m could suit. Mullins is trying out first time headgear and he has been the subject of market support which is interesting considering he is owned by Tony Bloom. However, his price isn’t overly attractive in a race like this and I’ll be hoping that we can successfully oppose him as he takes up almost a third of the market, and therefore should create value elsewhere.

The next horse in the betting may be of more interest. Almoghared runs off bottom weight by virtue of being the only 3yo in the field, and comes into his handicap debut having also shaped nicely at Royal Ascot last time out, having finished 4th in the Queens Vase.

Buzz is one very interesting contender. He was taken out of the John Smiths Cup last week and the decision has been made to run over this trip instead. He’s unproven over the trip but breeding would suggest that it won’t be a major issue, and one would imagine that he’s being tried out over this distance with a view to running in the Ebor. This won’t mean that he’s not trying here today, however – he’ll need to put in a good run in order to go up in the weights to get into the Ebor. He’s a very consistent type, improving from run to run, and could be seen at his best here if he handles the trip. At 14/1, he looks the best bet.

SELECTION: BUZZ E/W (14/1)

As ever, enjoy today’s racing, the very best of luck, and remember only to bet what you can afford to lose. Also, if you haven’t done so already and would like to support the site, you can sign up to a William Hill account via mobile using this link and deposit €/£20. Once you place your first bet of €/£10 or more, you’ll receive €/£30 of free bets.

The Football Tipster – 2/7/2018

Our football tipster has previewed both of today’s World Cup clashes and attempted to find the value in the markets:

15:00 – Brazil v Mexico

Mexico got off to a flying start, beating Germany and South Korea, before disappointing in their final group game when losing 3-0 to Sweden. It’s possible that they had simply taken their eye off the ball briefly, but this loss meant that they’ll have to play Brazil today rather than a preferable draw against Switzerland – it can be quite difficult to find form in a tournament such as this when momentum is lost.

Brazil have failed to be spectacular so far, drawing 1-1 in their first game against Switzerland before beating both Costa Rica and Serbia 2-0. They’re heavy favourites for tomorrow’s match, but it will be interesting to see whether Mexico can catch them on the break as they did against Germany.

It’s hard to tell whether that performance was as impressive as it first seemed, considering Germany’s subsequent form and shaky defence. My instinct would be not, and they’ll play a defence today which should be tougher to break down that Germany’s proved to be.

This has been the natural end to Mexico’s tournament in the last six World Cups and it seems likely that this will be the case today. However, odds on Brazil to qualify are hardly attractive. Brazil have conceded just twice in their last 10 games, whilst Mexico have failed to score in 4 of their 9 games in 2018. A clean sheet for Brazil wouldn’t be a huge surprise, and 7/5 seems generous.

BRAZIL TO WIN TO NIL (7/5 BET365, LADBROKES, CORAL, BETFRED, BOYLESPORTS)

19:00 – Belgium v Japan

Belgium were arguably the most impressive team in the group stages, albeit in an easy group, and they look to have the easiest knock-out game of the round when they face Japan today.

Before their 1-0 win over England, Belgium had scored at least 3 goals (and won by at least 3 goals) in each of their last 4 matches. As a single bet, Belgium -2 looks like value at 23/10. However, for the double, I’m going to go with Belgium -1.

BELGIUM -2 (HANIDCAP) (23/10 UNIBET, 888SPORT)

DOUBLE: BRAZIL TO WIN TO NIL, BELGIUM -1 (3/1 188BET)

If you open an account with William Hill using this link, you’ll receive €30/£30 of free bets once you place your first bet of €10/£10 or more.

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.