This Saturday we have the most famous horse-race in the World taking place at Aintree, the Grand National. As I grew-up within a few miles of the track and regularly went past the course on the bus into Liverpool, the course and the race are a special place.
This is a race in which I try extra-hard to find the winner of. I may have written this before but, many years ago, I read the biography of legendary gambler Alex Bird who "retired" in 1985. Unfortunately, the only bit of interesting information that I extracted from the book was his quip that he'd found the winner of every Grand National since 1946. Keen to fathom out this factor, I studied the records of the winners and realised at that time that 9 out of 10 winners carried more than 10st in weight - in effect reducing the field from 40 to perhaps less than 10 on which to focus your fom study. The book quickly paid for itself as I was able to select 1987 winner Maori Venture (ante-post at 40/1) who won at an SP of 28/1 carrying 10st 13lb.
The race has been transformed in recent years, and not just by modifications to the course and the trip - the "handicap" has been compressed considerably which, as we have found out at the recent Cheltenham Festival, has put the "edge" in favour of those at the top of the handicap. The problem with ratings inflation is that the very best horses are pretty much of the same ability year-in, year-out. A Cheltenham Gold Cup winner is typically rated OR166-172 and very few, less than 5 horses, are truly better than OR170 in any given year. The ability of horses (in my opinion) does not follow a statisticians "standard deviation curve" - the vast majority of racehorses are of poor-to-ordinary ability, that is rated (over jumps) at OR65 to OR90 and many never rate good enough to even achieve a rating. The higher-up the ability scale you go, the fewer horses hit the standard. However, ratings inflation pushes horses outside of their comfort zone by awarding ratings that the horses are not truly comfortable with. Horses such as The Last Samuri, and Shantou Flyer are running off inflated ratings, and if The Last Samuri could win this weekend's Grand National carrying 11st 10lb giving weight to horses that ran well in last months Cheltenham Gold Cup then he should really have been running in that race rather than this. I don't think The Last Samuri is a potential Gold Cup winner, do you?
As I found when looking at the entries for the 3m1f handicap chase on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, it may be more beneficial in a race as competitive as this, to produce a shortlist of 4 or 5 in the race to wager on - for instance, my shortlist of 4 on the opening days handicap at Cheltenham came up with the winner (Un Temps Pour Tout) and the runner-up (Singlefarmpayment) with the Exacta paying £89 to a £1 stake.
So then, from the top...
The Last Samuri (OR161) 11st10lb - he couldn't win this last year (came 2nd) off OR149 and carrying just 10st 8lb
More Of That (OR159) 11st 6lb - ran 6th in Gold Cup and stays well; looks fairly treated, 14/1 is fair value.
Shantou Flyer (OR156) 11st 5lb - won a novice chase over 3-mile but looks best at 2m6f.
Perfect Candidate (OR156) 11st 5lb - won well LTO, stays 3m2f+, front-runner, very interesting at 50/1.
Saphir Du Rheu (OR162) 11st 5lb - 5th in Gold Cup, looks the best handicapped (about 6lb well-in), but trip an issue.
Roi Des Francs (OR150) 11st 3lb - looks poorly handicapped.
Wounded Warrior (OR150) 11st 3lb - was useful novice chaser, but not progressed.
Wonderful Charm (OR142) 11st 2lb - was OR159 at peak, ran well LTO but much improvement needed
Tenor Nivernais (OR160) 11st 1lb - not a natural staying chaser.
Blaklion (OR156) 11st 1lb - very consistent and stays well, big run expected and 14/1 looks fair (4lb well-in)
Drop Out Joe (OR152) 11st 1lb - Not run since 26June16.
Le Mercurey (OR151) 11st 0lb - not a natural 4-mile chaser in the making.
The Young Master (OR148) 10st 13lb - should stay the trip, but didn't run well here in December
Cause Of Causes (OR142) 10st 13lb - ignore run here in 2015, is potentially a 155 chaser, but will he be left behind early-on?.
Regal Encore (OR150) 10st 13lb - not sure this marathon trip is what he wants, as 3-mile is his limit.
Vieux Lion Rouge (OR155) 10st 12lb - stays well, handles National fences, well-treated (6lb well-in).
Definitly Red (OR159) 10st 12lb - stays well, jumps and travels well, potentially best handicapped and could be 10lb well-in.
Ucello Conti (OR145) 10st 12lb - 6th last year off OR149 carrying 10st 8lb, hasn't improved since.
Double Shuffle (OR152) 10st 12lb - improved form over 3-mile, but only 7yo and may need another year.
Houblon Des Obeaux (OR142) 10st 12lb - recent form poor, but so was Venetia Williams' 100/1 National winner Mon Mome! Ran 3rd in the Welsh National off OR153 at Christmas and a repeat would put him in the mix.
Pleasant Company (OR148) 10st 12lb - aimed at this since winning last April, won "Bobbyjo" Chase LTO and is main hope of Willie Mullins.
One For Arthur (OR148) 10st 11lb - terrific win LTO and comes here in top form - is he still improving?
of the others:-
Lord Windermere (OR146) 10st 10lb - won Cheltenham GC in 2014 but not come close to that form since.
Saint Are (OR147) 10st 10lb - 2nd in 2015, but pulled-up last year, back to form LTO, so could go well.
Vicente (OR146) 10st 10lb - Won Scottish National last year but recent form isn't good enough.
Rogue Angel (OR145) 10st 8lb - won Irish Grand National last year and will stay the trip but this will be his 33rd chase race and further improvement is unlikely.
Thunder And Roses (OR144) 10st 7lb - placed 2nd in two top Irish handicaps this season, and won Irish National in 2015 beating subsequent 2016 Grand National winner Rule The World.
Doctor Harper (OR140) 10st 6lb - ran well on New Years Day and will be well prepared for this by handicap king David Pipe.
Of those above, I'm shortlisting
Perfect Candidate @ 50/1
Blaklion @ 14/1
Vieux Lion Rouge @ 10/1
Definitly Red @ 10/1
Pleasant Company @ 16/1
Thunder And Roses @ 33/1
and if VYTA DU ROC @ 66/1 gets in on 10st 0lb I will be seriously interested as he stays 4-mile, jumps well and is very consistent.
If push came to shove, my selection (at this stage, Wednesday) would be BLAKLION, but I can see the 3 on my shortlist at longer odds, that is Perfect Candidate, Pleasant Company, and Thunder And Roses all going well. I feel, with luck, Vieux Lion Rouge and Definitly Red will run big races but their respective odds of about 10/1 are a bit short in a race which has (in recent years) become a great leveller.
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