SEASONED racing expert and Grand National mystro The Voice Of Value (@TheVoiceOfValue) shows us how and where we should be looking for our National winner.
This is the one time of year that I can now more or less guarantee that the phone will ring and the emails will come flooding in. “What are the tips?” and “When can we expect the guide?” are the words on everyone’s lips as soon as April looms large on the horizon and I must admit it’s nice to be popular for a few days.
I had the winner and the runner-up on the shortlist again last year so there were plenty of happy readers. Fingers crossed again.
As many of you know, the Grand National is my favourite race of the year. Despite the dangerous nature of the race it is a real showcase for the sport and for one day of the year the whole country talks about horse racing and little else.
The bad news is that 90% of that chitter chatter is absolute bunkum. Luckily for you, I’m here to cut through the crap. I always like to start with the top weights and work down because it gives us a chance to strike a few off the list straight away. First though, a quick reminder of the basic criteria:
The Grand National, at 4.5 miles, is the longest race of the year and there are 30 massive fences to jump. That makes it an incredible test of stamina. The majority of horses usually don’t finish and it is an unusual horse that is able to stay the distance.
My rule of thumb is always to assume that a horse can't stay the distance unless there is evidence to the contrary – I’m usually looking for a good performance over a distance further than 3m. The further the better.
Stamina, particularly with the reduction in size and scope of the fences last year, is definitely the most important criteria in my book.
Arguably jumping used to be the most important criteria but the fences have undoubtedly been ‘dumbed down’ and if that protects the horses then we really can’t complain can we?
It is clearly still important for the horses to be sure-footed and confident with their jumping. If nothing else, poor jumping and rhythm will lose a horse valuable ground and over this marathon trip and the 30 fences that can fairly add up.
Most of you will know roughly how the handicap system works in horse racing (if you don’t, Google is your friend here). In short, the better the horse the more weight it requires to carry in its saddle bag. Over time, as horses display better form (or worse) their handicap ‘mark’ (known as the Official Rating) is increased or decreased by the authorities.
In the Grand National, due to the distance, the weight that the horses need to carry has even more of an impact. As a result, horses carrying more weight have a poor record in the National.
A horse with top weight would need to be exceptional with a proven history of excelling over marathon distances and no jumping issues for me to even consider it as a contender.
As a rule of thumb, you are looking for horses aged between 8 to 12 with a real bias toward those aged 9,10 and 11. The statistics bear this out and there are scientific reasons why this is the case.
Broadly speaking, younger horses aren’t experienced enough at jumping and can also be lacking in the stamina required. Older horses tend to be past their best and can become outpaced early on.
So those are the basic variables that you need to take into account. Please don’t be bamboozled by the bookies or put off by the pundits – some of the nonsense that is spouted by so-called experts at this time of year is remarkable.
There are always horses that people talk up for very bizarre reasons. Use your head and pick one or two that make sense and you will have a much better chance!
Make sure you read my horse-by-horse guide to the big race, where I review each runner and provide my top contenders to win the 2015 Crabbies Grand National.