After months of speculation and anticipation, the springtime horse racing season kicked off in style with the 2015 Cheltenham Festival. Then, with the dust settling on this paramount event, all punting eyes turned to the Grand National. The showcase event is undoubtedly the biggest on the National Hunt’s calendar. Horse racing betting odds were already being examined, debated and weighed up across the country by both regular punters and casual bettors alike.
Of course, picking a Grand National winner has never been an exact science. But when has horse race betting ever been predictable! Since the beginning of the post-war era of the Grand National, the favourite or joint favourites have won only nine times. However, six of these occasions have occurred in the last 25 years and, more astoundingly, the favourite failed to complete the race at all on 36 occasions.
This is demonstrative of just how difficult it can be to pick a winner at the Grand National – even amongst the favourites. And, once again, 2015 continued the trend of the favourite failing to deliver. Instead, it was Many Clouds who was triumphant. But what happened to the favourites?
The general favourite with bookmakers at this year’s event, Shutthefrontdoor gained plenty of media attention. This was due to him being selected as the final horse to be ridden by legendary jockey AP McCoy, who is retiring at the end of this season.
Shutthefrontdoor has won nine events during his career, five of them with McCoy, and was withdrawn from the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year to ensure he was properly ready for the Grand National. Competing in his record-breaking 20th Grand National, McCoy would have been determined to go out fighting.
Having won the Ryanair Chase and finished fourth in the Gold Cup at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, McCoy had shown that he was still capable of the form that has given him more than 4,000 career victories.
But McCoy has only once won at the Grand National in 2009 and it was to be another close-but-not-close enough story for the Irishman at Aintree. He remained in contention for most of the race but had to make to with fifth rather than a fairytale win.
Having come fifth at last year’s Grand National, Rocky Creek trainer Paul Nicholls was determined to see his nine-year-old foal breakthrough at this year’s event. Having had a wind operation last summer, Rocky Creek was predicted to come back faster and stronger than before.
The signs had been good. Rocky Creek enjoyed a perfect Grand National trial in the BetBright Chase at Kempton. Leading the field with half-a-mile to go, Rocky Creek put in a classy and assured performance under jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, who has led Rocky Creek to three of his five career wins.
But the Grand National itself proved to be an entirely different story. A disappointing 17th-place finish at least saw Rocky Creek complete the race but it was only two places above the last of the finishers.
Balthazar King boasted the largest trophy haul of any Grand National favourite, with 14 career victories. Moreover, the jockey, Richard Johnson, who rode him to 13 of these wins was once again riding him at the Grand National.
A runner-up at last year’s Grand National, Balthazar King won for the staggering eighth time at Cheltenham this year, when he was victorious in the Cross Country chase. A tried-and-tested performer with a glittering C.V. and seasoned jockey to boot, Balthazar King’s respectively low odds made him a punting pick.
However, 2015 was a sad story for Balthazar King as he failed to complete the race following a nasty fall at Canal Turn. Balthazar King suffered broken ribs and has since been recovering at the University of Liverpool’s Leahurst equine hospital in Neston.