With 600 million people watching on their televisions and 70,000 on the raceside, the Grand National has more than earned its reputation as the one race that everyone takes a flutter on.
Held at Aintree racecourse, the Grand National is one in a series of three event days that are held at the Aintree Steeplechase. Overall, the schedule reads as follows:
Day 1: Liverpool Day – seven races, five of which are graded and concludes with fox hunter chase over the fences of the National.
Day 2: Ladies Day – seven races, six of which are graded and the other listed.
Day 3: Grand National Day – seven race, with the Grand National taking centre stage at 5.15pm.
The event itself is a handicap steeplechase with forty runners chosen from a long-list of a hundred plus entrants from earlier in the year. The handicap system allows the organisers to set as even a race as possible with each horse having an OR (Official Rating) that allows them to determine they weight they can carry. Once this is confirmed, the full list of 40 runners (with four reserves) will be made available the Thursday or Friday before the event.
When it comes to punting, bets can be placed once the list has been fully confirmed or ante-post, before the field is finalised. Placing ante-post will ensure you get better odds but carry the potential risk that your selection may not end up running, causing you to lose your money as a result.
What Should I Know About The Course?
The course itself is one of the most challenging and popular televised races. The event is made up from runners taking on two laps of sixteen fences, with the first fourteen jumped twice. Spread out over four miles, the National is the longest race in Britain and the most profitable jump race in Europe.
Run over flat, the course is often described as the true test of horse and rider. The gruelling event throws everything at horse and rider, and demands a runner that has stamina, jumping ability and the control to take on the range of obstacles that litter the field.
The most well-known obstacles include:
Becher’s Brook (6 & 22): A 5ft jump taken twice during the race. This jump ends with 6ft 9in blind drop and was named after a jockey who was unseated and used the obstacle as a shelter to avoid injury. Since the 1960s there have been 181 falls and has continuously proven to be a bottleneck that can clear a swathe of the field.
Foinavon (7 & 23): a 4ft 6in jump named after the horse that took it and won at 100/1 odds after the rest of field failed to take the fence. The obstacle is one of the least challenging on the course but has proven treacherous in the past if approached in tight grouping.
Canal Turn (8 & 24): a 5ft jump preceded by a severe left turn. This obstacle is famous for unseating riders and has often proved a deciding point for many races; seeing 41 falls since the late eighties.
The Chair (15): a 5ft 2in jump that has seen the only human fatality in the race’s history. Negotiated only once, the jump has a long run-up which lends speed but can exacerbate falls and subsequent injury. Once cleared, this leads up to the final water jump and the 474m sprint in to the finish; the longest stamina-draining stretch in the country.
To learn more, any punter onsite can walk the course in the morning and see the conditions first hand. This takes an hour and is completed by the runners in the race in less than fifteen minutes.
What Should I Know About Picking A Grand National Horse?
Jockey Trends: It is common to see at least a couple of unseated horses in the National, so when punting it’s essential to consider the rider’s history. What experienced do they have and have they ridden similar horses in the past? Do they have a history of running races over long periods? How many times have they ridden the same horse which has then ‘pulled up’ or failed to complete? Have recently been unseated and, if so, have there been any reports of injuries?
Trainer Trends: Keep an eye out for trainers long beforehand, especially those that are specifically putting the horse through a ‘gentle’ training period and avoiding races beforehand. Like football team playing a friendly, winning will require risk and effort from a horse and any trainer worth his salt will know this and avoid risking the animal so close to the event. If a horse has placed highly recently, this could forecast trouble. Know the big names in training: Paul Nicholls, Willie Mullings and Jonjo O’Neill are all safe bets.
Weather and Conditions: The forecast is your friend and countless sites are dedicated to following the forecast before the event is run. They will be looking (read, praying) for a clear and non-windy day, which is hard to come by in the UK where the ground is not too hard or muddy. Rain is a particular hazard on the course – too much and the horse requires more energy with every step to get around the course and kicked mud on Aintree’s unforgiving turns can becoming a life-threatening hazard for rider and horse.
What Hints And Tips Are There?
Backing a favourite? Most punters on the national go by name recognition alone and, historically, these never manage to do well and can easily get crowded out on the course. Similarly, try to avoid heavyweights and those carrying over 11st in weight
Back The Long Odds: Betting strategically, it’s often better to follow the long odds – since 1928 five 100/1 shots have cleared the final hurdle, making it worth a safety bet or two. Statistics have also shown several trends over time. From the 1950s onward, the average winner has been backed at odds of 20/1 of less with thirteen of the last 24 winners falling in this category and are likely to be around ten years of age. In addition, only three greys and thirteen mares have ever won, with the most recent mare winning in 1951.
Know The Key Stats: Learn and look for key information. What ground is the horse good on historically? How have they won over the distance? How often have they fallen? Have they lost or gained weight? And, what is their lineage? Can they be tracked back to a good pedigree and are currently running under a good trainer?