We live in a stats-mad age, and while applying my brain to the annual conundrum â€˜who will win the Grand Nationalâ€™, two stats have caught my eye. There are, of course, lies, damned lies and statistics as Disraeli was keen to remind us, and just like form, all they are is a measure of the past.
But weighing up form for the National is rather tough as there are no similar races to draw a line through apart from the one that happened at this time last year. But stats on the big race have accumulated since the first running in 1839.
Now stats tell us that since Corbiere humped 11 stone 4 to victory in 1983, only Hedgehunter in 2005 has carried over 11 stones to victory. This would seem to carve out a very strong case for anything carrying less than that. But before putting a line through the top 14 on this yearâ€™s card, remember this. Until fairly recently, the horses were not weighted so closely together. Often, something like 75 to 80% of the field would be carrying less than 11 stone, and most of them would be out of the handicap. It was done to clobber previous winners and Gold Cup winning horses. But now the handicapper takes a more lenient view. So this stat can safely be ignored.
The other stat is slightly more interesting. 14 out of the previous 18 winners have all come from the first eight in the betting. Itâ€™s not quite the lottery that many like to describe it as. The fact is that since 1989 (when the race was carnage), the course has been made safer, and horses and jockeys have to reach certain qualification levels before they can take part in the great race. These changes have made the race just a little more predictable. So this guide is focussing on the first eight in the betting (in no particular order), five of which are carrying over 11 stone.
COMPLY OR DIE is last yearâ€™s winners and went in to last yearâ€™s race in fine form and 11lbs lighter than he is this year. Heâ€™s not shown his old sparkle in three outings at Cheltenham, and maybe seen to his best now in the marathon events. Heâ€™s reunited with Timmy Murphy who knows his way round Aintree pretty well, and at 20/1 could represent some decent each way value.
Leading trainer, Paul Nicholls, is triple-handed in the race. Earlier this week, stable jockey, Ruby Walsh opted to ride MY WILL, and it instantly shot to the head of the market. With two wins already under his belt (Papillon and Headhunter), Walsh will be seeking to become the first rider since Brian Fletcher (Red Rum 1974) to win the race for a third time. This horse gives him an outstanding chance. This experienced chasing horse has been lightly raced over the last couple of seasons, but caught the eye when finishing 5th in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, previously having occupied the same position in the Hennessey at Newbury.
The race wouldnâ€™t be complete without an entry from the legendary businessman and punter, J P McManus. At 10/1 his BUTLERâ€™S CABIN currently occupies second place in the betting. Trained by Jonjo Oâ€™Neill, most of the money behind this is based on the assumption that the horse will be ridden by no other than A P McCoy. After falling in this event last year (at Becherâ€™s second time round), the 2008-09 season kicked off with three lacklustre performances. But he was seen to better effect in the Kim Muir Chase at Cheltenham. But this race has eluded McCoy so far, and it is difficult to see why this horse is so strongly fancied.
Another faller last year, and back for another go is the Irish trained BLACK APALACHI. Departing at the second, he has subsequently atoned for this by winning the Becher chase, over these fences, last November, Since then he has performed well in two races, including an emphatic win in the Grade 2 BobbyJo chase at Fairyhouse. With most of his best performances having been on soft/heavy ground, the going could be of some concern.
The money has been flying in for PARSONâ€™S LEGACY. Now at 14/1, it represents the powerful yard of Philip Hobbs, and stable jockey, the highly experienced Richard Johnson, gets the leg up. This 5th season chaser has never done Aintree before, so the fences may surprise him. He finished third in the Scottish National 2 years ago, so shouldnâ€™t be inconvenienced by the trip. Has only run twice this season, winning nicely at Cheltenham first time, before being pulled up at the same track in December. Will be suited by the ground and if money talks, heâ€™ll have plenty to say.
Mouse Morris must be devastated that War Of Attrition was unable to take part. However, in HEAR THE ECHO, he has a well-fancied deputy. The Irish Grand National winner last year has subsequently had three runs over hurdles, before unseating his rider in a Grade 2 chase at Gowran Park. The race was run at a strong pace, and the horse jumped well. His mistake came when his chance had gone. This suggests that the strong pace of the National may suit him. This is another horse that may prefer softer ground on the day.
STATE OF PLAY comes into the race after a small break following a couple of good performances at Wetherby. This will be his first attempt at the Aintree fences, although heâ€™s been to Liverpool three times before, winning the betfair.com chase in April 2006. Still only 9 years old and with a wealth of experience to draw on, Evan Williamsâ€™ charge could play a major part. This horse rarely runs a bad race, and goes on any ground.
The Reveleyâ€™s have been fairly quiet of late and must be delighted with the consistent form being maintained by 11 year old RAMBLING MINSTER. He comes into this race having one his last two encounters seeing off 12 opponents on New Years Day at Cheltenham and another 15 at Haydock in February. Rarely runs a bad race, he may well be ahead of the handicapper, and 10 stone 9 lbs, looks like a very handy weight, and he will be getting weight from most of the field on Saturday. Looking at his recent runs suggests that connections have a preference for soft ground these days, so maybe there is a slight question mark there.
Selection : STATE OF PLAY
Next best : PARSONâ€™S LEGACY