1 | Don't be put off by price
Since 2000 there have been winners at 20-1, 33-1 (three times), 66-1 and 100-1, so don’t let other peoples’ perception of a horse’s chance put you off. All of the runners have to have reached a certain level of ability just to be allowed to run and, if the handicapper has done his job right, theoretically they all have the same chance.
2 | Youngsters tend to struggle, so go with the experienced horses
In reality, there will be horses with better Grand National profiles than others and you can start to whittle down your shortlist by applying a few key trends, starting with this one: throughout the jumps season many big handicaps will be won by up and coming youngsters, but when it comes to the most competitive race of all, experience is key. Since Aintree legend Red Rum won the first of his remarkable three Grand Nationals at the age of eight, only three other winners have managed to score at such a young age.
3 | Shouldering big weights is difficult
Horses carrying the most weight do so because they’re the best. However, they’re used to running over distances much shorter than the 4 miles, 4 furlongs of the Grand National and the amount a horse carries certainly seems to make a difference. Again, only the legend that is Red Rum has managed to carry more than 11st 16lb to victory since 1957 and he did it twice. The handicapper has been trying to give the better horses a chance recently and Neptune Collonges defied 11st 6lb two years ago, but on balance it’s best to look for something carrying less.
4 | Stamina win the day
You often hear people at this time of year saying that a horse with a bit of speed is what you need for Aintree, but that is, and has always been, nonsense. Every winner since 2000, and the vast majority beforehand, had won a chase at a distance of at least three miles and most had won over further. With the fences having been made smaller, the fields tend to go faster which only puts more emphasis on those with the stamina to see out the trip.
5 | Steer clear of clumsy horses
Now for some positive stats. Even if the fences have been made safer, the Grand National still presents the stiffest jumping test a horse will face, so there’s no point in backing one that can’t get out of its own way. Of course, it’s rare for a chaser to have never fallen, but they do improve with experience and eight of the last 11 winners had not fallen or unseated in a chase for at least two years. Two of the exceptions did so in the previous year’s Grand National, one of which would have finished third at worst had he not come down two fences out.
6 | Look out for a horse with 'national' form
The Grand National is obviously the big one, but there are all sorts of “Nationals” run throughout the year and the next three in terms of prestige – the Scottish, Welsh and Irish – have proved good pointers down the years, not least because they’re run over extreme trips and feature big fields. Ten of the last 14 Grand National winners had previously run in at least one of those three races and they often did quite well (six finished in the first three, two winning). Of those who didn’t make the frame, another had finished a close sixth and a further two had gone off as favourite. One of those was Mon Mome, who won at 100-1 at Aintree in 2009 just four months after going off at 9-2 market leader for the Welsh.
7 | Keep an eye out for horses with winning form in the spring
Different horses come to hand at different times of the year and six of the last nine winners, and four of the last five, had previously won races in April. Auroras Encore, who won last year’s National at odds of 66-1, was already a three-time April winner (and once on 1 May) and had also been second in the Scottish National 12 months earlier, so was far from ungettable despite his price.
8 | Watch for British contenders with winning Cheltenham form
The last six National winners were all trained in Britain and five of those had won a chase around Cheltenham. Aintree and Cheltenham could not be much more different as Aintree is as flat as a pancake and Cheltenham very undulating, but it’s the course at which the most competitive racing takes place and winning form there is another pointer to a horse’s ability to jump at speed.
Finally, our National picks...
Lion Na Bearnais
Despite a long list of horses in every category, the only one who comes through unscathed is Lion Na Bearnais. Admittedly he’s Irish-trained so doesn’t have to qualify as far as Cheltenham form is concerned, but he’s a former Irish National winner, who has never fallen over fences. He may be 12 years old, but horses of his age have won nine of the last 52 runnings from far fewer runners than most age groups (there are only two likely runners this year). He’s also likely to be around 50-1, so why not give him a go?
Best fit from the British runners is Burton Port, who was top-class a couple of seasons ago and has been teased back to form by Jonjo O’Neill. He’s been in the first four twice at the Cheltenham Festival, including in the Gold Cup.
However, if you want to ignore the trends, back Double Seven — there’s a fair chance he’ll be ridden by Tony McCoy. That’s not the only reason for thinking he’ll go well, though. He’s an improving chaser who won October’s Munster National at Limerick from subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner Spring Heeled and put in an eye-catching run when sixth over an inadequate trip last month. Trainer Martin Brassil was responsible for 2006 winner Numbersixvalverde.