The intelligent punter's guide to the 2014 Grand National
Who's worth a bet? Or what are your chances with the horse you drew in the sweepstake?
WITH winners at 100-1, 33-1 and 66-1 in three of the last five years, there can be rich pickings for those who bet on the victor in tomorrow's Grand National, due off at 4.15pm and televised live on Channel 4.
Forty runners will start in search of the £561,300 first prize at Aintree and the big question this year is: will the further modification of fences have the same impact as 12 months ago? Last year, for the first time in history, all the runners made it to the eighth fence, and there were only two fallers in the race overall.
It used to be a golden rule that to pick the winner of the Grand National you needed a safe jumper with plenty of experience over fences. But now that the fences have been made easier, jumping prowess may not be as important as it once was.
That said, bearing in mind that 30 obstacles still have to be negotiated in a big field, it makes sense to side with a horse that has got plenty of chasing miles on the clock: the last ten winners had all run at least ten times over fences.
Age is an important factor, too. No 13-year-old has won since Sergeant Murphy in 1923 and no horse as young as seven since Bogskar in 1940. The ideal ages for National winners are nine, ten and 11, an age range which covers 16 of the last 18 winners.
Form in major long-distance chases - and in particular the Welsh, Scottish and Irish Nationals - is a big plus. Last year's 66-1 winner Aurora's Encore, for instance, had only been beaten by a head in the previous year's Scottish National: in fact, the first three home last year had finished among the first three in Irish, Scottish or Welsh Nationals.
While being a sound jumper may not be quite as important as it was, the ability to stay the marathon trip surely is.
Then there's weight. The compression of the handicap in recent years means that carrying more than 11st is no longer the bar to success that it once was. Since Hedgehunter's win carrying 11st 1lb in 2005, we've had four more winners who have carried 11st or more.
But the odds are still against horses that carry 11st 7lb or more: they've won only three Grand Nationals since World War Two, and two of those were taken by the extraordinary Red Rum.
Finally, keep a look out for horses that have run well at Aintree at the Grand National meeting in the past if not necessarily in the big race itself. Last year's winner, Aurora's Encore, sprung a 50-1 surprise in a hurdle race at the meeting in 2008 and, revealingly, four of the past five winners had either won or been placed at the Grand National meeting in previous years.
To sum up: the ideal National candidate is a horse aged between nine and 11, carrying no more than 11st 6lb, who has run well in either the Irish, Scottish or Welsh National, has had at least ten runs over fences and has run well before at the Aintree National meeting.
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at Saturday's 40 runners.
ALL THE RUNNERS IN RACECARD ORDER:
**** Likely winner
*** Each-way possibilities
** Outside chance
* No hoper
Note: best odds are those available at the time of posting – these will change.
TIDAL BAY *** Age 13; weight 11st 10lb; best odds 16-1.
Very classy veteran but only two horses of his age have won the race in its entire history, and the last of those was back in 1923. He'd also have to carry the highest weight to victory since Red Rum lumped 12st in 1974. But while a win is unlikely given the stats, he could stay on for a place.
LONG RUN *** Age 9; weight 11st 9lb; best odds 14-1.
Top-class chaser of not so long ago - he won the 2011 Gold Cup and has won the King George twice - and while he has looked regressive for most of this season he did bounce back at Kelso last time. Clearly capable of running well given his class, and jockey Sam Waley-Cohen does have a great record round the Aintree fences; the negatives are his weight and his tendency to put in the odd sketchy jump.
HUNT BALL * Age 9; weight 11st 7lb; best odds 80-1.
Has never won at a distance further than 2m 5f and stamina doubts as well as his weight make him a no-hoper.
TRIOLO D'ALENE *** Age 7; weight 11st 6lb; best odds 25-1.
The positive is that he's won at this meeting and over the National fences before, in last year's Topham Trophy, run over 2m 5f. The big negative is his age as you have to go back to the year that Hitler was invading the Low Countries for the last time a seven-year-old won. That said, for a horse so young he does have plenty of chasing experience (13 starts).
ROCKY CREEK *** Age 8; weight 11st 5lb; best odds 20-1.
Close second behind Triolo D'Alene in the Hennessy, he is very consistent and should stay the trip. The big concern is that he's only had seven starts over fences and every winner in the past ten years has run in at least ten chases.
QUITO DE LA ROQUE *** Age 10; weight 11st 1lb; best odds 40-1.
Won on Grand National day in 2011 and seems to be at his best in spring. He's not been in great form this year but it would be no surprise to see him return to form and there are worse outsiders in the field.
COLBERT STATION ** Age 10; weight 11st; best odds 33-1.
Unseated at the Chair last year and has failed to complete in three of his nine chase starts. With a clear round he could make an impact but there are too many ifs to make him a sound betting proposition.
WALKON ** Age 9; weight 11st; best odds 50-1.
He stayed on to come second over these fences in last year's Topham, but there remains doubt regarding his stamina as the furthest he's won over is 2m 4f. The National course is 4m 3.5f.
BALTHAZAR KING *** Age 10; weight 10st 13lb; best odds 20-1.
Jockey Richard Johnson went too quickly on him last year and having led for much of the way he faded to finish 15th. His cause is not helped by being 4lb higher in the weights this year. But given a more conservative ride he could still fare better than last time.
WAYWARD PRINCE *** Age 10; weight 10st 13lb; best odds 66-1.
The trip is an unknown but he was staying on well at the finish when winning a 3m 1f chase at Aintree in 2012. He has also won at the National meeting before and could go well at a big price.
MR MOONSHINE ** Age 10; weight 10st 13lb; best odds 50-1.
Pulled up in the 2013 National and is 10lb higher in the weights this time. Represents last year's winning trainer/jockey combo and, although he stayed on well to finish third in the Becher Chase in December, stamina is still not guaranteed and off his current handicap mark he'll have his work cut out to emulate Aurora's Encore.
TEAFORTHREE **** Age 10; weight 10st 12lb; best odds 9-1.
Third last year, he aims to be the first horse since Amberleigh House in 2004 to win the race having been placed in a previous running. He's actually 2lb lower in the weights this year which is why he's the favourite. He has never fallen.
ACROSS THE BAY *** Age 10; weight 10st 11lb; best odds 50-1.
Gave his supporters a good run for their money last year, leading for a long way, and should go well again as he's 2lb lower in the weights. If ridden with a bit more constraint than last year, he could improve on eighth position.
DOUBLE SEVEN *** Age 8; weight 10st 11lb; best odds 14-1.
Has won five times this season in Ireland, but lots of recents '1's in the form figures isn't always a good guide to National winners. That said he's come in for some significant support in the market in the last few days and he did stay on strongly when winning the Munster National in October over 3m. In short, AP McCoy's mount cannot be discounted.
BATTLE GROUP *** Age 9; weight 10st 10lb; best odds 50-1.
Poor recent form, but has a cracking record at this meeting, winning twice in three days last year. His last four wins have come in the months of April and May and with that kind of spring record he can't easily be dismissed. An outsider who could run much better than his odds suggest.
BUCKERS BRIDGE ** Age 8; weight 10st 10lb; best odds 80-1.
Was staying on in third place behind subsequent Gold Cup runner-up On His Own over 3m 1f at Fairyhouse last time, but the negative stat is that the furthest distance over which he's won is 2m 4f. Good jumper but an unlikely winner.
LION NA BEARNAI **** Age 12; weight 10st 10lb; best odds 33-1.
The 2012 Irish National winner, so no problems on the stamina front, and after a disappointing 2012/13 season he returned to form this winter with a win at Fairyhouse. All four of his wins have come between February and May, so this is his time of the year, and he could be one of the better outsiders.
PRINCE DE BEAUCHENE **** Age 11; weight 10st 10lb; best odds 20-1.
Well fancied for the National the past two seasons, but missed the race each time through injury. Will it be third time lucky for Willie Mullins's charge? It would be no surprise to see him running a big race.
MONBEG DUDE *** Age 9; weight 10st 9lb; best odds 12-1.
In many ways the enigma of the race. He's a Welsh National winner so stamina won't be a problem and his jumping, once sketchy, has improved a lot this season. But his come-from-behind style of running isn't ideally suited to this race.
BIG SHU *** Age 9; weight 10st 8lb; best odds 25-1.
Cross-country race specialist but not quite as good outside of that arena. That said, he jumps well and stamina should be no problem - so he can't be dismissed.
BURTON POINT **** Age 10; weight 10st 8lb; best odds 20-1.
Has a win and second place in two previous runs at the meeting and warmed up nicely for this with a second place at Newbury in early March. His stamina over four miles-plus is unproven - but if he does stay he could take plenty of beating for a trainer who landed the race in 2010 with a horse with a similar profile and an owner who won in 2005 and 2011.
OUR FATHER ** Age 8; weight 10st 8lb; best odds 100-1.
All his best runs have come fresh, so the fact that he ran at the Cheltenham Festival three weeks ago is not really in his favour. His inexperience is another negative, as he's only had six runs over fences.
MOUNTAINOUS *** Age 9; weight 10st 7lb; best odds 40-1.
Won this season's Welsh National so we know he stays. But all his best performances have been on ground much softer than he's going to get at Aintree, barring late heavy rainfalls. On heavy or soft ground he'd definitely be of interest, but may find things happening to quickly for him unless the heavens open.
THE RAINBOW HUNTER *** Age 10; weight 10st 7lb; best odds 33-1.
Unseated at the eighth fence (the Canal Turn) last year; but clearly benefited from a wind operation when winning a valuable 3m chase at Doncaster in January. He's 4lb higher in the weights this time round but it would still be no surprise to see him running better than last year.
VINTAGE STAR ** Age 8; weight 10st 7lb; best odds 50-1.
Evidence is inconclusive regarding stamina: he appeared to run out of gas in the Welsh National, but that was on heavy ground, and he did stay on well when winning over 3m 2f at Catterick. Bigger concerns could be his sometimes sketchy jumping (he fell last time out) and the fact that his best form has been in smaller fields.
CHANCE DU ROY *** Age 10; weight 10st 6lb; best odds 33-1.
Has some excellent form over the National fences, having finished second in a Topham, and won the 3m 2f Becher Chase in December. Very likely to go well again, but the big concern is his stamina, as he looked to be at the end of his tether at the finish of the Becher. The final mile is the big unknown.
HAWKES POINT ** Age 9; weight 10st 6lb; best odds 40-1.
He finished second in the Welsh National so stamina won't be an issue, but his lack of experience over fences (over seven starts) is a negative and he's another who'd probably prefer softer ground.
KRUZHLININ * Age 7; weight 10st 6lb; best odds 100-1.
Kelso specialist who was in good form earlier in the season but has struggled off higher marks since Christmas. Has potential, but the big negative is his age - no seven-year-old has won since 1940.
PINEAU DE RE *** Age 11; weight 10st 6lb; best odds 25-1.
He fell in December's Becher Chase on his only previous run over the National fences, but has been in good form since then and has attracted market support for this. Stayed on well to win the 3m 4f Ulster National last April and stamina shouldn't be a problem: if he jumps well, he could be in the shake-up.
GOLAN WAY ** Age 10; weight 10st 5lb; best odds 100-1.
Was staying on all right at the end of the 3m 5.5f London National at Sandown in 2012, so stamina should be fine. But since returning from a long absence he has been plying his trade in hunter chases and this is going to be much tougher.
TWIRLING MAGNET ** Age 8; weight 10st 5lb; best odds 100-1.
Unseated his rider at the Cheltenham Festival and will need to jump much better than he did there if he's to play a part.
VESPER BELL * Age 8; weight 10st 5lb; best odds 100-1.
Fell and unseated in two of his last three starts and the fall was at the first fence in the Becher Chase at Aintree in December. That hardly inspires confidence.
THE PACKAGE ** Age 11; weight 10st 4lb; best odds 25-1.
Was a 14-1 shot when he ran in the 2010 National but his jumping was not too fluent and he unseated his rider at the 19th. Ran well to be third at Cheltenham last month on his first run for a year: hard to weigh up given his lack of racing in recent years.
RAZ DE MAREE *** Age 9; weight 10st 3lb; best odds 66-1.
Has won a Munster National and a Cork National and stamina shouldn't be a problem; the concern is that he's failed to complete in two of his last four races races. Trainer Dessie Hughes, who won the first race at this year's Grand National meeting, says that if he gets round the first circuit he'll be okay. There are worse outsiders in the field.
ROSE OF THE MOON ** Age 9; weight 10st 2lb; best odds 50-1.
Lack of experience is the big concern: he's only had six races over fences and his three chase wins have come in small fields. He did get to negotiate the Aintree fences in this season's Becher Chase but, even so, looks to have plenty to do.
SHAKALAKABOOMBOOM *** Age 10; weight 10st 2lb; best odds 33-1.
Led for a long way in the 2012 National before fading in the closing stages to finish ninth. He's now 9lb lower in the weights and if the return to Aintree can spark a revival (he's been in poor form in all three starts this season) he might be able to improve on his previous position.
ALVARADO ** Age 9; weight 10st 2lb; best odds 40-1.
Impressive winner of a 3m 4f handicap chase at Cheltenham in November, but can be hit and miss: he's refused twice and has failed to complete in four of his last 11 races. If he takes to the fences and is having a good day, he could run well, but his non-completion record is a concern.
LAST TIME D'ALBAIN ** Age 10; weight 10st 2lb; best odds 50-1.
Was an eye-catching staying-on third in the Topham last season, and came third over 3m at Leopardstown in December 2012; but still the biggest distance over which he's won is 2m 4f and that's a negative stat for this race.
ONE IN A MILAN *** Age 9; weight 10st 2lb; best odds 66-1.
Trainer Evan Williams has a great record at getting horses placed in the National and his representative this year shouldn't be lacking in stamina having finished third in a Midlands National and fourth in a Welsh National. The negative is that he has had only six runs over fences and could do with more experience. That said, with his trainer's record it would be no great surprise if he goes better than his long odds might suggest.
SWING BILL ** Age 13; weight 10st 1lb; best odds 80-1
A veteran with a good record over the National fences: he finished tenth and sixth in the last two Nationals and has finished in the first six on four of the six occasions he has run over the course. Very likely to give jockey Conor O'Farrell a great ride, but even though he's 4lb lower in the weights than 12 months ago, it's hard to see him improving enough at the age of 13.