Grand National 2017: Top tips on how to pick a winner
Age, weight and other considerations for the intelligent punter ahead of the bigget race of the year
When the Grand National was first run at Aintree in 1839 it was won by a horse called Lottery, which seems fitting for a race that sees 40 horses tackle a four-mile course featuring 30 obstacles.
But despite, or perhaps because of, the randomness the National has become a betting institution with seasoned punters joined by the once-a-year brigade at their local betting shop.
A quarter of UK adults have a flutter on the race and the bookies expect more than £100m to be placed in bets this year. So what should the intelligent punter consider when looking to pick a winner?
History tells us that nine is the peak age for a Grand National winner. Although the race has been won by horses aged from five to 15, a quarter of all winners have been nine years old.
Choosing a horse between the ages of right and 11 makes sense. The last winner aged seven on under was in 1940 and Amberleigh House in 2004 was the last 12-year-old to triumph.
"It's no surprise that horses that aren't too old or young do better in the race," says the Daily Telegraph. "Stamina and jumping ability are essential for the Grand National. While younger horses tend to have more speed than stamina, older horses are often past their prime needed to pass the National's many hurdles."
The Grand National is a handicap steelechase, with faster horses given extra weight to try and make the race more even.
"The simple fact is that very few horses have managed to win carrying big weights," says the Grand National Guide website, and history shows that horses carrying more than 11st 6lb rarely prosper.
But it is not always the killer consideration, says Sporting Life. "A concerted effort has been made to improve the quality of the runners contesting the Grand National and that has resulted in the weights being compressed. As a result, lightly weighted horses are no longer the dominant force of old and five winners have carried 11-0 or higher," it says.
Stamina and experience
This ties in with the question of age and weight, as only the toughest horses will make the grade.
"The Grand National is a gruelling race, and we've always maintained that only horses experienced at running over three miles or more can be expected to be in with a shout," says Grand National Guide, and Sporting Life agrees. "Siding with a runner that has proven form over an extreme trip is key," it says.
There are three considerations to bear in mind in this category, according to The Independent. A warm-up run is crucial - "just the one horse has defied an absence greater than 50 days since 1981 to win" - experience of long distances is key - "Every one of the last 45 winners had previously been victorious over at least three miles" - and knowledge of the course helps - "seven of the past ten winners have jumped fences between ten and 14 times on the track".
Form and odds
These factors should be key, but only one in six Grand Nationals are won by the favourite (although even the favourite usually starts with longer odds than 6-1). The epic nature of the race also tends to make form less important, although eight of the past ten winners finished in the first six on their preceding start, notes Sporting Life.
It's worth bearing in mind that local knowledge is not as crucial as it once was. "Modifications have been made to the famous Grand National fences in recent years and this may well have lessened the 'Aintree effect'," says Sporting Life
Horses beginning with the letter R have the best record in the race, notes the Telegraph, which goes on to point out that the National has been won five times by horses called 'Red'.
But don't be lured in by family connections, warns the paper. "Just a quarter of winners have had a human name."
If there is no stand-out name to help you choose, then the jockey's silks might help. "Pink seems to be a favourite with the ladies, but if you look at the stats, it’s not necessarily the wisest choice," advises Camilla Swift of The Spectator. "Green, yellow, or a combination of the two are the most successful colours,"
The colour of the horse can also be a big deciding factor. "The more casual punters out there are naturally drawn to the attractive greys in the field as they are normally outnumbered by a big majority," notes website Aintree Grand National. "But it has to be said that they do have a terrible record in the race. Only three greys have ever won the National."
Grand National 2017: What makes the race so popular?
Runners for this year's Grand National have been confirmed, as three days of racing get underway at Aintree.
The 40-strong field for Saturday's race, the biggest horse race of the year, features last year's runner-up The Last Samurai, although Vieux Lion Rouge and Definitely Red are the bookmakers' favourites, at around 10-1, this time.
More than 150,000 people are expected to attend the three-day festival at the Liverpool racecourse.
But what makes the Grand National so popular?
With 30 jumps and at four miles long - two and a half furlongs – the National is the longest race of the year and one of the most daunting.
It is thought the first Grand National was run at Aintree in 1839, when it was won by a horse named Lottery. "In those days the field had to jump a stone wall (now the water jump), cross a stretch of ploughed land and finish over two hurdles," says the BBC.
Since then, the race has become an institution, with incidents such as the false start in 1993 and the bomb scare of 1997 making national headlines.
"The Aintree fences are not quite as perilous as they were once upon a time after a series of alterations. However, they are still the most notorious obstacles in the business and enough to make the palms of any jockey sweat," says the Daily Telegraph.
Becher's Brook, which is lower on the landing side than the take-off side, is named after jockey Captain Martin Becher, who fell there in 1939 and crawled into the brook to escape injury. The tallest of the fences is The Chair, which is more than five feet high.
Over the course of almost 200 years, the Grand National has made heroes of many horses. Most famous is Red Rum, who won the race three times and was twice second in five attempts in the 1970s. This year marks the 40th anniversary of his third and final victory.
Another famous winner was 100-1 shot Foinavon, who had a jump named after him in honour of his triumph in 1967, when every other horse was involved in a series of pile-ups. Although 17 horses eventually gave chase, none could catch the rank outsider.
The unluckiest horse in the history of the race may be Devon Loch, who was heading for victory in 1959 but collapsed on to his stomach 50yds from the line. The horse recovered but was passed by ESB and finished second. Esha Ness could also lay claim to that title after "winning" the race in 1993, although a false start meant the result was declared void.
Part of the fascination of the race is the danger, but there have been serious concerns about the safety of runners and riders in recent years.
In 2012, the closest ever finish to the race was overshadowed by the death of two horses, prompting more efforts to make the course safer.
However, many still protest against the race and the risks it poses to the competitors. Others argue that making the course less challenging encourages jockeys to take more risks.
The fact that the first race was won by a horse called Lottery explains why it is so popular. "This is the one betting race a year for many people, bookies are trumpeting a possible £100m in bets," says the Telegraph.
Alex Donohue from Ladbrokes says: "The Grand National is so special because for a few minutes on one day of the year, every year, the most experienced students of the turf and equine experts stand side by side with the pin-stickers of the nation, all uniformly gripped by the thrill of having money riding on the greatest race on earth thanks to months of form study, a catchy name, or a randomly-drawn office sweepstake ticket."
When is it on?
This year's Grand National start at 5.15pm and is being shown on ITV for the first time.