Aintree’s Grand National festival is well underway, although the ladies of Liverpool don’t seem to have taken note of the unseasonably chilly weather, and despite the cold are still decked out in their finest summer frocks. It’s not just the champagne bars that will be doing well for themselves, though. The nation’s bookies also benefit hugely from Saturday’s Grand National race; it’s estimated that a quarter of the UK’s adult population will have a punt on it.
The trouble with the National is that with so many horses taking part, how on earth can you choose a winner? When there are 12 or so in a flat race, the probability of picking a winner is much higher. But with 40 horses to choose from, and the course such a big ask of a horse, it’s a much harder task.
Many people have one tried and trusted way of picking their horse. Some choose by colour. Pink seems to be a favourite with the ladies, but if you look at the stats, it’s not necessarily the wisest choice. Green, yellow, or a combination of the two are the most successful colours – helped by the fact that one of the biggest racing owners, JP McManus, has them as his colours. Bearing that in mind then, any of McManus’s horses – Anibale Fly, Pendra, Regal Encore or Carlingford Lough – could be worth a flutter. Owner Trevor Hemmings also runs in green and yellow and has had three Grand National winners before. This year he has Vicente (who has won the last two Scottish Grand Nationals) and Warriors Tale, while Saint Are also runs in the ‘lucky’ yellow and green.
Others pick by name, and the fact that last year, Vieux Lion Rouge and Definitly Red were two of the favourites goes to show that Liverpool fans are loyal to their local team’s colours. Vieux Lion Rouge runs again this year, while Tiger Roll’s name seems to have appeal among the punters, too.
For those who take betting more seriously, there are, of course, plenty of other ways to make your choice. Some people – like The Spectator’s Freddy Gray – rely on clever algorithms. If you are studying the runners and riders for yourself, it might be tempting to pick a horse who knows his way round the National course, but the last seven winners were all first-time runners. In fact, last year’s winner, One for Arthur, was ‘terrible’ over the practice fences his trainer built at home – but pulled it out of the bag on the day.
The safety changes made to the course in 2011 and 2012, which reduced the size of many of the jumps and drops and levelled out the take offs and landings, seem to have made it more of a young horse’s race – perhaps because the ‘safer’ jumps don’t require quite so much skill as the old ones. Last year’s winner, One for Arthur, was only eight – one of the race’s youngest winners. Rule The World, in 2016, was nine; Many Clouds, in 2015, was eight as well. This year there’s one seven-year-old running – Baie Des Iles – and nine eight-year-olds. But So Raz de Maree, for example, who came eighth in 2014 but unseated his rider last year, is now 13, and might not have age on his side. The same might go for fellow 13 year olds Maggio, who came 10th in 2015, and Bless the Wings, whose jockey Jack Kennedy is only five years older than the horse.
Weight is also important. The course is more than four miles long, and even with the recent changes, the jumping is still tricky – so every pound can make a difference. Out of the last ten winners, only three (Many Clouds, Neptune Collonges and Don’t Push It), carried over 11 stone.
And if after all that you still really can’t decide on a horse, I direct you to this very handy website, www.manematch.co.uk. Simply select how you’d like to choose your horse – by colours, age, or chances, for example, and the site will filter out the perfect runner for you. You can’t say it hasn’t been made easy for you…
The Grand National is on Saturday, April 12, at 5.15pm on ITV