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Can we predict THE UNPREDICTABLE?

They say the Grand National is a lottery; that you need luck in spades to back a winner at Aintree. Angus Loughran’s not sure that’s true. This is essential reading for anyone who likes a bet on this hardy perennial

Both National Hunt lovers and racing novices alike are united in April as the most popular race in Britain takes place at Aintree – the Grand National.

The gruelling four-and-a-half mile handicap is part of the fabric of British society as seasoned punters and once-a-year bettors all have their say on who will claim the most valuable National Hunt race in the world. The National is notoriously gruelling on horse and jockey alike, with landmarks such as Becher’s Brook and The Chair among the toughest in the world to negotiate. Stamina, then, is a vital ingredient of any Grand National winner.

With the race regularly attracting the full compliment of 40 runners, backing the winner is no mean feat. Your selection will need a skilled jockey, stamina in abundance and of course huge amounts of luck – though there are ways to make your betting selections easier to choose. For starters, don’t be afraid to get stuck into the bigger prices if you think a horse is under-valued. Nothing demonstrated this better than last year, when the Venetia Williams-trained Mon Mome landed the race at odds of 100/1. The likes of Silver Birch (33/1, 2007), Red Marauder (33/1, 2001) and Royal Athlete (40/1, 1995) have all triumphed at big prices in recent years – while only six favourites have won since 1960.

Another factor that has proven crucial in the modern era is the weight the horse is carrying. It is very rare for a horse to win the National carrying more than 11 stone nowadays – Hedgehunter in 2005 was the only winner from the last 25 to have won with more on his back. And even then it was only 11-1. Comply or Die nearly smashed this trend last year when finishing a game second off 11-6 – perhaps from his 10-09 weight from the year before. He could have retained the title.

Age is also a crucial consideration – no horse under the age of eight has won the historic race since way back in 1940. Normally, you should be looking for a runner between eight and 10 years of age – this bracket have won eight of the last 10 renewals, including the last five in a row.

Following certain trainers or jockeys in the National is not usually advisable, as a win here often only happens once in a career – if that. Everyone knows that AP McCoy, the greatest jumps jockey of all time, has never won the National, while top trainer Paul Nicholls is also yet to taste victory. Nigel Twiston-Davies has as good a record as any current handler, winning two of the last 12 renewals, while Ruby Walsh has steered home two of the last 10 winners.

Of course, one of the factors a punter cannot account for in a race of this magnitude is luck. All of your careful research can be undone by one collision or mistake which can often be no fault of your selection. One of the most memorable recent examples was in 2005, when McCoy was on board 9/1 chance Clan Royal. Jumping beautifully and in the lead coming into Becher’s, he was cruelly taken out by a loose horse when looking in prime condition with just seven fences left to jump. McCoy was also felled at the same fence in 2008 when going well on Butler’s Cabin. The well-fancied Black Apalachi unseated jockey Denis O’Regan when leading at Becher’s last year to reaffirm the fence’s reputation as one of the toughest on the course to negotiate.

Whoever triumphs in 2010, they will write themselves into the history books of a race that has been at the heart of British racing since the mid-18th century.

One record that is unlikely to be matched any time soon is a Grand National/Scottish Grand National double. With the race at Ayr usually coming just a week after the Aintree showpiece, it is unsurprising that only one horse has won both in the same season. It is also no shock that the horse in question is the great Red Rum, who was at the peak of his powers in 1974.

Followers of trainer records are sure to be interested in any Ferdy Murphy runners – the Yorkshire handler has won three of the last 10 runnings of the Scottish version, with Paris Pike (2000), Joes Edge (2005) and Hot Weld (2007). Last year saw Hello Bud become the oldest winner of the race since 1996 (at the age of 11) to give Nigel Twiston-Davies his third Scottish National victory. It is interesting that the aforementioned AP McCoy and Paul Nicholls have also struggled in this one as well – the pair combined to win with Belmont King in 1997 but that is the only triumph either have tasted.

ANDY NEWTON’S AINTREE GRAND NATIONAL TRENDS

With 40 runners hurtling over 30 fences for four-and-a-half miles the Grand National can be a hard enough task for everyday betting enthusiasts let alone the once-a-year punters that crawl out of the woodwork at this time of year. But, that said, I personally think this is one of the most significant contests in the racing calendar when it comes to applying past trends.

Last year’s 100/1 winner, Mon Mome, would have eluded most but the trends threw up Comply or Die the year before, while in 2007 by applying a few simple stats it would have been possible to find the first three home – a tricast that paid a whopping £12,500!

So what are the main things to look out for? First up is to check how many days ago your fancy was last on the track, as all of the last 10 winners ran no more than 48 days before landing the world’s greatest steeplechase. While if you take this a step further, seven out of 10 recent winners had their last outing less than 28 days before Aintree.

The age of your pick is also key with the race tending to go to an older, more experienced runner. No horse younger than eight has won in the last 10 years and you have to go way back to 1940 to find the last winner that was a seven-year-old! Those aged nine have the best overall race record, and this has been further highlighted over the last 10 runnings with 4/10 winning, while if you want to broaden your selection on this age stat then those between eight and 10 years (winning 8/10) look the ones to concentrate on.

With two circuits of Aintree to cover we all know it’s going to be a huge stamina test, so the weight on your fancy’s back will play a big part. Yes, the classier the animal the more weight they’ll have to carry, but if past history is anything to go by then it’s best to rule out those runners that are set to shoulder more than 10-12. Ok, Mon Mome (11-0) and Hedgehunter (11-1) defied this trend in recent years, but eight of the last 10 winners only had 10-12 or less to lump round – in fact in the last 30 runnings only five winners have carried 11-0 or more to victory.

Favourites have a fair record, winning two of the last five, but don’t be afraid to look further down the betting as actually 80 percent of recent winners have returned 11/1 or bigger – including two 33/1 shots and, of course, last year’s monster 100/1 dividend.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Irish-trained horses often do well, winning 50 percent of the last 10 runnings, while if you are looking for a trainer or jockey to follow then the Nigel Twiston-Davies’ yard have the best recent record after taking the race with Bindaree (2002) and Earth Summit (1998), and when looking for the right pilot you could do a lot worse than just back whichever horse Ruby Walsh decides to steer – he’s won the first prize twice in the last 10 years. Good luck!
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