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    Grand National analysis from our jumps form man    
    DATE POSTED: 05/04/2014    
    The Grand National 2014 - hints on how to whittle the runners down, plus our National Hunt expert points you towards a few of his fancies...


What to look for...

The race has been run almost without a break since 1839 and, since that time, punters and bookmakers have been competing to make a profit from it (bookies winning hands down).
Solving the puzzle to find a winner is extremely enjoyable and there's a lot of history that can assist, but we can't help but point out we seem to remember that legendary trainer Martin Pipe, who certainly knows more than us, once had 10 of the 40 runners and could only manage a third place!

One interesting point is that it in the past it proved difficult for horses to win carrying over 11 stones; however, there are signs of a more favourable trend developing. This may be due to the re-vamping of the fences and also a bit of judicious handicapping designed to help attract top class horses. Although only 5 of the last 20 winners have shouldered 11st or more, 4 of these were in the last 5 years (2013 shock winner Aurora's Encore being the exception).

Some other vital factors in spotting a winner are: - the horse must be a proven safe jumper; preferably had at least ten previous starts over fences; not fallen more than twice in its career.

Other indicators are that horses should have run within the last couple of months, and are most likely to be aged 9 or 10. Runners coming straight from the Cheltenham Festival tend not to shine here.

The big trainers...

Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson saddle, between them, the first five at the head of the handicap. Paul is adamant that Tidal Bay can shoulder 11st 10lb and defy the fact that a 13yo hasn’t won in at least 80 years.  His 8yo Rocky Creek is relatively inexperienced with  only 7 chase runs but nevertheless has a chance, if not this year then certainly in the next 2 or 3 runnings.

It would be great to see Nicky Henderson pick up one of the few trophies to have eluded him so far. His Long Run, Hunt Ball and Trio D’Alene have 11st 9lb, 11st 7lb and 11st 6lb respectively. Long Run has won 10 of his 22 chases, usually at Group 1 or 2 level, including a Cheltenham Gold Cup, with a single appearance in a handicap back in 2010 - his chance can’t be denied even though there are some detractors who feel he is on the wain .  9yo Hunt Ball certainly doesn’t seem to be the horse he once was. We respect 7yo Trio D'Alene, but youth and 11st 6lb are the main barriers (74 years since a horse less than 8yo succeeded).  He did beat Rocky Creek in the Hennessy Gold Cup last November.

In truth, there is very little to choose between the top weights and it definitely wouldn’t be a surprise if one of them won, but which one?  In their favour, shock wins don’t happen as often as you might think. About three quarters of all previous winners were priced less than 20-1, but only seven favourites won since 1952 (about 11%). This year’s favourite is Teaforthree who finished 3rd last year and now carries 4lb less – a definite plus - as trainer Rebecca Curtis commented “it was the weight that did him last year”. However he ran in this year’s Gold cup (which we regard as a minus) and finished in 8th place.

Sue Smith follow-up?

Sue Smith attempts follow her win last year and of her two entries Mr Moonshine and Vintage Star, the more experienced former is preferred. Don McCain must have Grand National in his bloodstream, given his lineage. This year he relies on 7yo Kruzhlinin (too young?) and Across the Bay, 14th last year, but fell last time out in the National Trial at Haydock. He is certainly good enough, barring mishap, and Henry Brooke rides in the absence of the injured Jason Maguire.

An Irish winner perhaps...

The Irish are likely to have around a quarter of the 40 runners, and we feel the pick of these may be Willie Mullin’s Prince de Beauchene who has missed the last two runnings through niggling injuries but is now reported “spot-on”, and an outside fancy may be Raz de Marie, who makes his first appearance out of Ireland. Famous Irish owner JP McManus has 7 current entries but not all will make the cut in Friday’s final declaration stage. At the moment, his retained jockey Tony McCoy seems to be opting to ride Double Seven who makes his debut over here and would be favoured by good ground.

David Pipe’s best chance seems to be The Package who was 3rd at Cheltenham but, once again, recent Festival runners seem to be at disadvantage.  Balthazar King and Big Shu finished 1st and 3rd in the 4m1f Cross-Country Chase and if sufficiently recovered from that, could well put up a good show as both are super jumpers.  

Monbeg Dude has been supported in the market, but seemed to find things too quick for him at Doncaster last time ou, and may not be suited if the going turns to  Good and a fast pace ensues. Also there is the possibility that Night in Milan, his conqueror at Donny,  may yet squeak into the runners if there are a few withdrawals.

Pineau de Rea and Shakalakaboomboom were among other recent Festival runners, the latter completing Nicky Henderson’s quartet in this National. Shakalakaboomboom  put in a good run in the 2012 National, in front at the second last but rapidly slowing, and  was then off the track for over twenty-one months with a leg injury.  Nicky has been cautiously winding him up, with 3 runs since returning (a Bumper, a hurdle and a chase) and not seen to any great advantage in these. However Nicky wouldn’t risk him if he wasn’t ready and he’s got 9lbs less than 2012 so may be worth chancing at big odds.

Finally, our pin-sticking technique plus a couple of hunches point us to Kim Bailey’s 10yo The Rainbow Hunter, and near the bottom of the weights, 9yo Alvarado (Paul Moloney rides) either of whom could figure in the shake-up if avoiding trouble.

So this is where we are going...

To sum up, the five runners at the top of the handicap have the class to make their presence felt, but we have to hope that there is a genuine trend upwards, easing past the previous drawbacks over the 11st barrier. Also Tidal Bay and Rocky Creek need to overcome the age/youth barrier. We will settle for LONG RUN to prove that he is still first class. With most bookies willing to pay out on the first 5 places (and some even 6) we think each-way chances exist for Balthazar King, Raz de Marie, Shakalakaboomboom, Across the Bay and Alvarado

Finally we hope for a trouble-free and exciting race. Best of luck to you all.

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