Betting on the Grand National: A Quick Guide to the Big Race

The UK Grand National joins the Kentucky Derby, Melbourne Cup, and Prix de l’Arc Triomphe as one of the very few horse races that transcend the sport. By that, we mean it draws in the casual fans, many of whom will have a bet on the event. In the UK, it is both a sporting and cultural event,

Established in 1839, the Grand National is one of the biggest horse racing betting events in the world, taking in millions of wagers. But what should you know about betting on the event, and what makes a Grand National winner?

The first thing to deal with is that the Grand National is often cited as a difficult race to predict. For example, the pre-race favourite has won just five times in the 21st century, and in that time we have seen winners priced at 100/1, 66/1, and 50/1. This has caused some to suggest that the Grand National is something of a lottery. There is some sense in that as any horse can win the race, but there are also certain trends and pointers that can indicate a Grand National winner.

The Grand National is a test of stamina

First, let’s deal with some of the general facts. The Grand National is a 4m 2½ furlong race. This is considered a long-distance horse race (it’s one of the longest premier racing events), and thus stamina is required. There is also the question of the course at Aintree, which features 30 fences, some of which are as tall as 5ft. The Chair is considered the most notoriously difficult, measuring 5ft 2in.

Tired horses tackling those fences can fall, exiting the race. Less than half of the horses running in the 2023 event failed to finish the race, either by falling, unseating the rider, or by pulling up (the rider considered it best to exit the race as the horse was tiring). The large field (40 runners normally contest the Grand National) is also an important consideration. The huge number of runners makes mistakes more likely.

The above factors tend to feed into the idea of the Grand National as a lottery, yet, as mentioned, there are signs we can look for. Ideally, you are looking for a horse that can handle the distance, is comfortable in a large field, and that can jump well. Most of the Grand National runners fit that bill on paper, but the testing conditions prove otherwise.

Age plays a role in Grand National

88% of Grand National winners have previously won races of over 3 miles in distance before, so that should be a strong indicator of what you are looking for. You should also look at horses who have competed well in other Grand Nationals (Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have their own). The age of the horse is also important. Noble Yeats, the 2022 winner, is the only one who has a 7yo since the 1940s. 8 and 9yos have been the most common winners since the mid-2010s, but 10 and 11yos have won frequently too. Ideally, you will want a horse aged between 8 and 11.

Another factor you should be looking at is weight. Before each Grand National, handicappers assign a weight to horses to carry. The more talented the horse (in the handicapper’s eyes), the more weight they will be given. As you might expect, it’s more difficult to win when carrying a heavier load. Minella Times (2021) and Corach Rambler (2023) are two that jump to mind as winners who benefited from carrying a relatively low weight. Some horses can defy having top weight, though, so you will want to analyse how they performed in other handicap races.

The truth is, however, that you are never going to find the perfect horse that fulfils every condition we have mentioned above. For example, those who have been successful in similar races, including previous Grand Nationals, are more likely to be given a heavier weight. So it’s about finding a balance, weighing up the pros and cons of each runner. But if you can find a runner who satisfies most of the criteria, you’ll have a better chance than most of those who have a successful Grand National bet.

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