THE INTELLIGENT PUNTER’S GUIDE TO THE 2023 GRAND NATIONAL Neil Clark
And they’re off! At 5.15pm at Aintree on Saturday a maximum of 40 horses will go to post for the 175th renewal of the world’s most famous -and most exciting horse race- one which was first run back in 1839. Deciding which horse, or horses, to back might seem a daunting task but hopefully this horse-by-horse guide will help.
The Grand National used to be a strong trends race, but last year’s 50-1 winner, Noble Yeats, ridden by retiring amateur Sam Waley-Cohen, was a real stats-buster as he was the first 7-year-old to win since 1940! It does seem that with the further modification of the once formidable fences, the average age of National winners is getting younger- with age and experience counting for less than they used to.
Consider this. Eight-year-olds used to win the race about once every decade (1973, 83, 92, 02). But eight-year-olds have now won four of the last seven runnings. Conversely, no horse older than nine has won since 2014. Compare that to the period 1975-81 when all bar one of the winners was over 9, and 1989-1996 when the same thing happened again. Now that doesn’t mean we can, or should, dogmatically rule out any horse older than nine in this year’s race, and that a seven-year-old will win again, only that recent trends strongly suggest the advantage now seems to be with the younger horses.
As to weight, carrying less than 11st stone still is an advantage in the Aintree marathon, with seven of the last ten winners carrying between 10st 3lbs and 10st 13lbs. And if we look at the forty horses finishing in the first four since 2012, 29 of them carried less than 11st. So if you’re backing say four horses, it’s probably sensible to have at least three of them in the 10st- to 10st 13lbs weight bracket.
Horses that have been placed, or run well in the race often do so again, so do pay close attention to runners who come into that category, at least from an each-way perspective. From a win perspective though recent trends do favour horses having their first run in the race which again is probably connected to the modification of the fences. L’Escargot in 1975 and Hallo Dandy in 1984 both won having been placed in previous years, but the last horse to achieve that feat was Amberleigh House in 2004. After the legendary Red Rum won the race three times in the 1970s, no horse won back-to-back Nationals until Tiger Roll in 2018 & 19. Can Noble Yeats double up this year? If so, he would become the sixth Irish trainer winner in the last seven years, another strong recent trend. In fact you have to go back to 2014 for the last English trained winner (the 2017 winner, One for Arthur, was trained in Scotland).
Finally regarding prices, don’t be put off backing horses at long odds if you fancy them. Since 2006 we’ve had winners at 100-1, 66-1, 50-1, 33-1 (three times), and 25-1 (twice), showing that finding the winner is even harder than it used to be as the quality of the race has improved and so many are in with chances. At least from win-only purposes, favourites are generally worth taking on in such a big field, only two favourites or joint-favourites have won since 2008. Well-fancied horses though have regularly been placed, so if you do fancy one of the market leaders, the advice is to back it each-way as at least you’ll get some return if it finishes in the frame.
Now let’s take a closer look at the runners.
**** Potential winner *** Each way possibilities ** Possibilities at best but unlikely winner * No hoper
1. ANY SECOND NOW. 11 yo. Weight 11st 11lbs. Odds: 12-1 *** With better luck Ted Walsh’s charge might be going into this chasing a third National win as he was an unlucky third in 2021 and a close second last year; sure to go very well again, but faces a stiff task to win off an 8lbs higher mark than 12 months ago.
2. NOBLE YEATS. 8yo. 11st 11lbs. 13-2 *** Last year’s 50-1 winner, but more than a stone more on his back this time round. The trends say he’s likelier to be placed than win under his big burden, but then the trends said he couldn’t win last year as a seven-year-old so one would want to be too dogmatic about dismissing even though arguably the value has gone from his price.
3. GALVIN 8yo. Weight 11st 11lbs. Odds 14-1 ** Has run very well in two good trials: the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham -which he won in 2021 and this year’s Cross Country at the Cheltenham Festival. Another one of the high weight horses that has the credentials to run a decent race, though the trends say others have more chance of winning because of his burden.
4. FURY ROAD 9yo. 11st 6lbs 50-1 ** Ran well at the meeting last year, a good run can’t be ruled out but combination of weight and unproven stamina ( yet to race beyond 3 miles) mean that others appeal more.
5. THE BIG DOG 10yo. 11st 5lbs. 16-1 *** Fell last time out when running a big race in the Irish Gold Cup (won by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Galopin Des Champs), but before that had run a blinder when third under top weight of 12st in the stamina-sapping Welsh National; with a clear round he is likely to be there or thereabouts at the finish (and you don‘t have to be barking to fancy him!).
6. CAPODANNO 7yo. 11st 5lbs. 16-1 ** and a half Won at the last two Punchestown festivals so clearly a spring horse; master trainer Willie Mullins skipped a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup to wait for this so has to be taken seriously; question is though, having had the first 7-year-old winner since 1940 last year, will we get another one so soon- or-will it be like buses?
7.DELTA WORK 10yo 11st4lbs. 13-2 **** Won the Cross Country at the Cheltenham Festival for the 2nd year running in March, third last year when he got too far back, but 1lbs lower this time so has to be on the shortlist for a trainer (Gordon Elliott), who has already won this three times.
8.SAM BROWN 11yo 11st 4lbs. 66-1 ** Sprang a 28-1 surprise in a 3m handicap chase at the meeting last year, and was also third over the Mildmay fences in 2021, that’s a plus; but stamina is a question mark especially if the ground is testing as he was pulled up on only previous occasion he raced beyond 3m1f in the Grand National Trial at Haydock last year.
9. LIFETIME AMBITION 8yo 11st3lbs. 20-1 ***and a half. Very consistent sort who has finished in the first four in all but one of his 22 starts;; was fourth when favourite for the Grand Sefton over the National fences in November; needs to go a lot further here and stamina unproven; that said trainer Jessica Harrington doesn’t run many in this and saddled the 66-1 close second in 2019 with another horse whose stamina wasn’t assured so worthy of consideration. Would be a fairytale winner too as trainer is battling cancer.
10. CAREFULLY SELECTED 11yo 11st 1lbs. 25-1. ** and a half Lightly raced 11-year-old who only returned to action in December having had two and a half years off. He won the Grade A Thyestes Chase at Gowran in February, staying on well at the finish. Some classy form in the book makes him of interest though he did unseat and looked held the last time he went beyond 3m1f.
11. COKO BEACH 8yo 11st 25-1 *** Belied his 50-1 odds in this last year when led for much of the way and was still in there pitching 3 out, perhaps if ridden with a bit more restraint might be able to improve on 8th position and make the frame; against that is 5lbs higher now.
12. LONGHOUSE POET 9yo 11st. 10-1. *** and a half. Travelled strongly in this last year, was disputing the lead 2 out but weakened to finish sixth, perhaps he was a bit undercooked having not run since February but this year he’s had a more recent outing which should benefit. Shortlist material.
13. GAILLARD DU MESNIL 7yo 11st. 10-1. **** Winner of the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, when he did his best work at the finish, trainer Willie Mullins sidestepped a tilt at Monday’s Irish National (in which he was third last year) to go for this (Mullins won the race with another horse) and so given his staying chase form and connections, must be respected.
14 DARASSO 10yo 10st 13lbs. 66-1 **and a half. Was second in the Galway Plate behind Hewick which was fair form and third in the 3m Kerry National too but not raced beyond that distance so stamina is a doubt. Trainer though says he thinks he’s a ‘fair each-way chance’ so long as there’s not too much rain.
15. LE MILOS 8yo 10st 11lbs. 10-1.*** and a half Won the Coral Gold Cup (aka ‘The Hennessy’) in November when he was doing his best work at the finish, paid the price for trying to take on Wishing and Hoping at Kelso last time but trainer Skelton thinks he’ll stay, he ticks age and weight boxes so quite a bit going for him. The negative is that there’s been no English-trained winner of this since 2015.
16. ESCARIA TEN 9yo 10st 10lbs. 100-1** 9th last year, weakening 2 out, 1lbs lower this time but that probably won’t be enough for him to greatly improve his placing. Could well get around again though.
17. THE BIG BREAKAWAY ** 8yo 10st 10lbs. 25-1. A good second in the Welsh National at Christmas, ticks the age and weight boxes but he has mixed good runs with non completions; 4 non-completions in his last 8 runs so much depends on whether Saturday is a ’going day’ . Yes, he could go well, but comes with risks attached.
18. CAPE GENTLEMAN. 7yo 10st8lbs 100-1. ** Stamina doubts as best form over much shorter and has fallen twice in last eight races which is off-putting. Others appeal more.
19. ROI MAGE 11yo 10st 8lbs. 40-1. *** Had some good Cross Country form in France, but over shorter, did finish third though in the Grade One Grand Steeplechase De Paris over 3m5f, trained in Ireland since last year and while he’s not entirely dismissed as could go well with a clear round others appeal more.
20. DIOL KER 9yo 10st 8lbs. 66-1. *** Finished 2nd in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas which has been a good guide to this so might outperform his odds
21. A WAVE OF THE SEA 7yo 10st 6lbs. 80-1.* Pulled up or fallen on four of his last eleven starts so that’s not really ideal for this test and when you also factor in the stamina doubts it’s easy to look elsewhere for the winner.
22. MINELLA TRUMP 9yo 10st6lbs. 50-1.** Would be an aptly named winner given the current troubles of the former US President, and also apt given that he’s trained by Donald Mccain, son of Ginger, whose Red Rum won the first of his three Nationals 50 years ago. But although he’s been quite a prolific winner, all his starts have been over trips shorter than 3m and on good ground so stamina taken very much on trust.
23. VANILLIER 8yo 10st 6lbs. 20-1.*** Third in the 2022 National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, Irish challenger is the right age and has a nice weight, definite possibilities with a clear round (fell on penultimate start)
24. VELVET ELVIS 7yo 10st 6lbs 33-1 ** and a half 6th in last year’s Irish National, where he was keeping on at the finish so not dismissed on stamina grounds, another who could be given an each way chance if he gets round.
25. AIN’T THAT A SHAME 9yo 10st 5lbs 16-1 *** and a half 4th in the race at Leopardstown at Christmas which has proved a good recent guide to this; could have further improvement to come over marathon trips and represents the 2021 winning de Bromhead/Blackmore combo; respected.
26. CORACH RAMBLER 9yo 10st 5lbs. 6-1. **** 10lbs ‘well-in’ as his second win in the Ultima at Cheltenham came after the National weights were published; from a handicapping perspective has a great chance and trainer- who won the race in 2017- admits they backed him; you could argue that at 6-1 in such a large field there isn’t much value left in his price but he still rates one of the likeliest winners.
27 ENJOY D’ALLEN 9yo 10st 5lbs 66-1.** and a half His supporters (myself included) didn’t enjoy his run in this last year too much as he departed at the first; it’s hard to be that confident given what happened last year, but if he does clear the first this time and gets into a good jumping rythym then he could well outperform his odds as he has finished third in an Irish National.
28. MR INCREDIBLE 7yo 10st 4lbs ** and a half. Ran very well in the Totesport Classic at Warwick, should stay well, but is a bit of a character and has refused to race in the past so while he could figure on a good day he comes with risks attached.
29. MISTER COFFEY 8yo 10st 4lbs ** 40-1 Placed in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, reasons to believe he will stay and ticks the age and weight boxes, but otherwise excellent trainer has a poor record in the race and overall others look more likely.
30. CLOUDY GLEN 10yo 10st 4lbs. Odds 80-1. *** His form figures tell the story: UR, 2, PU,1, PU, 9, 3. PU. On a going day he can be very good (the ‘1’ is his win at 33-1 in the 2021 Hennessy) but it’s literally 50-50 which Cloudy Glen will turn up. If you’re looking for a positive he does usually follow a bad run with a good one and he did pull-up last time.
31. HILL SIXTEEN 10yo 10st 2lbs. 50-1.*** and a half Has had a quiet campaign but he did run a very good race over the National fences when just failing to peg back Snow Leopardess in the 2021 Becher, jumped round ok and staying on again in the same race in December. Unlucky when hampered in the Scottish National last year, if all goes well an each-way case could be made for him at a big price off his low weight.
32. GABBY’S CROSS 8yo 10st 2lbs. 33-1 ** and a half Should stay and ticks the age and weight boxes; trainer won the race 2021, may not be quite good enough but another with each-way possibilities.
33. RECITE A PRAYER 8yo 10st 2lbs. 66-1 * and a half Got round in the Becher in his own time but the fact he hasn’t raced this calendar year is a big negative from a trends point of view and trainer Mullins looks to have more likely options.
34.EVA’S OSCAR 9yo 10st 1lbs 50-1 *** Welsh-trained grey who didn’t appear to quite get home in the Eider Chase (run over just short of the National distance) but still a respectable effort to finish fourth. Could run well for a long way and while he’s probably unlikely to win may be able to hit the first six.
35. OUR POWER 8yo 10st 22-1 *** Improving chaser who won the old Racing Post Chase at Kempton last time, stamina for this still to prove, but trainer has done well in valuable handicaps in the last couple of seasons so is respected.
36. DUNBOYNE 8yo 10st
37. FRANCKY DU BERLAIS 10yo 10st
38. FORTESCUE 9yo 10st
39. BACK ON THE LASH 9yo 10st
40. BORN BY THE SEA 9yo 10st.
VERDICT: So many in with chances in a very open race but the trends suggest that most of the placings will be taken by horses carrying between 10st and 11st. CORACH RAMBLER, on 10st 5lbs, is ten pounds ‘well in ‘ and so must go on the shortlist, while AIN'T THAT A SHAME and OUR POWER are among those who tick both the right age and weight boxes. Of those carrying 11st or above last year’s third DELTA WORK, National Hunt chase winner GAILLARD DU MESNIL, THE BIG DOG and, at bigger odds, LIFETIME AMBITION are other possibles for the shortlist, while towards the foot of the weights HILL SIXTEEN, one of only two horses to complete the course safely twice, might be overpriced at 50-1.