The unveiling of the Randox Health Grand National weights at a plush lunch at Aintree Racecourse traditionally marks the 24 hours or so each year during which everyone within horseracing imagines themselves to be an expert on handicapping.
Among the nonsense spouted was some by connections of Tiger Roll, winner of the last two Grand Nationals and a clear favourite for this one, to the effect that the horse “had been rated as a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner”.
The BHA’s own figures show that 170 is not that, unless you qualify that as “one of the poorer” Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, which is what Tiger Roll could easily have been given the chance.
Normal service has been resumed, and handicapping’s glorious intricacies are back to being ignored by most.
The next few weeks will see various horses proving themselves better or worse than their original National assessments, starting with the runners in the Unibet Grand National Trial at Haydock on Saturday. The top seven in the weights in a field of 11 hold engagements at Aintree also, so this promises to be informative.
Unfortunately, that field size makes each-way betting less appealing than it might have been. The win book at best early odds is 111% and the per-place book is 127%, though they are close to parity if one-quarter the odds, rather than the customary one-fifth the odds, can be secured.
As a long-established fixture in the Racing Calendar – it was first run in 1948 though was discontinued from 1985 to 1990 – this is a race that can be analysed using trends from the last 10 years. The following are some of the headline figures, with place impact values and % of rivals beaten the most useful measures as usual.
Eight-year-olds and nine-year-olds combined have provided seven of the last 10 winners from just under half of the runners. That said, horses under the age of eight have fared well enough in terms of places. Older is worse, if not hugely so, as is often the case with premier handicaps.
A prominent finishing position on a horse’s most recent start can be taken as a positive, but to a smaller degree than is often the case. Higher-weighted horses have over-performed, though not greatly, while outsiders and insiders have fared less well than in-betweeners when stakes are varied to return 100 points come what may.
Interestingly, the busier a horse has been in the season in question, the better. Only one of Saturday’s 11 – Lord du Mesnil – qualifies as having run five times or more.
He has been out seven times this term, though you would have had to venture to Auteuil in France to witness the first of them. Since then, Lord du Mesnil has thrived, and some, winning his last three, at Newcastle and twice here, including at this distance last time.
On that most recent occasion, Lord du Mesnil trounced five rivals – only two of which finished – in a good time, reaching the line nine lengths ahead of Perfect Candidate, who had won at the course and distance on his previous appearance.
However, while a further rise in Lord du Mesnil’s mark of 10 lb is not excessive, it may be just enough to stop him in this company. Timeform’s chase handicapper gives him a bit to find.
Vintage Clouds is in a similar boat, having won easily at this course last time but been hiked 11 lb for it. In addition, he is far from foot perfect, a term which described Lord du Mesnil until recently.
Even higher up the weights, Ballyoptic is another with an “x” on his rating, indicating a poor jumper, while top-weighted Elegant Escape is a safer conveyance but increasingly inclined to do things in his own time (tongue tie is added to his recent blinkers here).
A touch of the “slows” did not stop One For Arthur from winning the Grand National in 2017, but he was in fine form at that time and has looked vulnerable on that score in two runs this campaign.
Ultimately, all good betting is about identifying value opportunities, with judgement gauged over the long-term. Having weighed up all the above, and more besides, I came down on the side of Yala Enki, who is prominent in the betting but who could justifiably be a point or two shorter.
A 10-year-old (not ideal), high in the weights, a winner last time and from a yard going well (that’s much more like it), he is only 2 lb higher in the handicap than when a close third in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in December and advertised his continuing well-being by beating the smart pair Rock The Kasbah and Valtor with authority in the Portman Cup at Taunton last time.
He thrives in conditions like those that should prevail on Saturday, and won this race two years ago by a stunning 54 lengths.
That is quite a bit to have on your side, and I would be reasonably confident that if Yala Enki does not win he will go close. At the odds, he is a bet.
1 pt win YALA ENKI at 6/1