The unveiling of the Grand National weights at a plush do at London’s iconic Victoria & Albert Museum on Tuesday reminded us that there will be a life after Cheltenham, all being well, and that no matter how you dress them up numbers will never be as sexy as free food and drink for most.
The boisterous throng reportedly cared little that BHA Handicapper Phil Smith had agonised for weeks over the numbers and treated his pearls with swine-like indifference.
At least Smith’s precious weights will be scrutinised hereafter in the place that matters most – the racecourse – starting with the Betfred-sponsored Grand National Trial at Haydock this coming Saturday.
There is no event quite like the big race itself, of course, but a classy and competitive handicap chase over more than three and a half miles at nearby Haydock is at least heading in the right direction. There are “only” 14 runners, but it is no easy puzzle to solve, that’s for sure.
As usual, it is worth looking at what the 10-year trends tell us.
The most important measures are the place impact values (factor by which horses in each category placed compared to chance) and % of rivals beaten.
Strong effects are not exactly plentiful, but eight-year-olds have the best age-group figures, horses with high BHA marks have done well (though, as Grand National marks have illustrated over the years, these are skewed somewhat by ratings inflation), as have last-time winners.
The biggest negative is for horses that have been off the course for more than two months. As a group, these have placed little more than half as often as could be expected by chance and beaten a measly 36% of their rivals. That counts against only two of those declared, but that includes a short-priced one in Vieux Lion Rouge.
Such trends should not be viewed in isolation from more form-based measures, naturally. One useful insight is to consider current trainer form, as represented by the % of rivals beaten in jumps handicaps since the beginning of the year.
Here, one trainer stands out, and that is Kerry Lee – responsible for Goodtoknow – who has a highly impressive 72.4% record. Next comes Anthony Honeyball (65.1%) and Warren Greatrex (64.4%), while David Pipe (40.7%) brings up the rear of those with a worthwhile sample size.
In assigning odds to the runners, after taking into account the above information and other factors too, Goodtoknow was one of a small number I had over-priced by the bookmakers, and he was the likeliest of those to win in my book.
That excellent stable form has coincided with Goodtoknow’s being equipped with blinkers, and he has followed a good second to the well-handicapped One For Arthur at Warwick, despite possibly having too much use made of him, with a win at Hereford.
Only three of 11 finished in that Hereford race, and it produced a one-two for the stable, with the veteran Mountainous – a well-treated individual if back to his best – chasing Goodtoknow home. It is possible to gainsay the form, but it is also possible that it is quite a bit better than many imagine. Either way, a 5-lb penalty should not stop Goodtoknow from being there or thereabouts again.
What conceivably could count against him is that this promises to be another gruelling contest, with several of the declared habitually racing close to the pace. Goodtoknow is one of them, but he does not usually go on until later on, and such tactics may well be wise this time, too.
A case can definitely be made for the maiden Vintage Clouds, who was running a big race against Bristol de Mai and Otago Trail (a winner since) at this course last time when falling three out, though he seemed to be weakening at the time and might have finished some way back.
Last year’s RSA Chase winner Blaklion is proving rock solid this season and could be open to improvement, but he will have to show it to win under top weight and has not shaped like an out-and-out stayer in his last two runs.
Vicente is also an interesting contender – off a mark just 1 lb higher than he won from in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April – but the suspicion is that he will prove best in a couple of months’ time.
With Goodtoknow you have a horse at the peak of his form, from a stable to which the same applies, a thorough stayer still on a decent mark, and one for whom the trends are fairly encouraging.
This is not an appealing race for each-way purposes – the early win book is 116% and the per-place equivalent, with just three places on offer, is 119% – so on the nose is the preferred way to go.
Recommendation: 1 pt win GOODTOKNOW at 8/1