Your Guide To Picking A Grand National Winner

Conventional wisdom states that the Grand National is a lottery of a race. How many times have you heard someone repeat this mantra ‘Anyone could win it – you might as well stick a pin in the newspaper’? Well, I can tell you it’s simply not true!

That’s not to say the Nationals’ unique course does not throw up the occasional unexpected winner. The 100/1 shot Foinavon won in 1967 when all the other horses fell but the truth of the matter is that generally Grand National winners fall into a narrow band of statistics. Rarely do winners emerge from outside a specific set of trends and if you know what to look for you can dramatically improve your chances of backing a winner on the big day.

You don’t need to be an expert in horses, form or betting to pick out a winner. In fact you’re not even going to pick a winner! You just need to eliminate the horses that can’t win. Once you’ve followed these simple steps you’ll be left with around 3 or 4 horses that have a great chance of finishing in the places.

Firstly you need to discount any horse aged between 7 and 8 years old. The last 8 year old to win the race was Bindaree back in 2002 and you’ll need to go back to 1940s to find a 7 year old winner! Horses aged 9, 10, 11 have the best records however anything older than that will struggle in this demanding race. Once you’ve removed all the 7 and 8 year olds and those horses 12 years or older you should be left with 25 – 30 runners from a field of 40.

Now it’s time to take a look at the weights the horses will be carrying. The Grand National is a handicap race and this means that good horses will have to carry more weight than the less experienced ones. The aim of handicap is to level up the horses abilities giving each runner a fairer chance of winning.

Last year’s winner Neptune Collonges won carrying a massive 11 stone 5lb, bucking the trend of a winning horse carrying no more than 11 stone. Nevertheless it’s worth noting that only four horses in the last 20 years have won carrying more than 11 stone. The energy sapping effect of these weights will be greater if the ground at Aintree is soft or heavy on the day of the race. Focus on horses carrying between 10 stone 5lb and 11 stone. This will cut the number of runners down even further.

Now you have a manageable list of runners you can look in more detail at individual horses form. Don’t worry you don’t need any expertise, just look for horses that have fallen in previous races. If a horse can’t jump around a standard steeplechase fence at Haydock then he’ll stand little chance of navigating the massive Aintree fences.

You can find that information by Googling the horses name and ‘form’ look for the letter ‘f’ in their recent form, if you see it but a line through that runners name. Don’t hope a horses jumping ability will improve, they don’t suddenly become great jumpers overnight!

Your list should now be getting very short and this is the time to see which horses have never run at Aintree before. Horses are like people, they like and dislike certain places, you’ll want to discount any horse that hasn’t run at Aintree before.

Now you should have 6 or 7 runners on your list, you’ve gotten rid of 30+ no hopers! To whittle it down even further focus on horses who have previously completed a Grand National, even if they finished a long way off the places. It’s amazing how many horses finish outside the places one year and then go on to win the following year!

Now look at the horse’s trainer. Aintree had a few course specialists, trainers who seem to get the best from their horses at the right time. Ted Walsh and Donald McCain horses do very well at Aintree.

After applying all those rules you should have 3 or 4 horses left. I would then back all those horses each-way with Paddy Power bookmaker online. No, that isn’t a shameless plug, the reason I suggest Paddy Power is they payout 5 places on eachway Grand National bets. Other bookies only payout on the first four horse’s home. The backers of ‘In Compliance’ in 2012 gave a big cheer when the 100/1 shot limped home in 5th place!

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  1. The Official Handicapper has publicly stated that he gives top horses a lower rating than they would get in any other handicap so I think it is unwise to ignore horse carrying more than 11-0 now.

    The other recent development is that the going will always be softer than good which means that horse needing good or better have little chance.

    This is a race where there have been significant changes of late so past trends need to be treated with caution.

  2. This article is full of errors. The compressed handicap and ground issues have been mentioned. The fences are smaller, the race is shorter as well, so weight is not such an issue. One fall doesn’t make a horse a bad jumper either. Many horses have run mainly over hurdles in recent races anyway so that proves nothing. Previous course form is useful but not a pre-requisite either. You can’t discount or call a horse a no hoper just because it’s never run at Aintree before. In fact last year’s winner had no form over the Aintree fences. Ted Walsh and Donald McCain have trained ONE Grand National winner each. Unexceptional. That’s no better than anyone else who’s won it in the past ten years! Lastly, it’s nonsense (and biased) to say only Paddy Power pay five places. Most bookies do due to online competition and at least one paid six places last year!! This is just a really poor piece of pseudo-journalism.

    1. Hi Graig,

      I think a couple of things need to be clarified, firstly the article does state in the opening paragraph that the ‘occasional unexpected’ winner is to be expected! I’d class Neptune Collonges in that bracket, bucking nearly all the trends in the last 20 years, but lets remember that he won by the smallest margin in the races history to a horse that was aged 9, carrying 10-5 and had previous experience at Aintree.

      The aim of the guide was to find ‘horses that have a great chance of finishing in the places’ not to find THE winner.

      The fact remains that poor jumpers rarely do well in the National. I didn’t say cross out horses that have unseated the rider or been brought down just those that have fallen.

      You are right about the term ‘No Hopers’ it’s a little harsh, maybe I should’ve said ‘you’ve gotten rid of 30+ horses who don’t fit the trends and stats’.

      As for the Trainer information Donald McCain’s record for this season a 20.75% win rate which puts him right up there with Nicholls and Henderson. Donald also won with the National with Ballabriggs and I don’t think it would be stretch to say he was heavily involved in the success of Amberleigh House winning the National in 2004. However, it’s true to say he didn’t officially take over from Ginger until 2006. Amberleigh House also won a Becher Chase at Aintree. So I would say he has a better record than most at Aintree.

      Ted Walsh won with the Grand National with Papillion, the Irish National with Commanche Court, a third with Seabass in the 2012 Grand National and is the father of Ruby and Katie Walsh – who some consider fairly handy jockeys! So I don’t think it’s unfair to class him as a course specialist.

      You can have a look at the stats below for the last few years and let me know what you think. I don’t think the guide is ‘full of errors’ as you state?

      As for the bookmakers, I can tell you that Ladbrokes and Will Hill (the UK’s big two bookmakers) DO NOT payout the 5th place on the Grand National and both online bookmakers will withdraw their FREE BET deals on the thursday before the National and not reinstate them until the race is over. Paddy Power keeps the FREE BET offer open to all new customers and payout 5 place eachway. BetVictor do payout to 6 places but is the only bookie I know who does. However, their odds on individual horses usually reflect the added, added place. I.E. not always a keen price.

      The article is not aimed at the professional punter, it’s aimed at the once a year punter who is trying to use a slightly more scientific approach than a pin to find a decent horse to back in the National.

      2012 Grand National
      1 Neptune Collonges 11-06 (Aintree Experience) aged 11
      2 Sunnyhillboy 10–05 (Aintree Experience) aged 9
      3 Seabass 10–12 (Ted Walsh) aged 9
      4 Cappa Bleu 10–10 (Aintree Experience) aged 10
      5 In Compliance 10-00 (Aintree Experience) aged 12

      2011 Grand National
      1 Ballabriggs 11-00 (McCain) (Aintree Experience) aged 10
      2 Oscar Time 10-09 aged 10
      3 Don’t Push It 11-00 (Aintree Experience) aged 11
      4 State Of Play 10-06 (Aintree Experience) aged 11
      5 Niche Market 10-13 (Aintree Experience) aged 10

      2010 Grand National
      1 Don’t Push It 11-5 (Aintree Experience) aged 10
      2 Black Apalachi 11-6 (Aintree Experience) aged 11
      3 State of Play 10-11 (Aintree Experience) aged 10
      4 Big Fella Thanks 10-12 aged 8
      5 Hello Bud 10-06 (Aintree Experience) aged 12

      2009 Grand National
      1 Mon Mome 11-0 aged 9
      2 Comply Or Die 11-6 (Aintree Experience) aged 10
      3 My Will 11-4 (Aintree Experience) aged 9
      4 State Of Play 11-0 (Aintree Experience) aged 9
      5 Cerium 10-5 (Aintree Experience) aged 8

      2008 Grand National
      1 Comply Or Die 10-9 aged 9
      2 King John’s Castle 10-11 aged 9
      3 Snowy Morning 11-1 aged 8
      4 Slim Pickings 11-3 (Aintree Experience) aged 9
      5 Bewleys Berry 11-0 (Aintree Experience) aged 10

      2007 Grand National
      1 Silver Birch 10-6 (Aintree Experience) aged 10
      2 McKelvey 10-4 (Aintree Experience) aged 8
      3 Slim Pickings 10-8 : aged 8
      4 Philson Run 10-6 (Aintree Experience) aged 10
      5 Liberthine 10-6 aged 8

  3. This method is to make it more interesting for the once a year punter not for regular punters.

  4. Interesting article Neil, thanks for posting your thoughts. I am a trends and stats man and was on Sunnyhillboy when he was agonisingly defeated by a nose! It is certainly a more interesting race now from a Stats point of view.

    There is a debate to be had about the compressed handicap – but for me this shouldnt this focus on relative vs absolute weight?? (maybe wring terminology) The point is that classier horses have been given a chance by the handicapper, but 11st+ is still 11st plus of weight and historic trends suggest that carrying that weight, over this distance, is historically quite difficult, regardless if you have been given a chance by ‘capper.

    Aware this article is a year old… anyway…in my opinion the biggest change is to the fences themselves and it will be interesting to see how this pans out. Last year’s winner was a suspect jumper and had fallen previously i believe (i still think the fences take some jumping and some horses dont like them) but the weight trend held true. Teaforthree was the only horse in the top 11 to carry more than 11st last year, and that was 11-3. Only 4 horses out of the 17 that finished carried more than 11st!! so, maybe they are going faster due to lower fences and with increased speed, the weight takes more of a toll over this distance??

    anyway, this is a game of opinions, we shall see how this years race goes!

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