Grand National Preview - It’s as much a part of the beginning of spring as the first daffodils emerging from the ground.

Grand National

We’re talking about the Grand National, or the Crabbie’s Grand National to give it its official title, the horse race that even people who know nothing, whatsoever, about horse races know something.

This year it takes place at 5.15 pm on April 9th, a moment at which an estimated 600 million global television viewers will tune in to watch 40 horses mill around the starting line at Aintree in a state of what looks, to the untrained eye, a little bit like chaos. In fact, it looks a little bit like chaos even to the fairly well trained eye, and therein lies the first aspect which gives the Grand National such widespread appeal; it’s simplicity. 40 horses, 30 hugely challenging fences and a gruelling 4 mile course combine to present a challenge that’s about guts, strength and the will to survive as much as it is about the finer points of equine husbandry.

History

Consider the fact that it’s not just the horses that have jumped the fences at the Grand National who become famous, it’s the actual fences themselves. Becher’s Brook, The Chair and Canal Turn are up there with the Royal Box at Wimbledon and the Long Room at Lord’s in the ranks of iconic sporting structures, and that’s a testament to the reach which the Grand National has and to the unusually testing nature of those fences. Even after the modifications of recent years – designed to render the fences in question slightly safer – they still represent frankly terrifying edifices.

Another selling point, on top of the iconic nature of the course itself and the egalitarian feel of a race which takes place in the North West of England and attracts spectators and punters from all walks of life, is the fact that the result of the Grand National is genuinely unpredictable in a manner which most other National Hunt races can’t hope to match. The handicap system is utilised to ensure that, in theory, all the horses should finish at the same time.

Outside punts

In practise, the length of the course and the challenge of the fences – which are considerably larger than those generally found on National Hunt courses – combine to create what is often referred to as the ultimate test for horse and rider, and to offer a race which can be won on the day by any horse taking part. The last four races have been won by Many Clouds at 25-1, Pineau de Re at 25-1, Arouras Encore at 66-1 and Neptune Collonges at 33-1, whilst as recently as 2009 the winning horse, one Mon Mome, crossed the finishing line at an eye-watering 100-1.

Indeed, the very fact that the first official winner of the Grand National was called Lottery should provide something of a clue; millions of people who would otherwise never think of placing a bet on a horse race opt for a flutter on the Grand National because, for once, the ‘sticking a pin in a list of names/choosing a horse because I like the colour of the jockeys silks’ method might actually work.

Offering tips for specific horses this far out from the race is a risky business – particularly given that the field of 40 has yet to be finalised – but it is still perhaps worth considering a few of the longer term trends when making your choice:

Trends

Since 1970, every Grand National winner has previously won at least one race over 3 miles

It’s over 75 years since a horse under the age of 8 won the Grand National

Since 1961 only one winner from the Cheltenham Festival has gone on to win the Grand National

Of the last 17 winners, 8 have previously jumped over the Grand National fences

(Any bets on what the housewives' choice could be this year?)

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