The Grand National is still THE race. Whatever the talk of the race having become a “glorified Cross-Country Chase”, the National continues to dominate headlines and has people talking in positive terms about racing.
Perhaps it isn’t the race it used to be. Perhaps it’s not quite the same challenge for horse and rider as it used to be. Perhaps for some people it’s not the unique spectacle it once was. Doesn’t matter. Because it’s still the biggest race in the calendar.
Why? People talk about it. People who’d have no clue what the Cheltenham Gold Cup is. Mainstream media is talking about. Mostly in positive terms. This is racings shopping window. The race that proves the sports relevance to a wider public.
Nothing of that concerns pure racing fans. But it concerns the long-term health and future of the sport.
Therefore a Grand National that bridges the gap between safety and spectacle can continue to write great stories that capture the imagination of racing fans and people outside the bubble in equal terms – as opposed to stories about fatality numbers. This is crucial to any survival of the race and the sport of jump racing.
It’s surprises me again and again how many people inside the industry don’t grasp this correlation.
As for positive stories: the 2022 edition didn’t disappoint. All horses were reported to be back in their stables post-race. Zero fatalities is a win for the safety and for the sport. And a loss for the radical animal welfare brigade who had their social media campaigns ready to launch wit the click of a button.
The story of the race, though, is of course the fairytale victory of Nobel Yeats. The first 7-year-old to win the national since 1940. A rather inexperienced horse with only seven chase runs up until today. He went jumping a hurdle under rules only 13 months ago. This was a 50/1 shot, one who preview articles awarded a 1* star rating out of five possible – basically a no-hoper.
And there’s the rider. Sam Waley-Cohen. An amateur. A hugely successful one, mind. Who announced his retirement before the race. Cohen’s final ride and he finishes his career with a Grand National! Fairytale stuff. Stories only the National can write. Or at least the one race where those stories resonate outside of the racing world, too.
On a personal note: looking back at my shortlist of ten horses and comparing with the eventual first ten horses home I’ll give myself a pad on the back for not having been too widely off the mark:
1st: Noble Yeats 2nd: Any Second Now 3rd: Delta Work 4th: Santini 5th: Fiddlerontheroof 6th: Longhouse Poet 7th: Freewheelin’ Dylan 8th: Coko Beach 9th: Escaria Ten 10th: Romain De Senam
Truth being told, though, I wouldn’t have given the winner Noble Yeats neither and Santini – despite all his former class – nor Romain De Senam any chance whatsoever to win or even finish close to the placings.
My two selections Fiddlerontheroof finished 5th and Longhouse Poet 6th. These where fine, fine runs. Longhouse Poet appeared a bit more dangerous for most parts of the race. Ultimately both horses didn’t quite get home in the end.
No shame in that. I’ll got great runs for my money. And the horses have done themselves proud. If I’d have been an each-way player they would have paid handsomely for their placings. I am not, of course.
What matters to me, though, is I that feel correct in my assessment that prices around 20’s where underestimating their chances, hence they where value odds – and the fact both went off a good deal shorter confirmed the notion.
In conclusion I can only say I seriously enjoyed this years Grand National. Great field, great race, great performances from horses and jockeys, everyone’s home safe and we got a fairytale winner. What’s not to like?
Edit: It has just emerged that #21 Discorama has sadly been lost post-race. He was sensibly pulled when things went wrong during the race but couldn’t be saved. Devastating news.
The 2022 edition of the Grand National a is a highly competitive renewal. Many top-class individuals line up for the biggest price of all in jumps racing. Few can be easily ruled out.
No doubt this is down to the changing nature of the race. Easier fences mean less devastating injuries. The faller rate is significantly down. As a result owners are prepared to run better horses in the National.
Consequently we have seen the average official rating has gone up over the years. Horses that made the cut in the past – even some previous winners – wouldn’t do so today.
Comparing the fences from a few decades ago to what they look like today there’s a fair question to be asked whether this is still the same race. It’s not. Personally I continue to maintain the changes have been for the better, regardless.
Whatever way you’re leaning in this debate, there’s no getting away from the fact how compelling this years renewal is. Class and form in the book are available in remarkable abundance and make the 2022 a vintage edition in my view.
As always, 40 runners will line up this afternoon. Ten horses have made it on to my shortlist:
Perhaps this doesn’t read like an overly original shortlist. Most if not all these horses where more or less prominently mentioned in the various well known Grand National previews on TV, podcasts and blogs.
What I thought was interesting, though, from a personal perspective, after nailing down the ten most compelling contenders, was the fact that unlike in previous years I didn’t end up with a single genuine longshot (bigger than 20/1) on my list.
This is – or so I sense, a direct correlation to the changing nature of the race that favours classier and speedier types, who can race handily, travel well and hold their position. They also tend to measure up well on speed ratings.
And with that in mind it’s no surprise to see that the majority of horses on my list have ran to topspeed ratings of 130 and higher this season, or at the very least in the not too distinct past.
The only exception to the rule is Snow Leopardess. For a simple reason: jumping. She loves to attack and jump the National fences like few others do, as she proved so impressively in last years Beacher Chase.
She loves the unique test these fences provide, she stays and has been in superb form this season. That combination is a highly compelling one and I can see why she is so prominent in the betting, not to mention her incredible fairytale story.
Nonetheless, because she lacks the (proven) class, like nine others of my shortlist do, particularly in the speed department, I can’t back her at comparably skinny odds.
Burrow Saint achieved a career best twelve months ago in the National. He was well fancied and travelled like a good thing. He also emptied really quickly in the closing stages.
This season hasn’t been a good season for him. Perhaps he was minded for today, I reckon. Racing of the same mark, a year older, I won’t expect any improvement, though. That says he remains a solid contender given he’s an Irish Grand National winner. I also think only a classy individual can travel through a Grand National like he did last year. He’ll have to ride without my money today, nonetheless.
I feel it’s difficult to gauge what Minella Times has done this season and what form he’s in. On the surface the form is as poor as it gets, not having completed any of his two races. But he’s the reigning champion. He is a great jumper, he’s done it 12 months ago pretty easily and one has to trust Henry De Bromhead to have him spot on.
It’s not only the negative of the poor form Minella Times has to contend with. But a 15lb hike in his handicap mark is probably too much a burden to overcome in my view.
The Gordon Elliott trained Escaria Ten has been well fancied for quite some time. One can see why. Only narrowly beaten by Any Second Now when last seen, he’s a progressive staying chaser with strong form in the book and a fair handicap mark.
I have reservations about the big field, though. His best performances came in much smaller fields than the 40-runner strong Grand National. That’s too big a risk for my money to invest.
Another of Gordon Elliott’s runners is Run Wild Fred. I like him a lot. 2nd in the 2021 Irish Grand National, he’s still improving and hasn’t been out of the money in four starts this year. That includes a runner-up in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over Christmas, and a most recent 2nd place at Cheltenham behind exciting Stattler.
He has a lot of the characteristics of a modern Grand National horse in my eyes. I have slight reservations about his handicap mark of 158 and whether he well and truly wants this marathon trip, though.
No issues with the trip for Any Second Now. Arguably a desperately unlucky 3rd place finisher twelve months ago, connections must have wondered what would have been with a clear run. Possibly a thrilling head to head finish with Minella Times?
There’s no question that he remains a prime contender. The form is fine, we know he goes well at Aintree, he stays and judged by last years strong performance one can argue the hike in his handicap mark is fully justified and may not stop him.
On the other hand Any Second Now is a year older, unlikely to improve and would need an absolute dream run to win where things have to go wrong for some of the other contenders. He’s short enough in the betting to hope for dreams to come true.
With recent Cheltenham Cross-Country winner Delta Work there’s a genuine Gold Cup horse in the field. If he’d be truly in love with the game again, I feel he could still be a competitive runner in a Gold Cup. He’s that talented.
Cheltenham proved that some appetite for racing has been regained. In my view he won with a lot more authority than the narrow winning margin suggests.
With that in mind I also feel a 160 rating isn’t unreasonable. It surely is a huge ask to win of 11-9, yet Delta Work has the class to do exactly that.
Whether he really wants the National trip is a key question, though. I have reservations. Paired with the fact that for more than two years he hasn’t ran anywhere near a topspeed rating of 130 – even with potential excuses – is enough to put me off at the given prices, regardless of all potential class.
An exciting up and coming staying Chaser is Eclair Surf who made it into this field with a 143 handicap mark – this is as sexy as it gets. He’s been brilliant in his last two staying chases, and particularly the fine runner-up performance in the Eider Handicap Chase behind subsequent super impressive Scottish Grand National winner Win My Wings gives him a prime chance.
He can race off the same mark as back then and you would hope, perhaps even expect, that there’s more improvement to come from this progressive staying chaser. He rates a key contender for me. But there are two horses left with even stronger claims.
I love the relatively unexposed look of Longhouse Poet, in particular. Especially the fact that he keeps improving nearly with every run. Also: in three runs over three miles and beyond he has been in the winners enclosure. He looks a proper stayer who, crucially, doesn’t lack tactical speed, though.
We saw that in the Thyestes Chase back in January when he travelled strongly and kept on really well to land that big Handicap. Therefore he has shown crucial skills required for the modern Grand National: travel, jump, don’t be too far off the pace, hold your position and do all of that in a big field.
We can blissfully ignore his prep run over Hurdles at Navan when last seen. Trainer Martin Brassil will have Longhouse Poet as ready as possible for today. He knows what it needs to win a National.
Of course it’s no easy task to defy a 11lb higher mark compared to his Gowran victory, but it’s fair to assume he can improve again, given the unexposed profile he has and the impressive nature of his Thyestes victory.
Longhouse Poet comes as close to a perfect modern Grand National horse – at this stage at least – as I could envision.
The other one who ticks most boxes is Fiddlerontheroof. He impressed me in two of three runs this season. I think we can forgive the most recent Ascot run – which was below expectations – for the fact it was more likely “just” a run to gain fitness as opposed to be fully tuned up.
The Listed Carlisle win on his seasonal reappearance, but even more so the subsequent runner-up performance in the Ladbrokes Trophy, rate highly on pure form terms. Arguably Fiddlerontheroof was perhaps a shade unlucky at Newbury having to negotiate a faller four fences from home.
Both forms look strong on the ratings front, having been awarded 141 and 142 topspeed respectively at Carlisle and then Newbury. That is consistency on a really high level and reads well alongside his handicap mark – especially if compared to the other more fancied runners in the National this year.
He remains open to further improvement over staying trips, too. Of course that always raises the question whether he truly wants this marathon trip, given he had enough speed to win over much shorter. But it’s exactly this speed in combination with the staying qualities he’s already shown I like.
This edition of the Grand National is a uniquely exciting one. The list of potential winners is long – the depth of quality in this years field is impressive.
Yet, truth being told I was surprised post-analysis when I checked the betting yesterday afternoon – and put my money down – that both Longhouse Poet and Fiddlerontheroof were as big in the market as they were – and interestingly still are this morning on various exchanges.
I am surprised because – given this is the Grand National – I feel rather confident both horses will run massive races. Whether it’s good enough to win is another question and will depend more on in-running luck than their quality. Certainly if all goes well neither Longhouse Poet nor Fiddlerontheroof be will be far away.
Fingers crossed for a clear run – but most importantly fingers crossed that all horses and jockey come home safely. That’s truly the one thing I am hoping for the most.