Although there are many highlights throughout the National Hunt calendar, spring is when the really big prizes are won, and it’s the time of year that all jumps racing fans look forward to, with the Cheltenham Festival in March, followed by Aintree and the famous Grand National and Ireland’s Punchestown Festival, both in April.
Cheltenham kicked off the spring festival season with a bang, showcasing some of the best jumpers in the sport. There were many great performances over the course of the four days, but Native River’s heroic effort to win the Gold Cup was a highlight, as was the sight of Penhill surging up the Cheltenham Hill to claim the Stayers Hurdle, while Buveur d’Air and Altior looked a class apart in the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase respectively.
After the thrills and spills of Cheltenham, jumps racing enthusiasts are already looking ahead to the famous Aintree meeting, and the jewel in the crown of the action in Liverpool, the Grand National. The world’s oldest steeplechase, it captures the imagination of millions every year, including many non-racing fans who will try to pick the winner on one of the busiest days of the year for betting companies and punters alike.
Many people will bet based on a name that they like or colours that appeal, but for those who prefer a more scientific approach, here is a guide to improving your chances of winning.
A few years back, you could more or less put a line through any horse set to carry more than 11 stone. Between 1983 and 2009, only one horse won shouldering a higher weight, and that was Hedgehunter, who carried 11 stone 1 in 2005. Alterations to the race conditions and the track have changed things in recent years, but it remains the case that carrying a heavy weight to victory over the four-and-a-half-mile course is a tough challenge, and tougher still if the going is soft. Only three winners have carried more than 11-5 in 40 years, and one of those was the great Red Rum, so be wary of backing horses carrying a higher weight.
Another key factor is experience. The Aintree National fences are the toughest in jumps racing, and inexperienced, young horses have a poor record in the contest; in fact, no horse under the age of eight has won it since the legendary Golden Miller in 1934. You can significantly improve your chances of finding the winner by focusing on horses aged eight or over that have also shown an ability to cope with the Aintree fences, either in the National itself, or in the other races run over the National fences, the Topham and Becher chases.
Finally, be wary of backing a horse that has had a tough race at Cheltenham. It is extremely difficult to train a horse to peak for both festivals, which are usually less than three weeks apart, and any horse that has had a hard race at Prestbury Park is unlikely to be fit enough to cope with the National’s gruelling, stamina-sapping challenge.
The Grand National is not only a great jumps racing spectacle but is also one of the highlights of the UK sporting calendar, and by following these tips, you can increase your chances of landing a winner and adding a healthy profit to your enjoyment of the big race.