AS some of you will know the Grand National is my favourite race of the year, thanks in no small part to Mon Mome, Auroras Encore and Pineau De Re, all of whom I have backed in recent years (along with more than a few losers I should add!!)
Many who know me, and quite a few others who don’t, are also sick and tired of hearing me bang on about my trifecta in 2013 with Auroras Encore, Cappa Bleu and Teaforthree but you can see why I love the race.
This year looks just as fascinating as ever and I think it’s time I found the winner again after three barren years in a row although Cause of Causes came agonisingly close last year.
At this early stage it is encouraging to see some bookmakers who have gone non-runner no bet which is helpful if we can find some good value.
I’ll do my full runner-by-runner guide with recommended bets 3 or 4 days before the race once we have the 5 day declarations on 9th April but in the meantime I think we can start to whittle the field down and pick out one or two early value bets.
Grand National Betting Tips and Hints
I should say at this point that there are a few betting tips I would recommend to anyone putting a bet on the Grand National, especially newcomers who frankly can end up being ripped off a bit:
1. Bet early. Unlike many other races it rarely helps to leave your bets until the opening show on the afternoon of the race. Bookies may offer bigger prices the morning of the race or the night before but the prices are always trimmed in time for the once-a-year mob to come into the shops or log into their betting app. The general public get crappy prices and there is a bit of a scandal with the over-round on prices for the National when it comes to SP. It’s a bit of an embarrassment and something that needs to be addressed.
2. Always take the price. Never take SP. Many only firms will now offer best odds guaranteed to the casual punter anyway and as I mentioned SPs are often manipulated before the off to shorten most of the favourites.
3. Don’t be afraid to back more than one horse. I usually whittle it down to 4 or 5. I will usually have higher stakes on one or two that I fancy strongly (Cause of Causes last year for example) and perhaps a smaller interest in one or two at a bigger price.
4. Don’t settle for 4 places as each way terms. There are usually 40 runners in the race so each way terms of 1/4 odds for 4 places is pretty miserly and is another good way for bookies to clean up at the expense of the once-a-year brigade. I use bookies that offer at least 5 places and usually I am looking for 6 places once the final declarations are made, particularly with outsiders at big prices. The big high street bookies have been slow to offer extra places but I have noticed an improvement in recent years as online competition has been ramped up. Shop around and you’ll get some great offers.
So let’s see where we stand with this year’s field.
Minella Rocco looks likely to be top weight and he is far too short a price at 16/1. He is a classy horse but top weight hasn’t been carried to victory since Red Rum did it and it won’t be starting now. Likewise, Blaklion is only just behind him in the weights and is a ridiculously short price. For the brave types who like to lay horses on the exchanges I would recommend laying these two and possibly Total Recall too.
Cause of Causes, Tiger Roll and The Last Samurai are currently where I would expect them to be in the market although I was surprised to see Cause of Causes shorten in price after being pulled up at Cheltenham and reported to be sore. You would expect his price to drift. I would recommend that we wait for more news on him before thinking about a bet. We also have to give serious consideration to Tiger Roll who dealt with the unique rigours of the Cross Country course (including Grand National-style fences) really well and stayed 4 miles at Cheltenham last year.
There is one that I like at a bonkers price though and whilst we need to take a leap of faith to some extent it is worth doing so at treble figure odds.
The horse in question is HOUBLON DES OBEAUX. He was tenth in the race last year but I honestly had to watch it three times to spot him. He started way out the back, never moved towards the front ranks at all and ran on into tenth place near the end. Now he was beaten a mile, don’t get me wrong, but he isn’t a hold up horse. He wants to be up near the front of the action in a normal chase, ideally just tucked in behind the leaders.
In the National I would like to see him on the inside a little bit further back because they do go bananas up front at the start and very few can stay at that pace the whole way. So aside from a more prominent ride, how else can I see him magically improving 9 places this year? Well the horse is 5lb lower in the handicap this year which will be very useful and there is also a chance that the ground will be a bit softer which would be a big bonus for Houblon. He has tons of class in his old form – winning a Denman Chase by 28 lengths for example – and crucially Venetia Williams has managed to win the race with a similar type in the past.
Mon Mome was also 100/1 when he shocked most of the country and by coincidence he also finished 10th in the previous year’s National.
All we need for a successful each way tip at 100/1 is for Houblon to make the top 5. That’s a 25/1 winner on your place bet. With a bit of rain, a more prominent ride and that 5lb of weight up his sleeve I wouldn’t be shocked to see him going past tired horses on the run in. With non runner no bet available from some bookies at the moment it would be mad not to get involved.
My second early choice is slightly more obvious. RATHVINDEN won the JT McNamara National Hunt Chase (aka ‘the four miler’) in great style, holding off Ms Parfois in a great finish. He cruised through the race, albeit with one or two ropey jumps, and with a good ride at Aintree I can see him doing something similar.
Although he is still in his novice season he is a second season novice and has had 11 runs over fences so experience isn’t a problem. His mistake two starts ago was due to tiredness having tried to match some grade 1 horses for pace. This guy wants a steady pace over a marathon trip and if he takes to the fences at Aintree he should go really close. I’m recommending that we take the non runner no bet price of 25/1 to guard against any issues between now and the big day.
We are only getting 4 places at the moment but I think his price will be much shorter on the day so it’s worth taking that hit just now.