I have backed the Grand National winner twice. Yes, twice. I vaguely remember Team Spirit in 1964, though I was too young to have a bet. Incidentally the horse that came 5th Pontin-Go had run in the race in 63 but under the name Gay Navarree. Wouldn’t allow that these days. In 65 I remember begging my father to back Freddie and thereby started what has become standard procedure when it comes to trying to find the Grand National winner.
Without having conducted any research to verify my claim, so this must be taken on trust, I am one of the worst tipsters in the country. If indeed if I can even claim to be a tipster. I suspect if there were an Association of Tipsters they would distance themselves from me by a distance that could only be measured in light years. I suspect if there was such an organisation I would not pass any entrance exam. I am a shocking tipster, as my three ‘good things’ for Cheltenham proved.
The Grand National is an exception. I am only unlucky when it comes to the world’s greatest horse race. If I were born without sin or had lived a purer life the National would be a source of revenue for me. As it is the National is just a constant reminder of what might have been.
My method for selecting the National ‘winner’ is unusual, at least for me, as I study the form and use reasoned judgement. Sentimentality, backing the horse, jockey, trainer or owner you would like to win, is sheer folly when it comes to Aintree. My prolonged and heart-breaking backing of Spanish Steps back in the seventies is proof of that.
I start with the publication of the weights, selecting what I believe to be the six most likely winners based on how favourably weighted they are and if I believe they will take to the fences. This year the six were Don Poli, Ucello Conti, Definitly Red, Blaklion, Houblon Des Obeaux and Vieux Lion Rouge who I backed last year at 100/1 and who from Valentine’s second time round to the Melling Road was giving every indication of providing me with the winning bet of a lifetime.
Unusually, at the time of writing, five of the six remain in the race, with five of them either favourite or close to being favourite.
At the four-day stage I complicate matters by going through field rejecting those who prefer ground other than what is forecast, those who won’t stay and those who no obvious chance no matter what. Annoyingly this process can result in having to dismiss one of my original selections. I am sure every procedure has its failings and selecting Grand National winners is by a long chalk not a science.
Eventually I end up with six names from which I choose three, one backed to win and two backed each-way.
This method has led me to backing Neptune Collonges. My other winning bet was Red Rum when he won for the second time and then there was no method other than the blind faith that he was a ‘certainty’.
The relevant fact for those who might be reading this and who is desperate to find the winner is to disregard the three I intend backing and go for the three I reject. Rule The World was in my six last year and he waltzed in at 33/1. I turned him aside because horses who have never won a chase do not win Grand Nationals. Sensible logic, you’ll agree. Many Clouds in 15 was in my final six and he danced in at 25/1. I thought he had too much weight. Pineau De Re was another 25/1 shot that was in my final six but missed the cut. Why, I can’t remember. You can add Ballabriggs and I dare say a dozen others to the list.
As things stand, and I am staying this year with my original five plus One For Arthur, the three I intend to reject and from where history suggests the winner will come from is: Blaklion, the best horse in the race, Ucello Conti, well handicapped considering how well he ran last year, and Definitly Red who I reject for no better reason than another Red cannot possibly win a National, even though you could say it is about time another Red did win.
So the three to consider having nothing to do with are One For Arthur, who is my win selection, Vieux Lion Rouge for a place (I would look a fool if he won after backing him last year) and Houblon Des Obeaux.
When the weights were published I considered Houblon leniently treated on his best form. He was top weight in the Hennessey only a few years ago. But with all the original top weights defecting and The Last Samuri now carrying 11st 10lbs, the weights have risen by five Ibs, raising Houblon to 10st 12. I don’t think he’ll fall but his jumping does concern me and those extra five lbs might make a difference. He shortens into a fence and his careful approach may lose him valuable ground. But he’ll stay, of that I’m certain. Not that I am certain he’ll run. Commenting on the weights Venetia was vague on whether the National was his objective. But 50/1, his odds at writing, represents value.
So there you. One For Arthur will win from Vieux Lion Rouge causing Tom Scudamore pain and happiness at the same time, with Houblon Des Obeaux running on to finish third.
So all you have to do is back Blaklion, Ucello Conti or Definitly Red. And that is your choice.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.