2015 Scottish Grand National Preview, Trends and Tips
The last of the Nationals is the Scottish Grand National, run at Ayr racecourse, over a distance 110 yards further than four miles. As with many of these extreme handicapping tests, the Scottish National lends itself to a spot of trends analysis, and I’ve unearthed some interesting data with which to rationalize the 2015 field.
2015 Scottish Grand National Trends
Almost all data is derived from horseracebase.com and covers the eighteen renewals since 1997. Let’s begin with the basics… Age, Weight, Last Time Out
Age: Although every winner since 1996 was aged between seven and eleven, the two immediately prior to that were twelve and six respectively. Moreover, the number of older/younger runners in the race is small, and their place to runs ratio is at least competitive with the perceived ‘optimal age range’. This looks a red herring, and isn’t worthy of consideration. (Only the six-year-old Royal Player is outside of the 7/11 range, and he’s no worse than numerically disadvantaged).
Weight: Another over-played ‘trend’. It is often noted that most winners were weighted 11-03 or lower. However, look more closely and you’ll see that most runners were also weighted 11-03 or lower. Indeed, since 1997, 15 of the 18 winners carried no more than that figure. That’s 83% of the winners. Alas for lazy trend-noters, those five-sixths of the winners came from nigh on nine-tenths of the runners (89.3%).
If more evidence was needed – hint, it’s not – let’s look at the place data. Those weighted 11-03 or below bagged 61 of the 71 available places (86%), but that was from 368 of the 412 runners since 1997 (89%). That’s an place strike rate of 16.6%.
The heavier group – carrying 11-04 or more – won three and placed ten times. From just 44 runners. That’s 17% winners, and 14% places, from 10.7% of the runners. And the place strike rate in the group is 22.7%, which compares favourably with the 16.6% place strike rate of the lighter-weighted horses.
We saw with the Grand National just last Saturday the folly of ignoring a horse on the basis of the lead it’s allotted. As with age, the lightweights have a significant numerical advantage in the field – just Sam Winner and Houblon Des Obeaux will lug more than eleven stone – but that doesn’t mean they’re statistically better off.
Last Time Out: Although this was a buster last year, it actually does seem pertinent to have recorded a competitive finish last time out. Specifically, the data points to a cut off of sixth place. That might seem arbitrary – heck, it may well even be arbitrary – but there is a noticeable depreciation in the prospects of horses that failed to be in the first six to cross the line.
Just one of the 168 horses to finished seventh or worse (or fail to finish) last time out managed to win the Scottish Grand National. That was Al Co, a 40/1 chance, last year. That group of 168 horses represents 40.8% of Scottish National starters since 1997, meaning the other 17 winners (94%) came from 59.2% of the runners.
The place data backs this up, to some degree at least. 55 of the 71 place positions went to horses finishing first to sixth last time out. That’s 77.5% of the places from the same 59.2% of the runners.
Despite last year’s setback, I’m happy to demand circumstantial evidence of a good run last time, in the form of a top six finish.
Now how about a slightly more left field angle with which to attack the score and ten intended Ayr Nash runners? Try this one for size…
Class Move: The top of the market for this race tends to feature unexposed novice or second season chasers more often than not. But the actual race winners have often been plying their trade for longer, and generally in lower grade, than the vaunted novice brigade. Whilst the likes of Godsmejudge (2013) and Joes Edge (2005) have landed the spoils, before that we go back to Paris Pike in 2000 and Earth Summit in 1994 to identify the last four novice winners of the race.
No, I’ll politely decline the fashionable profile of an up-and-comer in favour of a more streetwise slugger, albeit usually at a class peg or two below the over-bet boys. Oh, sorry, I was forgetting myself. How about the evidence?
Those stepping up to this Grade 3 contest from Class 2 or Class 3 last time out have won 16 of the 18 renewals since 1997 (88.9%) from just 53.4% of the runners (220/412). I found that snippet fascinating. Keep in mind that this includes the likes of Joes Edge, who won a Class 2 novice chase at the Aintree meeting prior to scoring here. And when Godsmejudge ran third in the 2013 National Hunt Chase that too was a Class 2 novice chase.
The ceaseless expansion of the Pattern means both of those races have now been elevated in class, so the position on novices and class moves is moot for now. But still, four wins in 21 years is hardly a robust trend, especially in light of the counter-argument for the older mob.
So if I was looking for a trendy type, I’d side with a horse stepping up in class from a top six finish last time out. That’s not a profile for the Ayr National you’ll have heard before, but it would have netted you 15 of the last 18 winners (83%), and 39 of the 71 places (55%), from just 38% of the runners. Those are numbers I personally like. Very much.
The downside is that you’d be backing roughly nine horses each year, which is not to everyone’s tastes. And your nine picks last year would have got to ate pea soup. Or, poor punning aside, a form string of 8PPPPPPPP. Unsexy.
Against that, your four in 2013 would have nailed the winner and third; and, though perming thirteen in combi trifectas is a game of incremental gains even for shrewdies, a 15/2-25/1-40/1 trio paying £13,532.10 pays for a few losers… (It’s 1,716 lines in case you were wondering).
A 1-3-4 from eleven picks in 2011 would have been painful, and might have put even the doughtiest of combi trifecta boxers off stride for that monster payout the following year. And I won’t even mention the twenty-five grand trifecta in 2010, mainly because it was secure from no less than eighteen of the field!!!
So the question is, who does that leave this year? Well, before I answer that, I should say that I was inclined to leave those top six finishers from the National Hunt Chase in the reckoning. But I decided against it, because the class elevation has come as a consequence of the removal of a previous rating ceiling. In other words, better horses are allowed to enter the race now, and the better horses tend to come to the fore. Those better horses are higher rated and have not (yet) shown themselves to be commensurately competitive in the Scottish National. Ye follow?
Right, as we were then, and I’ve a not especially shortlist of ten: Milborough, Yes Tom, Samstown, Wayward Prince, Harry The Viking, Amigo, Carli King, Man With Van, Drop Out Joe, and likely drop out, second reserve Carrigdhoun.
2015 Scottish Grand National Form Preview
we’ll look at the form in two parts. Firstly, those near the head of the market will be considered, and then I’ll sift through the trendier types, according to my somewhat skeletal interpretation of what they are. It’s 10/1 the field and many bookmakers are paying out five places, so any win or place will be worth having.
The favourite in most lists is Gallant Oscar, third in the Festival Handicap Chase at Cheltenham last time out. He’s trained by Tony Martin, an Irish handicap plotter with few peers. But the Irish have a lamentable record in the race: no wins and just two places since 1997, from 18 runners (small sample, granted). Indeed, so far as I can establish, there hasn’t been an Irish winner of the Scottish Grand National since it moved from Bogside to Ayr in 1966.
Ignoring the historical, and focusing more firmly on form, Gallant Oscar is inexperienced over fences with just four starts to his name. While on the one hand that gives scope for upside, on the other he’s already a stone higher than his peak hurdle mark. Moreover, the going – likely to be good (and perhaps, unofficially, good to firm) is a complete unknown. At the price, and with Tony McCoy having opted to ride something else (though that horse, Benvolio, has been withdrawn due to the ground), he’s not for me.
Broadway Buffalo and Catching On are the next pair, both 12/1 shots.
Broadway Buffalo ran a stormer in the National Hunt Chase to be beaten a length and a half by Cause Of Causes. But, while he’s won on good ground before, that was in a bumper – no jumping required – and over obstacles his record is a less attractive 884. Although I don’t know for sure, it’s not unreasonable to assume a horse named ‘Buffalo’ is on the large side, and his overall predilection for sodden conditions (all six other wins on soft or heavy) lends credence to the nominal suspicion.
Catching On is a third novice at the top of the market, and he was oh so impressive at Exeter when fair lagging up on heavy ground. The form of both that run and his prior win over A Good Skin has worked out really well, and a fall in the Midlands National may have done him a favour, coming fairly early as it did. However, that winning form was on soft and heavy. Comfort comes from the fact that Catching On’s sole run on good was a win, at Southwell in a novice handicap hurdle, and he looks more likely to cope with quicker than the others mentioned so far.
If his jumping stands the test, he’s a player, and may yet get the services of Tony McCoy.
Sego Success is yet another novice in the race, and is 14/1 fourth choice. Trained by Alan King, he’s following the same handler’s Godsmejudge’s route, by running well in the National Hunt Chase before attempting a win here. Godsmejudge managed that, but he was more stoutly bred – my Beneficial stats are worth repeating here: at distances beyond 3m4f, Beneficial progeny are 1 from 78. That one winner was the stallion’s very first horse to attempt the marathon distance, G V A Ireland, who won the Midlands National in 2006. 0 from 77 since then.
Of course, there have been placed horses since, but Sego Success travelled really well at Cheltenham and emptied out like a non-stayer. It’s possible that the easier track at Ayr and the quicker ground will enable him to see it out, and it’s even possible that he’ll win (of course), but he’s not for me at 14/1 with that breeding reservation.
Last year’s winner, Al Co, is taking support for the in form Peter Bowen stable. We know he stays and we know he goes on the track. And, with a season geared heavily to Aintree’s Grand National, he’s had a relatively easy time of it thus far. Indeed, that stroll through the term was extended when he dumped rider Denis O’Regan off at the the very first fence. He’s in here off just five pounds higher than last year, and though that would have been enough to beat him then, it might not be now.
The record of Aintree quick returners is terrible, but not many of those fell at the first!
I had a fairly strong fancy for Lie Forrit last year, but horlicksed and bungled his way round before pulling up. He’s been in excellent form since, winning his last two in marathon events, both on deep ground. He does have form on good ground, however, and cannot be discounted on that score. Further, his jumping seems much improved this term. And, quirkily, this 3m5f winner’s damsire is Beneficial, perhaps undermining the aforementioned stat.
But still… I can’t erase the memory of his errant effort last year when arriving in similarly good form, and I suspect it will all happen a bit too quick and too crowded for him. Not for me, not this time, though he’d be the one I haven’t backed which would bring me most joy to see win.
We’re firmly into the 16/1 shots now, and top weight Sam Winner is in their midst. Good ground and a flat track is no issue to him. Nor is soft and an undulating circuit, such is his admirable versatility, and a horse good enough to run in the Gold Cup last time was good enough to win the Aintree Grand National this season.
That one, Many Clouds, benefited from discretionary handicapping, however, and this one doesn’t. That translates to a leaden impost of 11-12, with only Houblon Des Obeaux within a stone of his lumpy burden. Weight stops trains, they say, and in more everyday parlance it stops plenty of good horses. And yet, we know that if a horse is good enough when lining up for the Ayr Nash, weight will not stop it. Grey Abbey, Young Kenny and Belmont King all won this carrying 11-10 or more since 1997, so it can be done. None of that trio pulled up in the race the previous year, mind.
A trends buster that just has to be a player is Trustan Times. High enough class, he was third to Al Co last year, and after a targeted campaign returns two pounds lower than then. He looks to have been laid out for this, his only chase run in his last three being a fine fifth in the Haydock National Trial. That was sandwiched between a pair of fitness-retaining hurdle spins, and he wasn’t really put in to that heavy ground Haydock contest, according to my binoculars at least. With top of the ground known to suit, 16/1 for five places looks all right.
Enough already of the market principals. Time for the profile squad. Let’s start with Milborough, a winner of two of his last three including the Eider Chase last time over this trip (give or take a hundred yards) and on this ground (give or take a millimetre or two of the wet stuff). His handicap chase wins have come off marks of 129 and 134, and he’s ten pounds higher for that last day win. Although he was getting on top at the end, ten pounds in this context looks a lot. He’s 18/1 if you disagree.
Yes Tom is next in the weights, representing those wily Crawford’s (along with another trend shortlister, Man With Van). Although they’re based in Northern Ireland (Co. Antrim), they send so many runners to Britain – Scotland especially – that they could almost be considered locals. Yes Tom moved to his current barn this time last year and made an immediate impact when winning a chase at Down Royal. But a subsequent thumping in the Scottish National last year suggests stamina is lacking for this four miler. He comes to the party in similarly good form this year, but has done nothing to enhance his prospects of getting home. 33/1 with the sponsors, Coral.
Samstown is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, he’s a course winner on good to soft, so track and ground should be at least okay. Second, five of his six wins have come at beyond three miles (though none beyond 3m3f). He was given a nice little run over hurdles last time to put him spot on without necessarily impacting his chase mark and, though he’s six pounds higher than his last (and highest) winning rating, he’s still improving as an eight year old. He comes here fresher than most, too, with just five starts this term. The 25/1 is being nibbled.
If Samstown is still improving, Wayward Prince most certainly is not. Now eleven, he won the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle five years ago, but like many Sefton winners, his career didn’t really go on from there. Good ground is a must for him, which he’ll get here, and while the trip is an unknown he’s in as good a form as he’s been for some time. That’s largely thanks to the leniency of the handicapper, who has dropped Wayward Prince from a perch of 155 in December 2013 to 137. (He actually sunk to 126, but then dotted up in the Grimthorpe (3m2f, good ground). There’s no question there are worse 33/1 shots in this field.
I love this one: Harry The Viking. Like Wayward Prince, he’s not getting any younger, and his recent propensity for running up has meant he’s been elevated most of a stone for not winning. Such is the handicapping game, and unfortunately, personal sentiment aside, it’s hard to see a horse winning in that context, though I have huge respect for both the horse, and his shrewd Borders trainer, Sandy Thomson.
Another old mate, Amigo did me a very good turn when winning at Chepstow two years ago. He looked a horse on the up and up that day, but is ‘only’ a stone higher now with ten further runs under his belt. Still, that’s hardly regression, and he does have abundant stamina. A win on good to soft (at this track) and a solid second last time over 3m3f at Newbury on good suggest he’ll cope with conditions, too, and he is another of interest at 25/1.
Not many more to come under the Geegeez microscope, with the next being Carli King. Caroline Bailey is not in the best form at the moment, but this chap has plenty to like. Two easy wins at trips beyond three and a half miles on top of the ground bookended a disappointing effort at Catterick over a similar range. It is entirely possible that the middle run came too soon after the first of the three – just 13 days later – and, if that’s the case, then this boyo has brighter prospects than a general quote of 33/1 implies.
The wins were facile. Both of them. By fifteen lengths, eased down; and by eleven lengths, heavily eased. True, he’s stormed up the weights as a result of those victories, but he needed to, and gets in here with ten stone, and just a pound out of the handicap proper.
He goes from the front, which is no bad thing in this race – six of the last eight winners were no worse than midfield early. He probably does need to lead – all wins when he’s led – and there’s a pretty good chance of that, with only Lie Forrit a confirmed front runner in this field.
Stuart Crawford’s other runner is Man With Van. He was just a head away from a three and a half mile win last time, and is an experienced novice with seven chase starts to date. He had a sighter of the track a month ago and looks to have been primed for this most of the season. I question whether he’s quite good enough, though.
Drop Out Joe completes the preview. Another novice, with flat track good ground form to his name, he’s not without a chance. He’ll be Charlie Longsdon’s first runner in the race, and he’s only two pounds out of the handicap. Certainly capable of better than he’s shown thus far, he’s more lightly raced than most this season (and overall). With two wins from 13 career starts, and another five places, he’s the sort of plodder who could keep on running a la Forrest Gump and may conceivably be good enough to outrun them all.
2015 Scottish Grand National Tips
As you’d expect in a thirty runner big prize handicap chase, there are lots with chances. On pure form, I quite like the look of Trustan Times, for whom conditions will be spot on and who has been managed into this well.
And from the trendy types, I’d be happy to take a trio of swings with Samstown, Amigo and Carli King. All look to have the requisite stamina, and all have fair allocations of weight in relation to their overall form profiles. Most importantly, all look to offer value in a race that has returned winners at 66/1, 40/1, 33/1, 20/1 and 18/1 in the past decade.
1 pt win Carli King 33/1 general
1 pt e/w Trustan Times 16/1 general (look for FIVE places)
0.5 pt e/w Samstown 25/1 general (look for FIVE places)
0.5 pt e/w Amigo 25/1 general (look for FIVE places)
5 points staked
Two quick lines, as well as the above:
1. Chasing Tomorrow, the juvenile in which I have a share and about which I blogged here, makes his debut tonight. We’re hopeful but not expectant. Everything is crossed!
2. Geegeez Gold is in great form. Stat of the Day has had three good winners already this week, and is +22.5 points in April. The Shortlist found five winners from five races two days ago, the acc’a paying 1841/1.
Gold race cards are the very best available in Britain – according to hundreds of users – and the overall service offering (tips, reports, cards, form tools, tracker) is unbeatable value at £24 a month. Better still, you can test drive it for two weeks for just £5.
STOP PRESS: Opening Batsman’s win this afternoon has nudged the monthly Stat of the Day profit up to +25.8. That’s £258 for £10 stakes. An ANNUAL subscription to Geegeez Gold costs £197. You do the math… 😉