The Grand National is the most wagered upon horse race of the year, and whether you are a serious punter looking to find an edge or somebody simply hoping to impress their workmates in the sweepstake, the release of the weights is always eagerly anticipated.
Those were announced in a ceremony in Liverpool recently, and the two-time Grade One winner Bristol De Mai has the honour of taking top weight at 11-10; 4lb heavier than the field but off a mark five points less than his actual rating of 173.
Next in the weights is Anibale Fly, who finished fourth in the Grand National last year but who will compete at a mark of 5lb higher this year at 11-06.
Unusually, only nine horses will carry 11-00 or more, with other notable ‘heavies’ including defending champion Tiger Roll (11-01) – up in the weights on last year – and the Welsh Grand National champion Elegant Escape (11-04).
The average weight of the last ten Grand National winners has been 10-13, and so Don Poli, the former RSA Chase champion, will attract interest at 10-13 as will Blaklion at 10-12.
Meanwhile, Trevor Hemmings will look to become the first owner to have four Grand National champions in the modern era; two of his entries in Lake View Lad (10-11) and Warriors Tale (10-09) at least have agreeable weightings from which to mount a challenge.
What Do the Weights Tell Us?
The individual responsible for ‘ranking’ the Grand National field is a chap named Martin Greenwood. He works for the BHA, and took over this year from the long-standing Phil Smith as the handicapper for the National.
Based on his ratings, he decides which horses carry which weighting: the higher the rating, the more they carry.
The Grand National is without doubt the greatest handicap race on the planet, and Greenwood’s job is to ensure an equal footing for all horses which helps to maintain the Aintree showpiece’s fantastic unpredictability.
And so the handicapper has handed top weight to Bristol De Mai, the two-time Betfair Chase champion, as he believes that on any given day Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse is the best in the field.
Reflecting on his maiden handicapping of the National, Greenwood said:
“It was fairly straightforward to do the weights. I tried to treat it like any other race while bearing in mind there has to be some digression when needed.
“Bristol De Mai heads the weights, and his rating has been compressed by 5lb as I thought it was better to have a horse at the top of the handicap whose rating was slightly out of kilter. If Bristol De Mai does run then I think it was the right call to make.”
It’s not unusual for a top weight, or near enough, to win the National: Many Clouds did so from 11-09 in 2015, and Neptunes Collonges was 11-06 in 2012. Conversely, the lighter loads are not to be wholly discounted, with Auroras Encore taking the spoils from a sprightly 10-03 in 2013.
From a betting perspective, remember that the weights are only one piece of the puzzle: so many other factors go into winning this mammoth assignment, from the going and the skill of the jockey in charge to a huge slice of luck – key in a race where horses are falling and misbehaving at every fence and turn.
A Little History
While the weights don’t tell us who is going to win a particular handicap, they can be used by punters as a handy guide.
Take the 2018 Grand National, for example. Run on heavy ground following the wet spring in the UK, it was always going to be a struggle for the top weights to have the stamina to overcome those with less of a handicap.
And so it proved when the likes of Total Recall (11-05) and Last Samuri (11-08), both well fancied by the bookmakers, failed to even make it round the Aintree circuit and were pulled up.
In the end, it was Tiger Roll (10-13) who prospered ahead of Pleasant Company (10-11), with Bless the Wings (10-06) in third.
Of course, the negative impactive of a heavy weighting is less damaging when the National is run on a quicker surface. In 2017, Aintree was in fine fettle with a going report of good to soft (good in places), and that led to a far more open race.
In the end, nine of the first ten horses home were at 10-10 or greater, with One for Arthur (10-11) taking the line from Cause of Causes (10-13).
Again though, it wasn’t the ideal set-up for the top weights, with Saphir Du Rheu (11-05) unseating his rider and More of That (11-06) and Perfect Candidate (11-05), amongst others, being pulled up.
Referring back to Bristol De Mai, Martin Greenwood makes the salient point that only one other horse has ran off higher mark in the last 20 years.
So the question punters have to answer is does the highest rated horse in the field have an ‘all-time star performance’ in the locker? His two Betfair Chase wins suggest as much, but the betting market has spoken with their feet and now the Twiston-Davies powerhouse is out to a general 33/1.
If you’re looking for an early ante post wager, then who better than Greenwood himself to give you a few pointers.
“I think there are several interesting horses like Vintage Clouds and Elegant Escape, who is towards the top of the betting. He is an improving horse and was a good second to Frodon at Cheltenham last time, so you can see why he is one of the more fancied horses.
“I think it would be a knee-jerk reaction to make too much of the small amount of horses who are weighted 11st or higher. I wouldn’t want to get too clever about what the reason is.”