Crabbie’s Grand National and Liverpool Hurdle analysis/selections

Truly it is the greatest spectacle in horse racing, if not the most unique. 40 horses. 30 fences, most of them jumped twice. Punishing fences and uneven landings.  A course and landmark race as old as the very breed.   The spectacle of the Grand National at Aintree in England is something I’ve looked forward to, right alongside the Derby preps, the Masters coverage, NCAA Final Four, and the first week of MLB play, all taking place at this time of the year.   My mom, never a fan of racing all that much, except to simply take in the sight of horses, had a particular interest in the Grand National, because it was the most important race around her birthday (she turns 75 on the 13th).  Of course, with my family having strong UK ties, it may have been an interest handed down over generations.
For my handicapping needs I’m turning not only to the National but a lesser race on the same card to flex my international muscles. Having scored in the Dubai World Cup (tho having not wagered on it this year), I want to keep the momentum going.   For the study, I leaned to the great www.sportinglife.com for racecards and past performances.
Granted there isn’t all that much to go on as with Brisnet, and you have to be lucky (or a paid account) to get the trips, but there is enough for me to sink my teeth into and approach in a similar fashion as I have for the Thoroughbreds in the US.
The variables are fewer but as important:
Historical :Per these folks, Aintree runners have generally fallen between the ages of 9 and 11, carrying no more than 11 stone (a stone is 14 lbs. so that’s 154 lbs total), and have an official raiting of a certain range.
I matched up all those who have all 3 going for them. 21 horses do.
Class: Who has won at the top (Grade 1) level? Most horses here have; 27 in all.
Distance: Who has the longest winning distance? I kept the 8 horses who have the longest.
Aintree experience: Who has won on this course? 8 have been lucky enough to do so, in a meeting that lasts just one week of the year.
Jockey/trainer connection. I surveyed the sportinglife.com website to see the trends of the last 5 years, looking specifically at the win % combo for both connections here.
Layoff: Who has won off as much as a 60-day break, as listed on the website? I counted 10 horses in this category.
Trainer changes: I noted trainers that made similar changes in all sorts of variables that matched something they did in the past that can impact the horse the  most. 14 horses seems to stand out in this category.
Trip: Who comes into this race with the best trip? 11 horses fit this variable well.
Putting it all together, ranking the variables from lowest to highest as you see them, here’s first my top 3 for the Liverpool Hurdle, 9 runners going 24 furlongs and change over the historical National course:
#3 COLE HARDEN enters off a win in Cheltenham at the same distance and class (Ladbrokes World Hurdle), which you can watch right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7F01UosNfUQ   This race is one of the better trips coming in of this field.
Best win was at 25 furlongs, achieved January 2014 in the West Yorkshire (Bet 365) Hurdle. That is also best of this field. Ran once prior here at Aintree, finishing 2nd I the Doom Bar Sefton Novices Hurdle. last year. Comes in as the lone stretchout of the field (from 22 furlongs).  Morning line has him as the 2nd favorite.
#1 BLUE FASHION is one of the longshots but I do fancy him here, if only for the fact that his connections have done well at Aintree over the years.  Jockey D Bass has 2 wins in 14, while trainer NJ Henderson is the winning trainer of this course as of late, 32 wins in 180 starts.   Outside of that, Blue Fashion comes in with nothing more than a 17 furlong best distance achieved 2 years ago.
#9 ZARKANDAR is the early choice at 9/4. Multiple class 1 wins to his credit between 2011 and 2013. Best distance win was 20 furlongs. Owns 2 wins at Aintree too (2013 John Smith’s Aintree Hurdle, and the Matalan Anniversary 4YO Juvenile Hurdle) Good connections for Aintree as well in Sam Twiston-Davies and PF Nicholls.  Comes in
with one of the better trips, 3rd to Cole Harden in the aforementioned World Hurdle).
I say the scenario repeats itself here, with a surprise value here upsetting the books.
As for the National, this is one of 2 races I’ll go at least 4-deep to pick winners, the Kentucky Derby being the other. For this, considering the amount of luck involved in finishing a race for horse and rider, I’m willing to go 5 deep, playing straight win bets on these in order of preference:
#20 Al Co (France). 10YO carring 10-8. 25/1 morning line. One of a number of horses fitting the Aintree trends. Won the Coral Scottish GN Handicap last spring (Grade 1) at 32 furlongs at an astounding 40-1. Good, not great Aintree connections at work here. Prior wins stretching out as well as gaining in class, and has succeeded before when losing weight prior to a win. Great trip entering this race, 3rd of 11 in the BangorBET Handicap Hurdle, only 13 lengths back, going 24 furlongs.
#6 BALTHAZAR KING is 11YO carring 11 stone 2 lbs. 10-1. Owns a 31 furlong win from his last effort, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase back in November as a heavy favorite in a . The Hobbs/Johnson connection give him pretty good Aintree stats. Has won off layoff previously. Has the longest layoff of all coming in, in fact. Prior wins with class gain and stretchout along with weight drop.
4 wins and a 2nd in his last 6 starts.

#36 and best of the field selections (24 on down) is COURT BY SURPRISE, 10YO carrying 10-3. Fits the Aintree winner profile.  Class 1 win in his last start back in November, the Badgers Ale Trophy, a good trip at that. Prior win from layoff, also successes from class move and stretchout (from 25 furlongs in this case), and weight drop from 11-7.

#32 CHANCE DU ROY also is a big threat. Aintree winner profile fits well. Class 1 win here at Aintree in December 2013 at the Befred Becher Handicap Chase, 26 furlongs, his longest. Great connections aboard. Trainer PJ Hobbs has a 13.7% win percentage over the last 5 years, and jockey TJ O’Brien is at 17.6%. Class, distance, weight changes have been a winning formula for him in the past.

#7 SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR is getting all the attention, it seems, as jockey AP McCoy will retire after this year.  8YO carring 11 stone 2. 9 wins, 11 placings in 14 lifetimes. Winner of 2 straight. Three Class 1 wins, plus a Class 3 success at Aintree in 2013. Longest distance win was 29 furlongs a year ago.  McCoy is the top jock at Aintree, 20.4%, and is paired with Jonjo O’Neill (8.3%) . Prior winner off layoff.  Switching to McCoy from Geraghty who had given him those 2 straight wins. Another with prior wins based on class, distance and weight.

Later this morning, expect my top 3 for major stakes action back in the US as the Enlightened Trails close up for the premiere campaign.

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