By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
The Grand National. 40 horses, four and a half miles and a lot of mud. It’s a mêlée of legs, panting, sweating – like a sex scene from Eyes Wide Shut only without Tom Cruise pretending he’s loving all the female nudity. With so much chaos, picking the winner is always tough. Even if you spend hours and hours rifling through the form book to pick out the resplendent beast with the right stats, form and pedigree to win and there’s no guarantee he’ll avoid the chaos and make it around safely.
Backing the favourite is a usual ‘go-to’ tactic. It’s the 3am booty call of betting. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s easy and there’s a decent chance of success. With less chance of chlamydia. Plus, there’s something reassuring about going along with the wider consensus. ‘If it’s popular with the public, then it must be good’ sums up the thinking behind that particular attitude, a claim immediately disproved by the ‘music’ of Rihanna.
But does it actually work in the Grand National? The Paddy Power Blog takes a look.
‘No’ is the short answer and ‘well … maybe … possibly … emmmmm … if you … actually, no. No it doesn’t work’ is the slightly longer answer. Living up to its reputation as being a horsey rollercoaster ride, just 16 per cent of favourites have won the Grand National in contrast to the ballpark figure of about 35 per cent of favourites winning across horse racing in general.
There have been times when backing favourites was more fruitful than others. Back in the days when a woman voting seemed more outlandish than a monkey performing keyhole surgery, there was a run of four favourites winning in the space of five years. If you put one of your hard-earned farthings on each of the favourites between 1890 and 1894 you would have shown a tidy 16.5 farthing profit over the spell, making it the most profitable period for backing favourites in the National’s history. Congratulations if you were that successful. Although you’d also be at least 141 years old so being around to read this is arguably the more impressive achievement.
But there’s also been huge droughts for favourite backers. Britain went through eight changes of Prime Minister, four different monarchs, one World War and the rise of one Elvis Presley during the run of 31 years and 27 Nationals without a single favourite winning the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Recent history of favourite backing has been more mixed. Three favourites or joint favourites have prevailed in the last ten years of the Grand National and even some of the unsuccessful favourites have given good enough accounts of themselves to avoid ending up in a Tesco freezer with the likes of Seabass, Hedgehunter and Clan Royal (twice) running into a place.
On His Own looks likely to start the race as favourite, but with thousands of grannies yet to pop into the bookies for their annual punt, that’s very much subject to change. The Willie Mullins trained stayer was going along very nicely when he fell in last year’s race and punters are more than prepared to give him another chance this time around.
After missing out on the ride due to a fall not long before last year’s National, Ruby Walsh hopes to get his chance this time around and he’s confident he’ll go close, telling the Paddy Power Blog:
On His Own has done nothing wrong this year although he’s only been asked one question at Navan. He won the hurdle race there and it was a very good run. He is a good ride with a great chance.
On the basis of recent evidence, backing the market leader isn’t a guaranteed success, but it should give you a good run for your money. In a race as fast and furious as the Grand National, that could be a lot of people’s favourite course of action.