It was the late, great Richard Baerlein of The Observer who upon witnessing a colt by the name of Shergar obliterate his rivals by ten lengths in the Guardian Classic Trial at Sandown in 1981 famously exhorted his readership to have their orchestra stalls on for the Epsom Derby with the phrase: “at 8/1 Shergar for the Derby, now is the time to bet like men.” Needless to say he romped to victory two months later winning Baerlein, whose bet had clearly been of the masculine variety, so much money he bought a house in Sussex on the proceeds and named it after the Aga Khan’s dazzling three-year-old. Now as very much a ten quid each-way man I would never advocate risking the sort of hard-earned he must have done at those prices a generation ago, but based on the available historical evidence there is no doubt in my mind that Many Clouds in April’s Crabbies Grand National is the best bet I have ever seen in all my years enjoying the world’s greatest steeplechase and if he remains around the 12/1 mark simply has to be backed and backed big.
As I highlighted in my blog prior to the 2014 renewal, the National is littered with examples of horses who have run well in the race on more than one occasion. It is a bombproof trend that echoes through generations of the race and has held up just as robustly in recent years. Already in the second decade of the 21st century Dont Push It (1st and 3rd in ’10 and ’11 respectively), State Of Play (3rd in ’10 and 4th in ’11 – to go with his 4th in ’09 as well ), Oscar Time (2nd in ’11 and 4th in ’13,) Cappa Bleu (4th and 2nd in ’12 and ’13 respectively), and Alvarado (4th in both ’14 and ’15) have managed two in-the-money finishes while others such as Ballabriggs and Monbeg Dude have not been too far away from achieving the same feat. As outlined in the aforementioned blogpost from a couple of years ago this is quite simply because the National is such an unusually long test of stamina. Yes there are other four mile chases, but none run at quite the relentless gallop or indeed on such a vast, galloping track as Aintree. It is a test that stretches the thoroughbred breed to its limits and only a small and select band of horses are up to it.
However, there is a bit of a catch here. As anyone with even a passing interest in the great old race will tell you, very few horses have actually been able to win the National on more than one occasion. Many have tried but only Reynoldstown (1935 and 1936) and the incomparable Red Rum (1973, ’74 and ’77) have done so since the turn of the 20th century (a horse named Poethlyn did as well but one of his two victories came at Gatwick in 1918 while Aintree was indisposed during the Great War). So why do so many horses repeat good performances but so few manage to repeat victories? Well, quite simply the official handicapper has always been pretty tough with those who have won the race and try to back up. As the slightly wonky table below shows (how do you construct a nice clear table on wordpress, by the way?), since Red Rum waltzed to his second and most impressive victory in 1974 – defying a 23lb rise in the weights I might add – those attempting a repeat success twelve months later have often had to shoulder double digit poundage rises. This has made their task much trickier but, given what we know about Grand National repeaters, it is not surprising to see that a large portion have posted gallant efforts. Since 1974 24 horses have tried to win again the following year with eight – Red Rum, Corbiere, West Tip, Papillon, Monty’s Pass, Hedgehunter, Comply Or Die and Don’t Push It – finishing in the first four and seven of them having to labour under weight rises ranging from five to 17 pounds.
Year Horse Weight rise Placing Age/weight Placing for 1lb rise
1975 RED RUM – 2nd 10-12-0 2nd
1980 RUBSTIC 11lbs Fell 11-10-11 –
1982 ALDANITI 10lbs Fell 12-11-9 –
1983 GRITTAR 7lbs 5th 10-11-12 5th
1984 CORBIERE 10lbs 3rd 9-12-0 1st
1985 HALLO DANDY 10lbs Fell 11-10-12 –
1986 LAST SUSPECT 11lbs PU 12-11-2 –
1987 WEST TIP 10lbs 4th 10-11-7 1st
1991 MR FRISK 14lbs PU 12-11-6 –
1992 SEAGRAM 12lbs PU 12-11-4 –
1995 MIINNEHOMA 10lbs PU 12-11-4 –
1999 EARTH SUMMIT 9lbs 8th 11-11-0 7th
2000 BOBBYJO 20lbs 11th 10-11-6 9th
2001 PAPILLON 7lbs 3rd 10-11-5 3rd
2003 BINDAREE 7lbs 6th 9-10-11 5th
2004 MONTY’S PASS 17lbs 4th 11-11-10 4th
2005 AMBERLEIGH HOUSE 7lbs 10th 13-11-3 8th
2006 HEDGEHUNTER 11lbs 2nd 10-11-12 1st
2007 NUMBERSIXVALVERDE9lbs 6th 11-11-3 6th
2009 COMPLY OR DIE 11lbs 2nd 10-11-6 1st
2010 MON MOME 7lbs Fell 10-11-7 –
2011 DON’T PUSH IT 5lbs 3rd 11-11-10 3rd
2012 BALLABRIGGS 9lbs 6th 11-11-9 3rd
2015 PINEAU DE RE 8lbs 12th 12-11-0 11th
So why is Many Clouds such a good bet to not only run very well should he turn up on Merseyside on 9th April but also succeed where all those above him failed? Well, because of his previous high-class form he turned up at Aintree in 2015 already positioned very close to the top of the handicap at 11 stone 9lbs. Quite simply, the BHB official jumps handicapper has now virtually no room for manoeuvre. If a horse like Monty’s Pass hacks up off 10-7 like he did in 2003 his connections can expect, and indeed in his case got, a hike up into the higher echelons of the eleven stone plus brigade. This cannot happen with Many Clouds who can only go up one further pound to the maximum weight that any horse is permitted to carry which is 11st 10lbs. Now the keen eyed amongst you will have noted a fifth and final column on my table which is an extrapolation of how each and every one of those 24 horses would have fared in their attempt at a consecutive National win had they too only been subject to a one pound rise in the weights a la Many Clouds. Taking the weight/distance conversion for extreme staying handicap chases of 0.6 lbs per length that I learned as an acne-ridden young punter many moons ago, I calculated that Corbiere, West Tip, Hedgehunter and Comply Or Die all would have won in their repeat bids while Don’t Push It and Ballabriggs would have got within a handful of lengths of doing so as well. Add to that the three further horses that would also have made the first four in those circumstances and another three that would have made the first six and I have concluded that, based on his 1lb rise in the weights, Many Clouds is a 5/1 chance to win the 2016 renewal, a 13/8 chance to be in the first four and Evens to be in the first six*: prices considerably under what is available at the moment and probably will still be so come the morning of the race.
(* Betfair do a whole host of different place markets nearer the time, one of which will involve five to be placed, may involve six to be placed and also ten to be placed, in which by my above calculations, Many Clouds would be an 8/13 chance.)
Oliver Sherwood’s galloper’s chances also increase when you factor in his age. If you look at the above table again you will see that horses aged ten or younger have done considerably better than those eleven or above. Of the ten in the younger group, six finished in the first four (four of those being Corbiere, West Tip, Hedgehunter and Comply Or Die who would have won on the basis of a one pound rise), a further two finshed in the first six with only Bobbyjo – who was crucified by the handicapper for his 1999 win to the tune of 20lbs in 2000 and finished 11th – and Mon Mome- who fell at the 26th in 2010 – failing to get on the radar. Many Clouds was a very sprightly eight when he triumphed last term so, on that basis, has an even better chance to make history.
Now of course much can go wrong. He has to get there in one piece first and even if he does he may go the way of Aldaniti in 1982 and Hallo Dandy in 1985, both of whom got no further than the first, or Rubstic who slithered into The Chair in 1980, or indeed he may do a Seagram or Miinnehoma and decide that another slog around Aintree twelve months later is not on his to-do list. He will also have to give weight to thirty-nine other staying chasers whose abilities will range from top-class to more-than-useful, but if he wins on April 9th and gallops out of history and into legend you really ought to have been on.