How to pick a Grand National winner

Features | 6th April 2021

If you want to tip the odds in your favour and join racing’s form students for a day, here’s some handy hints on how to pick the winner of the Grand National.

With 40 horses to choose from and the toughest course in British racing to negotiate successfully, picking your Randox Grand National fancy can be a minefield.

Once‐a‐year punters up and down the land will be scouring the runners trying to come up with the winner of the world’s greatest race.

Whether you plump for your favourite colours, lucky number or the name that sounds a bit like your nan’s house, there are dozens of ways to pick out your National bet.


The Grand National – all four miles, two furlongs and 74 yards of it – is the longest race in the entire British racing calendar. It demands a horse with plentiful stamina reserves to see out the two circuits of the world‐famous course.

The last eight National winners had all finished first or second in a race over at least three‐and‐a‐half miles earlier in their careers. That underlines how staying power is key.

One For Arthur 2017 Grand National
Scottish-trained One For Arthur staying on to win the 2017 Grand National.


The famous Aintree fences have been modified to make the race safer in recent years including smaller and more forgiving fences as well as the landing sides being levelled out.

However, the likes of Becher’s Brook, The Chair and The Canal Turn still offer a stiff test of a horse’s jumping and there’s 30 fences in total to negotiate.

becher's brook at Aintree
Becher's Brook at Aintree.

None of the last five National winners had fallen in any of their previous races so it’s clear you need to make sure you have a good jumper on your side.


The old ‘uns are the best in the Grand National. You have to go all the way back to 1940 to find the last seven‐year‐old to triumph in the great Aintree contest. In just the last 10 Nationals there have been five winners with ‘double‐figure’ ages.

Amberleigh House – successful in 2004 for Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain ‐ was 12‐years‐old. That’s quite a veteran stage for a racehorse.

Amberleigh House on the way to winning the 2004 Grand National
Amberleigh House on the way to winning the Grand National.


With age comes experience and there’s no substitute for it in the Grand National. This is not a race for a newcomer to fences. Every winner this century had run in at least 10 chases, which are races over the bigger obstacles compared to hurdles.

You need to have a battle‐hardened campaigner on your side, not a fresh‐faced improver.

Don't Push It winning the Grand National aged 10, over 20 races under his belt and having run at Aintree four times previous.


As the National is a handicap, the horses carry different weights depending on how good they are. The theory is that all the runners should have an equal chance so the better the horse, the more weight they carry.

Over big distances – and they come no bigger than the Grand National – the higher weights can prove more of an anchor. Since Aintree legend Red Rum won his third National in 1977 only Many Clouds, successful six years ago, has carried more than 11st 6lbs to victory.


The official going description will often affect a horse’s performance. Some revel in very muddy conditions referred to as heavy or soft. Others love it when the sun shines to dry out the ground.

Weather forecasters might be about as reliable as racing tipsters, but the outlook is for little rain ahead of Grand National day. The course might well be watered but you still need to look out for horses proven on ground described by track chiefs as good or good to soft.

Aintree racecourse
Aintree racecourse.


While you need an experienced horse in the Grand National, the same does not apply to the riders. Irish jockey David Mullins was just 19‐years‐old when he won on Rule The World in 2016.

Both Ryan Mania and Derek Fox were also having their first National rides when victorious in recent years. At the other end of the age spectrum, Davy Russell was 38 when he steered Tiger Roll to the first of his two wins in the great race three years ago.