The Grade Three Grand National Trial Chase is staged at Haydock racecourse each year and provides racing fans with further clues ahead of the Grand National. That said, the race is all but a trial in name as since 1980 we’ve not seen a winner of the Unibet Grand National Trial follow-up that season in the Aintree marathon - Suny Bay, the 1997 winner, did go onto finish second at Liverpool in the National. The 2005 winner, Forest Gunner, went onto run a respectable fifth, while in 2017 we saw the David Pipe-trained Vieux Lion Rouge win this trial before going onto finished a respectable sixth in the Grand National a few months later.
Last year (2019) we saw the Colin Tizzard-trained Robinsfirth win the race to give the yard their first success in the race.
Last year (2018) we saw the Venetia Williams-trained Yala Enki win the race by a staggering 54 lengths to give the Williams yard their second win in the contest since 2014.
Here at TRAINERS-QUOTES we look back at recent winners and gives you the key stats to take in the 2020 renewal – this year set to be run on Saturday February 15th.
Recent Haydock Grand National Trial Winners
2019 – ROBINSFIRTH (8/1)
2018 - YALA ENKI (8/1)
2017 – VIEUX LION ROUGE (8/1)
2016 – BISHOPS ROAD (13/2)
2015 – LIE FORRIT (8/1)
2014 – RIGADIN DE BEAUCHENE (16/1)
2013 – WELL REFRESHED (9/2 fav)
2012 – GILES CROSS (4/1 fav)
2011 – SILVER BY NATURE (10/1)
2010 – SILVER BY NATURE (7/1)
2009 – RAMBLING MINSTER (18/1)
2008 – MIKO DE BEAUCHENE (17/2)
2007 – HELTORNIC (12/1)
2006 – OSSMOSES (14/1)
2005 – FOREST GUNNER (12/1)
2004 – JURANCON II (10/1)
2003 - SHOTGUN WILLY (10/1)
Haydock Grand National Trial Betting Trends
17/17 – UK-based trained winners
17/17 – Had won between 2-4 times over fences (rules) before
15/17 – Had won over at least 3m (fences) before
14/17 – Finished in the top three last time out
14/17 – Had won just 2 or 3 times over fences (rules) before
14/17 – Aged 10 or younger
13/17 – Had raced within the last 7 weeks
13/17 – Rated 135 or higher
12/17 – Aged 9 or younger
12/17 – Finished in the top two last time out
11/17 – Came from outside the top 3 in the betting
10/17 – Carried 11-0 or less
9/17 – Returned a double-figure price in the betting
8/17 – Won last time out
8/17 – Unplaced favourites
7/17 – Winners that went onto run in that season’s Grand National (all unplaced)
7/17 – Irish-bred winners
4/17 – Winners that won by exactly 15 lengths
4/17 – Ran in the Welsh Grand National last time out
3/17 – Won with 11-12 in weight
3/17 – Finished 1st or 2nd in the Welsh Grand National last time out
3/17 – Trained by Lucinda Russell
2/17 – Winning favourites
2/17 – Trained by Venetia Williams
4 of the last 5 winners returned 8/1 in the betting
The average winning SP in the last 17 runnings is 10/1
February is not everyone’s favourite racing month, with many trainers having one eye on the Cheltenham Festival, so the big Saturday races do tend to lack some of the star names on show.
However, it’s around this time of the year that the Grand National interest also starts to pick up pace, and this is backed-up with this month’s Haydock Grand National Trial - staged this year on Saturday February 15th.
Run over a trip of 3m 4 ½f, this Grade Three Chase is a Grand National trial more in name than actually producing the winner of the Mersreyside Marathon – why? We are yet to see a winner land both races in the same season! The closest we’ve come was when the mighty Red Rum took the Haydock trial in 1975, but could only manage second in the Aintree Grand National that year.
Other notable years were in 1997, when Suny Bay won the Haydock race and went onto finish second at Aintree, while, more recently, in 2017 the David Pipe-trained Vieux Lion Rouge went onto be sixth in the Merseyside Marathon later that season.
Twelve months ago, we saw the Colin Tizzard yard win the prize for the first time with their 10 year-old Robinsfirth, but didn’t go onto even run in the Grand National.
So, even though we are still looking for the first horse to win both races, it’s still a contest that is worth looking back on in a few months when National fever grabs the nation.
So, what are the main trends to look for?
Firstly, ALL of the last 17 winners came from a UK-based yard, but with the Irish not having had many runners in recent years this isn’t really a stat to take too seriously.
On the home front, the 2017 Grand National winning stable of Lucinda Russell are ones to note - they’ve had three winners since 2010. While the Venetia Williams team have won two of the last six runnings and you’d feel that now the Colin Tizzard camp have broken their duck in the race they will be firing a few bullets at a repeat win this year.
Being run over 3m 4 ½ f, then it goes without saying that having stamina in abundance is a ‘must-have’. This is backed-up with horses that have winning form over at least 3m (chase) winning 15 of the last 17 runnings. It’s slightly more interesting that ALL of the last 17 winners had only won between 2-4 times over fences before - suggesting the ‘up-and-coming’ stayers that might not yet be in the handicapper’s grip are the ones to focus on.
This particular stat is backed-up with 16 of the last 22 winners aged 9 or younger, while the last winner aged older than 11 was back in 1958! Therefore, history tells us that it’s pretty safe to rule out any old-timers.
Having a good recent run is another plus. 14 of the last 17 (82%) winners finished in the top three last time out, while if you want to take look at this stat in another way then it might pay to note that 12 of the last 17 winners of this Grand National trial actually finished first or second in their most recent race.
With 13 of the last 17 winners also having raced in the last seven weeks, then having a recent outing is key, plus the same amount (13 of the last 17) were rated 135 or higher.
The betting market can often be a good guide to most races, but with only two winning favourites from the last 17 runnings then it’s a contest the bookmakers are holding sway over the punters in at present. We’ve also seen 11 of the last 17 winners come from outside the top three in the betting, so don’t be afraid to look a bit further down the betting market – while, it’s probably more of a coincidence, but four of the last five winners actually returned 8/1!
Being a handicap and over this gruelling trip, then the weight carried also plays a big role. In recent years we’ve seen 10 of the last 17 winners carry 11-0 or less to victory, so this is not a bad cut-off point to have – but it is worth pointing out that four of the last five winners carried 11st 4lbs or more, so this weight trend might be taking a turn the other way with better class horses targeting the race.
Horses that ran in the Welsh National last time out (27th Dec 19) are also worth noting with 4 of the last 17 winners having run in that Chepstow race.
So, to conclude - if the best of the trends are anything to go by, then we are very unlikely to see the winner go onto success in the Aintree Grand National in a few months. And with that in mind – for me - the jury has to be out on how long the race continues to have the tag ‘Grand National Trial’.
However, it’s still a fascinating contest to watch, with plenty of old staying favourites likely to line-up again. Once the final entries are out, I’ll be looking out for those aged 9 or younger, that have proven form over 3m+ (fences) and that finished first or second in the last seven weeks.
TQ VERDICT: With the Grand National weights revealed this week then we should hopefully get a few more clues here with a lot of runner in this race entered for the Merseyside Marathon in early April. However, it’s worth noting that the name of this trial has to be taken with a pinch of salt as we’ve not had a winner got onto land the Aintree Grand National in the same season. There are plenty of key trends to take into account though – 14 of the last 17 winners were aged 10 or younger so that’s not great news for the 11 year-old One For Arthur, who is of course a former winner of the National, but with the Lucinda Russell yard having won this race three times in the last 17 years he does have this stat on his side. Smooth Stepper is also an 11 year-old in the race. 14 of the last 17 winners also finished in the top three last time out, so of the 11 runners only Lord Du Mesnil, Yala Enki, Vintage Clouds and Geronimo fit the bill. Of that bunch Yala Enki was actually the winner of this race in 2018 by 54 lengths and heads here off the back of a nice win at Taunton. Soft ground is ideal, but it’s worth pointing out he’s rated 11lbs higher than when winning in 2018. Vintage Clouds was a nice winner of the Peter Marsh Chase at here last time but a big-looking 11lb hike in the ratings makes life harder. He’s also got ground to make up on LORD DU MESNIL, who beat him 20 lengths here back in December. Yes, VC has a nice weight pull this time but Lord Du Mesnil has since franked that form by winning over this course and distance over Christmas and looks a rapidly-improving staying chaser. He's up another 10lbs in the ratings but at just 7 years-old should still have more to come – he gets the nod with the promising Paul O’Brien in the saddle taking off 3lbs. The Two Amigos is a decent stayer too and gets in here with a low weight, which will help in the ground – he was last seen running 5th in the Welsh National off this same mark. Ballyoptic and Steely Addition have the form to go well too, but the class horse in the race – ELEGANT ESCAPE – might just be worth having on side too. It won’t be easy with 11st 12lbs to carry but he’s run some solid races in defeat this term when third in the Ladbrokes Trophy and sixth in the Welsh National. Yes, he’s also been a bit of a hard horse to win with but with 13 top three finishes from 16 runs over fences he’s rarely out of the frame.