With 40 runners going to post, a marathon trip of 4m2½f, and 30 of the most formidable fences in the game, it is no big surprise that the Grand National is viewed by many as being something of a lottery. The very first edition was after all won by a horse going by the name of … Lottery. However, what is not so commonly mentioned is the fact that Lottery was sent off as the 5/1 market leader for that 1839 contest.
Looking back through the record books, we find a pattern that may surprise racing fans. Of the 174 editions of the race to have been held to date, a total of 28 have been won by either the outright favourite or the joint-favourite, for a strike rate of 16.09% – not bad in a race where, if all runners had an equal chance, the expected win rate would be just one in 40 on average, or 2.5%.
This positive pattern carries over into the betting returns. Any punter who had placed a £1 win bet on the favourite – or two £1 bets in the case of joint favourites – would, firstly be in the Guinness Book of World Records for longevity, and, more interestingly for the purposes of this article, have achieved a profit of £4.08 on the race. Not a great deal spread over 184 years, but still significantly better than the returns for any other price-based betting system.
The fact is, that the favourite can, and frequently does, win the Aintree showpiece, with the following five jollies coming home in front in the space of the past 25 years alone – good for a profit of £15 when using the £1 win and 2x £1 wins for joint favourites system. Ranked from longest priced to shortest, our cast of five heroic market leaders consists of…
5. 2010: Don’t Push It – 10/1JF
- Trainer – Jonjo O’Neill
- Jockey – Tony McCoy
Until very late in the day, it seemed that Big Fella Thanks would be sent off as the clear favourite for the 2010 edition. However, a rush of money saw the JP McManus-owned Don’t Push It backed from 20/1 down to 10/1 to join the Paul Nicholls-trained stayer at the head of affairs.
Having been pulled up on his previous start, the driving force behind this gamble was likely the man in the saddle – a certain Sir AP McCoy. The pressure was certainly on the greatest rider in the history of National Hunt racing. Fail to win, and McCoy would set a joint record with Jeff King for the most unsuccessful rides in the National. Win, and he would tick one of the final boxes of a glittering career. The rest of course is history, as Don’t Push It swept past Black Apalachi at the elbow to storm to a five-length success.
4. 2008: Comply Or Die – 7/1JF
- Trainer – David Pipe
- Jockey – Timmy Murphy
2008 champ Comply Or Die boasted more obvious claims than Don’t Push It, having won the Eider Chase at Newcastle on his previous outing. Punters were quick to latch onto that impressive eight-length success, seeing the David Pipe star rocket to the head of the market – ultimately being sent off joint-favourite with Cloudy Lane.
Supporters of Cloudy Lane had to make do with sixth, but backers of Comply Or Die looked to be onto a winner a long way out. Hitting the front two from home, the mount of Timmy Murphy showed his reserves of stamina on the run to the line, coming home four lengths clear of King Johns Castle to hand trainer and jockey a first National success.
3. 1998: Earth Summit – 7/1F
- Trainer – Nigel Twiston-Davies
- Jockey – Carl Llewellyn
Having won the Scottish Grand National in 1994, and the Welsh Grand National in 1997, Earth Summit was becoming something of a specialist in these marathon affairs. Already well fancied for the big one, torrential rain in the build-up resulted in a flood of money arriving for this confirmed mudlark.
Given the conditions, a war of attrition was expected, and the race certainly lived up to that billing, with only six of the 37 runners managing to complete the course. A two-horse battle between Earth Summit and Suny Bay ensued from the third last, and it was the market leader who came out comfortably on top, forging clear from the elbow for an 11-length success. A first win for the trainer, and a second for Carl Llewellyn who only picked up the ride following an injury to Tom Jenks.
2. 2005: Hedgehunter – 7/1F
- Trainer – Willie Mullins
- Jockey – Ruby Walsh
Trained by Willie Mullins, and going in the famous colours of Trevor Hemmings, Hedgehunter was the horse the public latched onto in 2005. No doubt fresh in the mind of punters was the horse’s gallant effort in 2004, when doing much of the donkey work only to fall at the final fence.
Despite a 3lbs higher mark, there were to be no such mishaps this time around. Given a slightly more patient ride by Ruby Walsh, Hedgehunter was left in the lead after the 21st, and never looked like being beaten from there. Still hard held as they rounded the elbow, he merely had to be pushed out for a resounding 14-length triumph.
1. 2019: Tiger Roll – 4/1F
- Trainer – Gordon Elliott
- Jockey – Davy Russell
Topping the pile is the horse who became the shortest-priced winner of the race since 1919. The great Tiger Roll had of course been here before when clinging on by a head to land an absolute thriller in 2018. A relatively well-fancied 10/1 shot that day, 12 months on, the Gigginstown House Stud legend was backed to the exclusion of almost everything else in a wholesale public gamble.
9lbs higher in the handicap than in 2018, his task looked tougher on paper, but a proven liking for this course can’t be underestimated. Tiger Roll was once again immaculate over his obstacles and cruised into contention approaching the second last. The mare Magic Of Light attempted to make a fight of it, but the defending champion was not to be denied as he became the first back-to-back winner of the race since the great Red Rum in 1973/74.