It’s that time of year when the thoughts of many punters turn firmly to the Cheltenham Festival, with the countdown now well and truly on.
There’s another big race appearing on the horizon too though, namely the most famous horse race in the world – The Aintree Grand National.
Topping the bill at Haydock in mid-February is one of the key trials for the most dramatic steeplechase run anywhere on the planet.
Grand National Trial Course Map (Jumps Course)
Grand National Trial Past Winners
|2021||Lord Du Mesnil||8/1||Richard Hobson||Paul O'Brien|
|2020||Smooth Stepper||33/1||Alex Hales||Harry Bannister|
|2019||Robinsfirth||8/1||Colin Tizzard||Sean Bowen|
|2018||Yala Enki||8/1||Venetia Williams||Charlie Deutsch|
|2017||Vieux Lion Rouge||8/1||David Pipe||Tom Scudamore|
|2016||Bishops Road||13/2||Kerry Lee||Richard Johnson|
|2015||Lie Forrit||8/1||Lucinda Russell||Peter Buchanan|
|2014||Rigadin De Beauchene||16/1||Venetia Williams||Robert Dunne|
|2013||Well Refreshed||9/2||Gary Moore||Joshua Moore|
|2012||Giles Cross||4/1||Victor Dartnall||Denis O'Regan|
|2011||Silver by Nature||10/1||Lucinda Russell||Peter Buchanan|
|2010||Silver by Nature||7/1||Lucinda Russell||Peter Buchanan|
|2009||Rambling Minster||18/1||Keith Reveley||James Reveley|
|2008||Miko de Beauchene||17/2||Robert and Sally Alner||Andrew Thornton|
|2007||Heltornic||12/1||Michael Scudamore||Tom Scudamore|
|2006||Ossmoses||14/1||Don Forster||Richard McGrath|
|2005||Forest Gunner||12/1||Richard Ford||Peter Buchanan|
|2004||Jurancon II||10/1||Martin Pipe||Joey Elliot|
|2003||Shotgun Willy||10/1||Paul Nicholls||Ruby Walsh|
|2001||Frantic Tan||7/2||Nigel Twiston-Davies||Carl Llewellyn|
About the Grand National Trial: A Look at Aintree Contenders
The Grand National at Aintree is by some distance the most well-known jumps race in the world. It is a huge prize that every jockey, trainer and owner in National Hunt racing dreams of winning but just dreaming about it is not enough. Such is the unique challenge posed by the iconic marathon of a race that horses have to be thoroughly prepared before competing in the Aintree spectacular. There are number of demanding chases used as preparations, including the Grand National Trial at Haydock, just 10 miles or so east of Aintree.
A Complicated History
The Grand National Trial is one of the highlights of the jumps season at Haydock but its history is far from straightforward. Technically speaking, this is a new race as of 1991 when the Greenall Whitley Gold Cup was introduced at Haydock. However, in the eyes of many racing fans, that race was a reintroduction of the Grand National Trial which was first run at Haydock way back in 1947.
The original name was officially reinstated in 1996 and it is now considered to be the same race in terms of records and statistics. Therefore, the world famous Red Rum sits alongside more recent winners such as Party Politics and Master Oats on the list of Grand National Trial winners, adding more than a little prestige to the contest’s history.
Haydock Grand National Trial Timeline
|Year From||Year To||Race Detail|
|1947||1984||Run as the Grand National Trial over 3m 4½f|
|1985||1990||No race run at the trial distance|
|1991||1995||Greenall Whitley Gold Cup increased to 3m 4f|
|1996||Present||Greenall Whitely Gold Cup reamed the Grand National Trial|
Silver By Nature (2010 and 2011) and Goosander (1955 and 1957) are the only horses to have won the Grand National Trial more than once as of the 2020 renewal. In addition, it is worth noting that Silver By Nature’s trainer, Lucinda Russell, became the third trainer to saddle three winners of this race in 2015, with Neville Crump and Fred Rimmell preceding her.
A Worthy Prize in Its Own Right
The Grand National Trial is always run with half an eye on the Grand National. However, there is a danger of not treating this race with the respect that it deserves. It’s a Grade 3 contest which, as of the 2021 renewal, is worth more than £40,000 to winning connections. That’s a prize not to be sniffed at and, of course, the big race itself is also “only” a Grade 3 (even if it does have a seven-figure purse!).
In addition to that, this race is also a big one for punters to win. It is a handicap which takes place over 3 miles 4 ½ furlongs so is always going to be tough to predict. Add to that the relatively large fields which compete each year, the unpredictable ground which has varied from good to heavy in recent years (and heavy at Haydock means HEAVY) and 22 fences and it should be no real surprise that so few favourites win this race.
It takes a performance full of heart, stamina and jumping ability just to make it round the Haydock course. A large proportion of the field either falls on their way round or is pulled up some way before home, especially when the ground is tough as is common, so the winner is deserving of great respect as a staying chaser no matter what happens later in the year at Aintree.
Not the Trial Punters Might Hope For
If the Grand National Trial is a tough race to predict and complete, the Grand National itself is, of course, on a different level. These trial races help connections to get a feel of whether or not a horse has what it takes to complete the Grand National but such is the lottery of the that race that they serve as a poor predictor of success in the big one, truth be told as the table blow indicates.
Haydock Trial Winners in the Grand National: 1947 – 2020
|Year||Trial Winner||Trainer||Grand National Position|
|2017||Vieux Lion Rouge (8/1)||David Pipe||6th (12/1)|
|2012||Giles Cross (4/1)||Victor Dartnall||Pulled Up (20/1)|
|2011||Silver By Nature (10/1)||Lucinda Russell||12th (9/1)|
|2009||Rambling Minster (18/1)||Keith Reveley||Pulled Up (8/1)|
|2005||Forest Gunner (12/1)||Richard Ford||5th (8/1)|
|2004||Jurancon II (10/1)||Martin Pipe||Fell (10/1 CF)|
|2003||Shotgun Willy (10/1)||Paul Nicholls||Pulled Up (7/1 F)|
|2000||The Last Fling (5/1)||Sue Smith||7th (14/1)|
|1997||Suny Bay (7/2)||Charlie Brooks||2nd (8/1)|
|1995||Nuaffe (4/1)||Pat Fahy||Fell (20/1)|
|1994||Master Oats (11/4)||Kim Bailey||Fell (9/1)|
|1993||Party Politics (16/1)||Nick Gaselee||Void Race (7/1 F)|
|1992||Cool Ground (12/1)||Toby Balding||10th (10/1)|
|1983||Ashley House||Michael Dickinson||Withdrawn|
|1977||Andy Pandy||Fred Rimell||Fell (15/2 F)|
|1975||Red Rum||Ginger McCain||2nd (7/2 F)|
|1973||Highland Seal||R Dening||Pulled Up (20/1)|
|1971||The Otter||R Dening||Fell (12/1)|
|1970||French Excuse||Fred Rimell||Fell (100/8 F)|
|1969||Game Purston||Matt McCourt||Pulled Up (33/1)|
|1967||Bassnet||A Kilpatrick||Fell (10/1)|
|1964||Reproduction||G Owen||Fell (66/1)|
|1962||Solfen||W O’Grady||12th (9/1)|
|1957||Goosander||Neville Crump||6th (5/1 F)|
|1956||Sundew||F Hudson||Fell (8/1)|
|1953||Witty||W Hall||Unseated Rider (22/1)|
Whilst it is unlikely that we’ll see a winner of both races, this is not a race to completely discount. Far from it. Many previous winners have gone on to have success in other big staying chases, including both the Welsh and Scottish Grand Nationals, whilst some have even gone down in trip for races such as the Topham Chase.