Updated: Apr 15, 2019
There are two ways to study horse racing. One is by the formbook: watching all the races and using your eyes and ears to form your own opinions and judgement. There are some incredibly gifted form students out there whose form bank memory is outstanding and the better ‘judges’ make a good living out of it by that method alone. Some use speed figures, handicap figures, pace analysis statistics and many more ways of battling it out with our old enemy, the bookmaker. The second way is computer modelling.
Personally, I like both ways as it gives a little more perspective; however racing data is a very powerful tool in the right hands. It never fails to amaze me how many people think they can outsmart a computer that can work out extremely accurately and in milliseconds the price of a horse to win a race, whereas a team of the smartest human brains couldn’t work it out as accurately in a year. So many people scoff at the idea but I believe that is purely out of ignorance as they are not grasping what computer modelling is and why it is so effective. In today’s world computer modelling is in virtually every other industry. That said, there is no right or wrong way; everyone is different but I’m sure that both camps will be backing the same horse in this year’s Grand National.
From the form book point of view, Tiger Rolls’ win in the Boyne Hurdle had me scratching my head because, while the number crunchers out there rated that run around a stone better than previous form, he could easily have been rated more. Bare in mind, Gordon Elliott would probably have left a little bit of work to be done with him that day and he was eased up over an inadequate trip, so you can see why I was perplexed as to why this had happened. However, this puzzle fell into place at Cheltenham where it was obvious, to even the many Elliott knockers, that this 9-year-old Godolphin cast off had indeed improved way over a stone. He decimated the field in the Cheltenham Cross Country Chase and drew clear in a manner you will rarely see again. Once again, as he eased to a facile victory, my head was telling me as he trotted past the line that not only had he barely had a race, but more importantly had the race gone on for another half a mile he could have won by a bus ride! I cannot ever recall anything as impressive and compelling going into a Grand National, but if there is anything that can stop him following up last year’s National win, the weight on his back will not be it.
We all know that the Grand National is a bit of a lottery and with horses brought down, unseating, falling, refusing etc etc you are always in the lap of the Gods as a punter and many a deserved winner has not completed the race through no fault of their own. This however is where the computer is impartial and assesses the risks attached with no emotion whatsoever. Everything can be quantified and the bottom line is what price the horse should be.
Tiger Roll may be small for a chaser but he has never fallen in 34 races and only has one unseating to his name. 4 pulled ups (two lame), 11 wins, 6 seconds, 3 thirds and 4 fourths. Now looking at Grand National statistics over the past 20 years there have been 14% unseat, 2% brought down, 23% fell, 2% refused, 20% pulled up and less than 1% for other reasons. Basically, there is a 62% chance that something will happen during the race but this needs to be adjusted slightly to each individual horse, as clearly the chance of Tiger Roll falling is less than most others. However some other stats stand, for example the chance of getting brought down remains as he nearly found out on the first circuit at Becher’s Brook last year, when it was only because of the superb, quick reactions by Davy Russell that prevented him from running into ‘I Just Know’ who fell in front of him. It was that close from being yet another ‘winner that wasn’t’ so the risks are real regardless of how well handicapped he might look.
But again, let’s remain impartial and work it out as best we can. I have revised what I see as the risks that lie in wait, with the aid of my trusty PC, to: 11% unseat, 2% brought down, 6% fell, 2% refused, 17% pulled up and less than 1% other reasons. That’s around 39% but, to air on the side of caution, I will build in an extra 10% on top so that’s an estimate of 43% chance that Tiger Roll won’t make it round for whatever reason.
Now we need to multiply that by the chance he wins the race, assuming he has finished. This takes more imagination, but going strictly on the weights of his last two runs, he would be a very short price. Whichever way you look at it, it’s nowhere near the current price and whilst you can argue he may be a bigger price on the day, that is not 100% to be the case, so I feel it would be prudent to stake a small wager on him now with ‘non-runner no bet’ and have another larger bet on him on the day, when the bookmakers will be actively trying to lay him to the general public. That way we can get some steady runs on the board now before smashing one out the ground on the day!
It is also important to consider that Tiger Roll is versatile on all types of ground. Last year’s Grand National was run on heavy ground, the Boyne win was yielding whilst Cheltenham was soft and he has also won twice on good ground. Whilst he finished tired last year, which was understandable on heavy going, he has clearly improved a whole chunk since then. At 9 years old, the ‘trends’ guys amongst you will be happy. In the last 20 years running of this showpiece, horses under 8 are 0/51 runners whilst over 11 are 1/81, clearly 8 to 11 is where you would pitch it given the choice. Also horses who last ran between 6 and 20 weeks prior to the Grand National are only 2 wins from 224 runners which, incidentally, will be approximately a third of this year’s field, so a recent run would statistically be preferential and with that Cheltenham run under his belt that follows last year’s pattern too.
Staking is always a critical part of gambling for long term profit and as there is a chance Tiger Roll’s price could drift, I would advise having 1/4 of your intended stake now (NRNB) and the remaining 3/4 on the day with B-O-G at 5/1 or bigger. At least that way should the price shorten further it’s not the end of the world should he win.