Clear, concise, comprehensive horseracing analysis and insight from Paul Jones, former author of the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, concentrating on jump racing in addition to the best of the Flat and leading Sports events.
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Virtual Grand National Preview

3/4/20

I would have thought that with no other racing in Britain or Ireland taking place currently and being stuck at home that many racing fans will be tuning into ITV1 at 5.00 p.m. on Saturday to watch the Virtual Grand National, especially as it offers something to bet on. The odds will be the same across the board and bookmakers’ profits from the event will go to the NHS. I have spun through what I believe to be the leading candidates in a computer-generated race closing with a final summary.

Having looked back on the 1-2-3-4 finishers for the three previous Virtual Grand Nationals, I have spotted a number of notable similarities amongst win-and-placed runners so if it’s the same computer programme as before, there are some potential angles that could be exploited.

The most obvious factor is that all three winners (Cause Of Causes, Tiger Roll and Rathvinden….who incidentally went on to finish 2nd, 1st and 3rd in the real thing a day later having been shown on Friday night previously) were all previous winners of the National Hunt Chase when that race was contested over 4m, so a horse’s proven stamina looks to have been factored into the computer programme.

The only former NH Chase winner in this season’s Virtual Grand National field after Le Breuil failed to make their cut of 40 runners is Tiger Roll but if he couldn’t win the virtual version when 8lb ‘well-in’ last year and coming off a 22 lengths’ win in this Cross Country Chase (a 17 lengths’ defeat this year) and he is now significantly higher in the weights, in a computer-generated forecast it’s hard to see the 5/1 favourite winning. That said, I’d be surprised if they didn’t have him finishing in the first five or six. He’ll be well backed by the once-a-year punters but would be one of the first off my list if looking for a win-only bet and surely it is no coincidence that he is 5/1 given it is a fifth the odds for five places so it ends up evens stevens for both bookmakers and punters for anyone backing him each-way and he finishes between second-fifth, which seems likely.

I’d have thought that wherever Tiger Roll finishes, the computer programme will have last season’s real r/u, Magic Of Life, somewhere in the same vicinity so if I am struggling to see the Tiger come out on top in this format, then that is also the case for Jessica Harrington’s mare.

What else has combined all three virtual winners so far is that (a) they were officially ‘well-in’ having improved by putting up a better performance than their handicap rating since the weights were allocated, (b) they were trained in Ireland (c) started at no bigger than 16/1 on the day and (d) all three had won their previous start (parts ‘a’ and ‘d’ would generally go hand in hand though). The only horse meeting all four criterion is the horse that I recommended we get on at 25/1 after the weights were unveiled, Any Second Now, though we will have to settle for the 10/1 universal price if wanting to get involved in this fun event.

Those four elements could be key in a computer-generated race, especially the ‘well-in’ factor as the first three results give the impression that being well handicapped is a significant element, as it should be in a computer-generated event, and it also happens to be a key part of my thought process for the real thing as four of the last 13 winners were officially at least 5lb ‘well in’ having improved since the weights were unveiled in mid-February. In fact, it’s not just all three virtual winners that were ‘well-in’ but ALL of last season’s 1-2-3-4 were ‘well-in’ as well. The niggle is that Any Second Now is only 2lb ‘well-in’ whereas the others were more so.

Such a programme designed to find the most likely winner should not be coming up with an outsider beating 39 others I wouldn’t have thought and all three winners were no bigger than 16/1 on the day for the real thing so, for win-only bets, I wouldn’t be looking at anything above 20/1.

The set-in-stone odds are across the board are 5/1 Tiger Roll, 10/1 Any Second Now, 12/1 Burrows Saint, 14/1 Definitly Red, 16/1 Walk In The Mill, Kimberlite Candy, 18/1 Magic Of Light, Potters Corner, 20/1 Elegant Escape, Anibale Fly, Bristol de Mai, 25/1 Bar.

Anibale Fly was fourth in the virtual race last year and fifth in the real thing so it’s hard to seeing him winning if it’s the same computer programme. Potters Corner could be the Chase The Spud (runner-up in 2018 virtual race) being a similar type and how much will the programme take note of Kimberlite Candy’s Warwick win being franked by The Conditional?

Burrows Saint is interesting as he represents the Willie Mullins stable that were responsible for last season’s virtual winner and also Pleasant Company who was second at a big price in the virtual 2017 running a year before he was runner-up in the real thing, plus another placed horse in Total Recall (3rd) in the virtual 2018 running. So in other words, the stable has had a top-three finisher all three years in the virtual race so it could be that the Mullins name is factored into the programme more than most, as is that of Gordon Elliott who won the first two virtual runnings so it’s 3-0 to Ireland. The Irish also had the 1-2-3-4 in last year’s virtual race, the 1-2 in 2017 and the 1-3 in 2018 reflecting their dominance of the jumping scene presently.

Three other factors in the potential Burrows Saint tick column is that he has proven stamina (like all three winners to date) being last season’s Irish National winner which is a traditionally good guide so that trend could be factored into the computer programme, he is a second-season chaser like the last two virtual winners and there is also a journalistic input into the programme and he is set to be ‘ridden’ by Rachael Blackmore and we know how the media are always looking for the story. I think the computer programme will have Burrows Saint finishing in at least the first four so he makes plenty of each-way appeal at 12/1.

With regards to what has been the main angle so far in the virtual race of being officially ‘well-in’, there are not so many are this year, and those that are, aren’t as very ‘well-in’ as has been the case in recent years so will it be such a factor in this year’s virtual race? Any Second Now is 2lb ‘well-in’ for example and as far as I can see Ballyoptic (6lb), Kildisart (5lb) and Definitly Red (4lb) are ‘best-in’ since the weights were framed.

The concern for Ballyoptic is whether the programme might put him on the deck given that is where has jockey has finished in two of the horse’s three previous attempts over these fences in real life.

One relative outsider has finished in the virtual frame for all three years and maybe being 5lb ‘well-in’ for a computer-generated programme, this time it could be Kildisart who is 50/1 after he was second in the Ultima? I’d have him half those odds in the real thing. Like the last two virtual winners, he is also a second-season chaser.

In a computer-generated programme, surely the bottom weight, Walk In The Mill, can’t be too far away after creeping into the handicap last of all after two Becher Chase wins and a Grand National fourth so he makes some each-way appeal at 16/1.

In summary, I was leaning towards Any Second Now originally but I just wonder if the programme prefers those that have even greater proven stamina than he has (the Kim Muir which he won in 2019 has been the best real Cheltenham guide though) given all three winners had won the NH Chase. I will back him and Burrows Saint to win, though if you want an each-way bet, given a Mullins horse has been placed in all three years then I’d go with the latter. My value e/w alternative at 50/1 on the potential ‘well-in’ angle is Kildisart

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