All eyes will be on Haydock Park on February 14 as the course plays host to the 35th Grand National Trial Day.
It’s the most fascinating of all the trial races because it takes place so close to the big race at Aintree on April 11. It’s also run after the Grand National Weights have been announced, so trainers can run their horses without worrying that success might lead to a hike from the handicapper.
Runners have not yet been finalised but there is little doubt that many of the market principles, such as last year’s winner Pineau de Re, will be trotted out.
Two horses that won’t be lining up under starter orders are Long Run and Double Seven. Both horses have been ruled out of the Grand National as they recover from injuries. But they’re not quite ready to retire yet.
The jury’s out on another market favourite, Unioniste. This seven-year-old is a rising star and it has been assumed that he’ll challenge for the Grand National crown. But there are whispers that his connections are waiting to see how he performs at the Grade 1 Irish Hennessy Gold Cup Chase on February 7.
Depending on his performance, Unioniste may be pushed towards the blue riband of National Hunt racing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, instead.
Trial races give punters vital clues about performance in the run up to the Grand National.
It’s a race that is notoriously difficult to predict.
Only five favourites have won in the last 20 years and it is generally considered an open field.
That’s partly because the course is so gruelling. At four-and-a-half miles it is one of the longest steeplechases in the world. On top of that, horses and jockeys have got to overcome 30 fences so daring that some of them, like The Chair and Becher’s Brook, have become famous in their own right.
The size of the field – 40 runners and riders – presents its own challenges as jockeys fight for position and often have to avoid loose horses which earlier unseated their riders.
Even trials like Haydock’s can offer no clue to guaranteed success.
No winner of the Grand National Trial at Haydock has ever gone on to win the Grand National although two of the placed runners have claimed the crown – 100-1 shot Mon Mome in 2009 and Neptune Collonges in 2012.
So how can punters get the edge in such an unpredictable sport?
Keeping pace with the latest news is your best bet if you’re having a flutter on the Grand National. In fact, any serious bet on horse racing is best made from a position of knowledge.
Get the latest news from sports websites like bet365 which give you early indications of any injuries or changes in strategy. Jockeys’ success in other races and the inside track on what’s happening at individual yards as well as how the market is shifting as the race approaches will all prove invaluable as you make your final selection.