A guide to the Grand National: How to choose a winner and when to place your bets


Thinking of attending the Grand National his year, or casting some bets while it’s live? However you plan to watch it, you’ll no doubt want to know how to make an impressive profit. Here, Peter Watton from matched betting experts OddsMonkey shares the need-to-know details of this iconic event.

April is less than a month away, and you know what that means: the Grand National is upon us! This annual race event welcomes avid betters and newbies from areas near and far for a racing, betting and an opportunity to have fun with their nearest and dearest.

While just attending this iconic event is an experience all of its own, you’ll no doubt be interested in making a nice profit from your bets, especially as the total prize fund is set to total £1m again. But, where do you start? Here, I’ll be talking you through the history of the Grand National, as well as sharing my advice on picking a winner and when to place your bets.

When and where is the Grand National?
The 2020 Grand National will take place on Saturday 4th of April and is one of the four race days that will make up this year’s Randox Health Grand National Festival. Recognised as one of the world’s richest horse races in terms of the prize money available, the Grand National expects to welcome over 70,000 people attending the Saturday event alone.

The Grand National will take place at Aintree Racecourse in the borough of Sefton in Merseyside, where it has been hosted since 1839.

The history of the Grand National
The first Grand National race was hosted in 1839, and originally named the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, taking place at the Aintree racecourse but following a slightly different route. At this time, the starting line was near to Melling Road, and runners were required to race across the four-mile course which included jumping a number of obstacles including natural banks, stone walls and brooks.

The first ever winner of the Grand National was a horse aptly named Lottery who had odds of 5/1 to win, making history at Aintree that day.

How to pick a Grand National winner
There is no exact science behind choosing a winning horse. For example, in the past it was believed that horses carrying jockeys over 11 stone would rarely win, so you could’ve ruled out a good proportion of the horses. However, this has shown a reversal in recent years.

It’s still worth doing your homework before placing a bet for the race, though. Once the final declaration of the horses has been announced — which is usually two days before the event — it’ll be worth researching the horses you’re thinking about placing bets on. Looking into how they’ve performed on previous races and checking their form book to see which terrains and conditions they have done best on will be useful. You can then compare these to the conditions on the day, to make a well-informed choice.

You can also look at the number of runs the horses had to help you to make a winning decision. Seven previous winners had minimum four runs before going on to win the Aintree Grand National, with the only three who had less in recent years being Ballabriggs in 2011, One for Arthur in 2017 and Tiger Roll in 2019 — all of which had three runs.

However, don’t simply go off what previous statistics say. If you plan on attending the Grand National rather than watching it live on TV, you have the advantage of looking at the horses in the parade ring or paddock before playing your bet, so you can make your own judgements.

When you’re placing your bet, it’s important to remember that the shorter the odds offered, the more likely the bookmaker thinks it is that it’ll win. As a rule of thumb, a placed horse with odds at 5/1 will see your entire bet stake returned, while a placed horse priced with odds of 10/1 will give you a 50% yield on your investment. Those with 14/1 or 16/1 are most likely to result in your money being doubled.

Although there are many different ways to pick a winner, and everybody’s method is different, those who are clued up enough to make predictions for the Grand National will usually look at a range of aspects. These include the horse’s age, weight, jumping experience and ability to perform in top-class races. They may even share information about the minimum number of chase runs, the number of runs in the past 180 days, the number of days since their last run and the place within the last three starts. All of this can help you to pick a winning horse and make a great profit.

How and when to place a bet
There are two main types of bet at the Grand National: win-only and each way. For a win-only, your horse will need to win the race, whereas each way is effectively two bets. The latter means you’re placing a bet on your horse to win, as well as one for it to be placed in the top three and is the most popular of all Grand National betting offers by far. But, pay attention to the terms on which the bookmaker will accept each-way bets as these can differ.

If you’re considering placing a bet before the day of the Grand National race, you should bear in mind that of the horses entered, only 40 of them will run. This means that any horses below around number 50 ahead of the final declaration stage will have little chance of taking part.

This means that for ante-post betting to be a success, you’ll need to find a horse that’s guaranteed to make the line up on the day. Of course, this isn’t as straight-forward as it sounds due to the limit on the number of runners as well as unexpected injuries, illnesses and other things preventing well-fancied horses from participating. This will then mean your bet is classed as a loser and bookmakers will be able to pocket your stake. But, generally picking horses above number 40 on the list can reduce the risk.

If you plan on placing a Grand National bet on the day of the race, your research should come in handy here. Looking at the conditions of the ground and knowing which of the participants run best on these, will help you to make a good decision.

Grand National betting favourites
If you feel like you need some inspiration for your Grand National bets, taking a look at the favourites could help. Here are some of the favourites that could win you a pretty penny when the big day comes — but just be aware that odds are set to change.

#1 – Tiger Roll – 5/1
#2 – Burrows Saint – 12/1
#3 – Any Second Now – 12/1
#4 – Definitely Red – 14/1
#5 – Kimberlite Candy – 16/1

The Grand National race is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year, so get in with a piece of the action this year by placing smart bets. Follow my advice, and you might just be onto a winner.