The Druids Nephew stamped himself as a live Grand National contender with his victory on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, but do the stats suggest he has a chance of following up at Aintree?
The first thing to say, though, before the stats and history books are consulted is that visually there was a lot to like about the way The Druids Nephew won the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase over three miles, one furlong. He travelled sweetly just behind the leaders for most of the race under Barry Geraghty and he looked the likely winner coming down the hill. He moved to the front after the third last and confidently jumped the two fences in the straight before bounding up the hill to beat Grand Jesture by three-and-three-quarters of a length. In doing so, he provided trainer Neil Mulholland with his first Cheltenham Festival winner.
Mulholland was keen not to get ahead of himself after the race by confirming The Druids Nephew will run at Aintree, but he has always felt that the horse is unexposed over staying trips and the way he travelled and then stayed on at Cheltenham suggested he could be the right type for the Grand National.
But do the record books support The Druids Nephew’s claims for the National after his price was halved to a general 16/1 for the race following his Festival triumph?
Well, winning at Cheltenham and then going on to take the National is no easy task. The last horse to do so was Nicolaus Silver in 1961. One of the few greys to win the National, Nicolaus Silver won the Kim Muir at Cheltenham before going on to Aintree glory. But running at Cheltenham itself is no barrier to Aintree success as Pineau De Re, Don’t Push It and Silver Birch have all won the National in the past decade after taking in a Festival race.
Another negative on the stats front comes with The Druids Nephew’s age. As an eight-year-old, The Druids Nephew does have a fair bit of experience after 13 chase starts, but only three horses of that age have won the National since Red Rum won the first of his three back in 1973. Corbiere was eight in 1983 when ensuring Jenny Pitman became the first female trainer of a National winner, while Party Politics won in 1992 and Bindaree in 2002. And the last three winners of the National have all been aged 11.
It could be argued that having Geraghty on board for the National could be a slight disadvantage, notwithstanding the fact he is one of the top jockeys around. In the last 20 years, only one jockey has won the National more than once when Ruby Walsh won on Papillon in 2000 and Hedgehunter five years later. Geraghty was successful on Monty’s Pass in 2003.
However, to balance that out, Mulholland has yet to train a National winner and the race does favour those trainers who have yet to taste Aintree glory. Nigel Twiston-Davies is the only trainer to have won the race twice in the last 20 years, and one of those was with the eight-year-old Bindaree.
Further positives can be found in the fact that the last 10 winners have all been rated at 135 or higher. The Druids Nephew’s mark of 146 currently has him on a weight of 10st 9lbs. But, even if that rises a few pounds should the top horses come out of the race, then it shouldn’t be a big concern as five of the last 10 winners have all carried at least 11st.
Winning a race worth at least £17,000 is also a pre-requisite and The Druids Nephew picked up just over £51,000 for his Cheltenham success.
Being able to jump also helps as you would usually rule out any horse which has fallen at least twice. The Druids Nephew’s only fall in 13 starts came at the first fence at Newbury in November 2013. Still, over a fifth of National fallers are at the first fence on the course.
The Druids Nephew has proved he has the stamina credentials of past winners by landing a race over a trip of three miles or more, with the ability to see out the National distance always something of an unknown.
So, in conclusion, the stats would tip the balance towards The Druids Nephew not winning, with the chief concerns being his age and the record of Cheltenham Festival winners in the Grand National.