It is the horses that have to jump the 30 fences in the Grand National but some jockeys seem much better at helping them than others. Following the top performers in conventional jumps races is not always a good idea when it comes to Aintree. So are any of the top jockeys worth following?
The record-breaking AP McCoy is one to avoid. Long before he became JP McManus’ retained jockey he was always on a horse with realistic credentials but only at his fifteenth attempt did he manage to win on the Jonjo O’Neill trained Don’t Push It in 2010.
Why? His style of riding is not ideal for the National. He is aggressive and is generally inclined to tell a horse what to do at a fence. It is not just bad luck that three of the ten horses he rode recently in the Grand National fell under him. They were all good jumpers. Loose horses, untroubled by instructions from above, don’t often hit the deck.
McCoy also unseated from the Ted Walsh trained 12/1 shot, Colbert Station, in 2013. He may be at the very top of the game but, even in conventional races, he unseats more easily than many of his colleagues. Being incredibly strong in a finish is irrelevant if you often don’t make it as far as the last fence.
Richard Johnson is another man (and perennial runner-up to McCoy in the champion jockey stakes) who has proved expensive to follow. He is usually very effective and, unlike McCoy, will rarely unseat without good reason. His habit of regularly asking a horse for a specific take off point is not ideal but he has had fewer horses fall under him than McCoy. He has three completions out of four recent rides to his name.
As stable jockey for Philip Hobbs, Johnson is not always mounted on a horse with genuine National credentials. One of the more fancied runners he has partnered, Quinz (14/1) in 2011, broke a blood vessel. He had the sense to pull it up. No jockey can be blamed if a horse bleeds.
Johnson’s results suggest that he is not one to follow but, bearing in mind the quality (or lack of it) of horses he has ridden, his record is better in some respects than McCoy’s even though he has never won. His presence on a horse’s back also fails to attract the same support in the betting market. If he gets on something decent he is more likely to provide value in the Grand National betting than his more venerated colleague.
Luck in running is always a factor but it was not just beginner’s luck when Ruby Walsh won the Grand National at his first attempt.
He is renowned in the weighing room for trusting his horses to do the jumping and rarely interferes with them close to a fence. It’s a strategy that pays particularly large dividends in the National. He also has the innate skill to settle horses into a rhythm and seems adept at avoiding trouble in running.
In 2000 he took the brave man’s route up the inside on Papillon, trained by his father Ted, and won easily. He was only 20 years old at the time. They finished fourth the following year.
Walsh scored again in 2005 on the Willie Mullins trained Hedgehunter. The partnership came second the following year and completed in 2007 and 2008 but finished out of the money, burdened with the top weight. In 2009 Walsh came third on Paul Nicholls’ My Will. He has an enviable completion rate since.
Walsh has a better record in the Grand National than anyone currently riding but unfortunately even the very occasional punters have realised he is worth following. You are unlikely to get a decent price close to the off on any horse with him on board.
Which jockeys should be followed for the Grand National?
The obvious answer is the jockeys of the yards with proven National credentials. Donald McCain is well bred to train more than one National winner and is always going to target the race. His stable jockey, Jason Maguire, may well find himself in the winner’s enclosure again. He won on Ballabriggs in 2011.
McCain has also used Timmy Murphy in the National. Murphy won on David Pipe’s Comply or Die in 2008 and came second the following year. He is an instinctive horseman who will rarely cause a horse to fall.
The ultra-shrewd Welsh trainer, Evan Williams, has done well in the National without posting a win. Paul Moloney has placed and completed more often than most and is likely to be well mounted in future.
Paul Nicholls’ stable jockey, Daryl Jacob, is another to keep an eye on. We can expect Nicholls’ poor Grand National record to improve in future. He has an abundance of the seemingly all-conquering French-breds.
Jacob rode Nicholls’ Neptune Collonges (33/1) to victory in 2012 and completed on Join Together (for Nicholls) the following year. He also finished fourth in 2007 on Nick Williams’ 100/1 outsider, Philson Run. His style of riding is unsurprisingly similar to Walsh’s. He was second jockey to him at Nicholls’ yard for several years.
A younger man to watch is one who emulated Walsh’s achievement of winning the Grand National first time out. Ryan Mania was only 23 years old when he won on Sue Smith’s 66/1 outsider, Auroras Encore in 2013. Smith has proved that she knows how to source and train a National winner. The experience Mania gained working as a whipper-in for the Fife foxhounds might have proved useful when dealing with the hazards of the National.
Are there other Grand National jockeys with individual merits?
Paul Carberry won the National on Bobbyjo (trained by his father) in 1999. He has not always been on the easiest of horses since. He came second to Comply or Die in 2008 on Arthur Moore’s temperamental King Johns Castle.
Carberry has not scored recently but he is worth a look if he is on a decent horse. He won the 2013 Welsh National on Michael Scudamore’s Monbeg Dude, giving him a sympathetic and tactically brilliant ride. It was before Zara Phillips had sorted out his jumping issues.
A man who usually has a good horse under him is the amateur rider, Sam Waley-Cohen. His family have the financial resources to ensure that he is never going to be on a no-hoper.
Waley-Cohen has a better record than the majority of professionals in the Grand National. He may not be the most stylish in a finish but he brings the quality of thinking that has made him a successful businessman to the racecourse.
He has said that winning races (when talking about them in general) is not just about the final furlong and that adopting the right strategy and getting horses jumping are at least as important. That theory definitely applies to Aintree’s marathon.
Waley-Cohen finished second to Ballabriggs in 2011 on the Martin Lynch trained Oscar Time (14/1) owned by his father.
He provided a decent return for each-way punters two years later when finishing fourth on the same horse at 66/1. It wasn’t the first time he had picked up place money. In 2007 he finished fifth on Liberthine, a 40/1 shot trained by Nicky Henderson.
No jockey can win without a talented horse under him. Ruby Walsh is always going to have one and has the form in the book when it comes to enhancing his rides’ chances, unlike AP McCoy. The downside is his ungenerous starting price. He is rarely attractive as an each-way prospect.
If you want better value for money in the Grand National betting, Sam Waley-Cohen has an enviable Aintree record and is much more likely to provide it.