Grand National Trainer Trends: Evan help us

Evan WilliamsYears ago there were definitely trainers to follow in the Grand National. Fred Rimell, the five-time champion trainer had an enviable record. He won it with ESB in 1956, Nicolaus Silver in 1961, Gay Trip in 1970 and finally with Rag Trade in 1976.

The legendary Vincent O’Brien, another champion trainer, won it with three different horses in consecutive years in the 1950s before switching codes to focus on the flat.

Ginger McCain’s three wins and two second places with Red Rum in the 1970s and his subsequent victory with Amberleigh House in 2004 are well documented. He was definitely not champion trainer material but he handled the fragile Red Rum superbly and later proved that he was not a one-horse-wonder.

Today, winning the Grand National more than once is an exceptional achievement that has eluded the majority of top national hunt trainers.

Has anyone currently training won twice?

The duffle-coated Nigel Twiston-Davies has the rare distinction of winning the National with two different horses. He first won in 1998 with his only runner, Earth Summit. He started as the 7/1 favourite in the Grand National betting and duly outstayed Charlie Brooks’ Suny Bay to win by 11 lengths.

He sent out Earth Summit again in 1999 but he could only finish eighth. He was understandably less fancied with significantly more weight. He also saddled a 200/1 no hoper, the 13-year-old Camelot Knight who never looked liked getting involved when he was brought down.

Camelot Knight was his only runner in 2000. At 14 years old he was unsurprisingly always in the rear but completed, finishing fifteenth, about a furlong behind the winner, Ted Walsh’s Papillon. Beau was among the favourites the following year and looked promising before unseating Carl Llewellyn with his second serious blunder at the 20th.

In 2002 the wheels were falling off Twiston-Davies’ training operation and he was considering selling up when Bindaree (20/1) gave him his second National winner. He also saddled the more fancied Beau who once again unseated Llewellyn and Frantic Tan, a 50/1 shot who did the same to his jockey at the fifth.

Twiston-Davies may well win the National again but his recent record has been dire. In 2008 he sent out four. None of them finished. In 2010 he saddled five. Only Hello Bud (20/1) completed. He finished fifth under his son, Sam. He always aims high with his horses and, particularly in the Grand National, hope rather than realistic expectation has become the norm.

His horses definitely have to be looked at carefully on their individual merits rather than followed as inmates of Grange Hill Farm. Winning the Grand National twice sounds impressive until you consider how long he has been a trainer and count up how many of his horses have tried.

Who are the trainers to watch?

Donald McCain has continued in the footsteps of his dad Ginger. Under Donald’s tenure the stable continued its fine winning form when Ballabriggs won in 2011. It may have been number one for McCain junior, but it was number five for the yard whose traditions he continues.

Jonjo O’Neill has come frustratingly close to joining the two winner club. He sent out JP McManus’ Don’t Push It, the 10/1 joint favourite, to win in 2010 giving the champion jockey AP McCoy his long awaited first National winner.  The partnership also came third at 9/1 the following year.

In 2012 O’Neill saddled the 16/1 shot, Sunnyhillboy for JP McManus, who came second to Paul Nicholls’ Neptune Collonges by the shortest of margins. Missing out by a few inches after such a marathon trip has to be considered extremely unlucky. He also sent out the McManus owned and bred Gold Cup winner, Synchronised, who was fatally injured after he fell and a 100/1 outsider, Arbor Supreme who unseated early on.

Back in 2004 O’Neill sent out two 10/1 co-favourites, Clan Royal and Joss Naylor. Joss Naylor pulled up but Clan Royal came second by three lengths to McCain’s Amberleigh House.

O’Neill saddled four in 2005 and once again picked up place money. His 66/1 outsider, Simply Gifted, finished third. Clan Royal was fancied at 9/1 and was in the lead with AP McCoy coping admirably with a saddle slipping perilously towards his hindquarters when they were carried out by a loose horse at Bechers second time. His other runners were both outsiders. Native Emperor unseated Dominic Elsworth and Shamawan was last of the 21 finishers.

In 2006 both his horses completed. Clan Royal started as the 5/1 joint favourite and came third, seven lengths behind Martin Brassil’s Numbersixvalverde. His 66/1 shot, Risk Accessor, finished a distant fifth under Noel Fehily.

Over the ten years ending with the 2013 National O’Neill has a very respectable record. Almost 25% of his runners have finished in the first four. Some of his horses were long enough priced to be reasonably profitable each-way prospects too.

Twiston-Davies’ 25 runners in the same time period all failed to make the frame. Only five of them completed.

The top irish jumps trainer Willie Mullins has also done well at Aintree. He sent out Hedgehunter to win easily, without the application of the persuader, by 14 lengths in 2005 and to finish second in 2006. Ridden by Ruby Walsh, he started as the favourite on both runs (7/1 and 5/1).

Mullins also saddled the third placed Snowy Morning (16/1) in 2008. Hedgehunter could only finish thirteenth under top weight.

13% of Mullins’ horses have finished in the first four in the past decade. The problem for punters is that his horses rarely provide any value in the Grand National betting, especially when they are ridden by the Aintree master-jockey, Ruby Walsh.

Fortunately the same principle does not apply when Evan Williams legs up Paul Moloney. Williams has never won the National but he has done far better than most. He first saddled the Rucker family’s State Of Play (14/1) as a nine year old in 2009 to finish fourth. The partnership came third and fourth in the following years at 16/1 and 28/1 respectively.

In 2012 Moloney rode the Rucker’s ten-year-old Cappa Bleu for Williams. He finished fourth at 16/1. State Of Play unseated Noel Fehily at the fifth fence and Williams’ least fancied runner, Deep Purple (25/1), was pulled up by Jamie Moore.

Cappa Bleu was his only runner in 2013. He finished second at 12/1, nine lengths behind Sue Smith’s Auroras Encore.

Unlike many trainers, especially those with duffle coats, Williams has so far avoided sending no hopers into this race. He has provided a return for each-way punters with an impressive 70% of his runners.  So if you don’t mind betting each-way, Evan Williams looks to be the trainer to follow in the Grand National.

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