04/05/2010 11:00PM

Great chase has distinct logic to it


The greatest spectacle in racing, perhaps in all of sport, the Grand National Steeplechase, will be run at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool on Saturday. At 4 1/2 miles over 30 of the most daunting fences known to man or horse, it holds a place in Thoroughbred history far removed from any other event on the racing calendar.

First run in 1839, the Grand National is a testament to the enduring legacy of racing as a sport, as opposed to a mere venue for gambling, for how in the world can anyone be expected to select the winner, much less the exacta or the triple, from a field of 40 runners, nearly half of whom will fail to complete the course? With this year's race being televised by HRTV and Xpressbet.com accepting wagers, Americans will have the opportunity to participate in the mad, worldwide search for the winner. Anyone thinking of risking $10 or $20 in an attempt to find the first horse across the line should be encouraged that the Grand National is not the crapshoot it appears to be at first sight. In fact, it is not very difficult to pare the field down to the seven or eight horses who should have the race to themselves after they jump the second-last fence six furlongs from home. Here's how it's done.

Even before studying the form of individual horses, there are a number of criteria that can be used to weed out the no-hopers. First is distance. At 4 1/2 miles, staying ability is an obvious requirement. Even in Britain and Ireland, there are not a great many races longer than 3 1/2 miles. Check the horses who have finished in the first three going at least 3 1/4 miles with a certain frequency in the past year, and you will have eliminated between 10 and 20 of the field right off the bat.

Second is the ground. Determine what the going will be at Aintree on race day (at press time it was expected to be no worse than good to soft), keeping in mind that the course is one of the fastest-drying tracks in the world. Then, eliminate those horses who tend to do poorly on that type of ground from your list of those that might stay the distance. You should now be down to no more than 15 possibles.

The third key factor is connections. Like most of the world's great races, the Grand National is won by "name" trainers and jockeys more often than not. While not discounting a horse who qualifies on the first two counts simply because his connections are not among the game's most prominent, this will eliminate at least a few more from consideration. Big names to look for include, but are not limited to, trainers Paul Nicholls, David Pipe, Willie Mullins, Jonjo O'Neill, Dessie Hughes, Venetia Williams, and Nigel Twiston-Davies, and jockeys Tony McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Richard Johnson, Paul Carberry, Barry Geraghty, and Timmy Murphy. Trainers and riders who have finished in the first three in past Grand Nationals should also be noted, given the highly peculiar nature of the course over which the race is run.

The ability to complete the course - any course - is another key handicapping factor. If one of your remaining candidates has fallen, unseated his rider, or been eased a little too often for your liking, cross him off.

Remember too that the Grand National is a handicap with weights assigned in February, meaning that a horse who has improved in the two months since the weights were announced will have a slight advantage over many of his rivals. Note, too, the concept of a horse being "out of the handicap." In order to keep the highweight from carrying an impossibly high weight, horses at the bottom end of the handicap must carry a minimum of 145 pounds. Horses who are officially rated below that mark must still carry that weight, so they are, in actuality, carrying more weight than they should. These horses can almost always be eliminated with impunity.

Outside of the three-day Grand National Meeting, Aintree runs just six other days of racing annually, with only a handful of races over the Grand National course. If any of the contenders remaining on your list has done well in one of these races, check his name. Also note that there are two steeplechase courses at Aintree, the 2 1/8-mile Grand National course with its specially built spruce fences, and the

1 1/4-mile Mildmay course with its conventional fences just like the ones used on every other chase course in Britain and Ireland.

Last year's Grand National winner, Mon Mome, was a qualifier through this system in that he was trained by Venetia Williams, had always acted well on the prevailing good to soft ground, had completed the course in his 10 previous starts, and had shown an aptitude for staying beyond 3 1/4 miles. He was also a French-bred, and French-bred jumpers are renowned for their staying ability, yet he went off at 100-1!

With your list of contenders whittled down to seven or eight, you are now ready to start studying the form seriously. Entries and form for the Grand National are available on www.racingpost.com. Post time on Saturday is 11:15 a.m. Eastern.