What’s the word on who will win the 2021 Grand National? Have you received a hot tip from a guy who knows a guy down the pub? Or have you studied the form and come up with a sure winner?

Maybe like the majority of us you’ve struggled to narrow down all the potential runners taking part. Well, what if some clever boffin came up with a formula to pick the winner? A few years back, a Cambridge University academic called William Hartston, did exactly that. He published his choice for the Grand National in 2013 based on his formula. So how did he do?

The Approach

His approach was purely scientific. It didn’t take into account the statistical history of each horse, course form or anything that would give you an insight into the runner’s ability to win.

In fact, Hartston based his analysis on the names of previous Grand National winners rather than their form.

He looked at the previous 174 years of the race and devised a scoring system that looks at the frequency of letters appearing in the names of the winners for each year.

So which horse was predicted using Mr Hartson’s method?

According to his formula the letters S, R, M, and C appear most frequently in winner’s names. He also determined that it is also more likely that a horse will win if its name is a single word. So in 2013 he predicted that the winner would be SEABASS.

The Formula

As we’ve mentioned, part of the formula involved the frequency of certain letters in a runners name. Apparently he “looked at the number of letters in a horse’s name and the name’s first letter, the number of words the name contains and the horse’s age”.

His system scored horses on a scale of up to 16 points; horses with one-word names beginning with the letters R, A, S or M and consisting of eight or 10 letters scored well. The system apparently also took age into account, which seems reasonable, but not the many other factors you might expect.

So using that theory he chose Seabass as the potential winner. We all now know that while Seabass ran an incredible race and finished third, he didn’t actually win.

The Twist In The Tale

So was it all scientific or was there more to the William Hartston story? Given that ‘the study’ was commissioned by a bookmaker, it seems like more of a PR stunt than anything else. The story was also picked up by several national media outlets and was published on April 2nd. That alone made people suspicious that it was nothing more than a late April Fool’s joke.

The Grand National is a complicated and difficult race to win. Sure, there are ways to narrow down the field using trends and statistics but counting the frequency of letters in a horse’s name? I don’t think so.

But the Gogglebox star was back again in 2014 this time predicting the win for Monbeg Dude. He studied the statistics from every single Grand National which has taken place since 1886 and used his complex formula to make the prediction. Incidentally, Monbeg Dude finished 7th that year but did go on to place third in 2015.

Sadly there is no magic formula to predicting a Grand National Winner. That is why a 100/1 outsider has almost as much chance as the favourite to win. It’s the unpredictability that makes it so great.

The 2021 Grand National

With the entries and weights out for this year’s renewal, millions of us will be considering a bet on our favourite. But how do you choose?

We have all heard of a story of someone backing the winner because they had the same name of a much-loved grandparent or the name of their first pet, or even because the jockey’s silks were the same colour as a favourite football team.

I genuinely heard of a person who backed Tiger Roll because it was her mother’s favourite bread! To each their own. If you prefer something slightly more grounded in reality then check out our tips on how to pick a winner here.



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