Outlander: the Lexus Chase winner heads the weights
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
By Jon Lees 9:00PM 14 FEB 2017
GORDON ELLIOTT, Ireland’s leading jumps trainer this season, dominated the weights for the Randox Health Grand National revealed on Tuesday night with a sensational 11 of the top 40 in the running for the Aintree spectacular.
However, he was quick to rule Outlander, top weight for the race with a BHA rating of 166, out of the contest. The nine-year-old, who is being aimed at the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, is one of three chasers in the top four of the weights trained by Elliott and owned, like last year’s winner Rule The World, by Gigginstown House Stud. Elliott, who won the race with Silver Birch in 2007, is also responsible for Empire Of Dirt and Don Poli on 11st 8lb and 11st 7lb.
Champagne West, impressive winner of the Thyestes Chase last time, has been allotted 11st 9lb and Carlingford Lough is on 11st 6lb in an all-Irish domination of the first five slots in the field for the April 8 prize.
Ante-post favourite The Last Samuri, the Kim Bailey-trained runner-up of 12 months ago, is next with 11st 5lb, having carried 10st 8lb last year. The 14-year-old Vics Canvas, third last year, is 1lb lower on 10st 5lb.
The Grand National is the only handicap of the year for which the weights can deviate from normal handicap ratings. They were unveiled on Tuesday night at a ceremony held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
BHA head of handicapping Phil Smith has total discretion and the final word on the weight allocated to each horse. Although there is no contender of the level of former National winner Many Clouds, rated 172 at the time of his death, Smith said the overall depth of the field is at a record high.
Smith, who has handicapped the field every year since 1999, said the outcome of Sunday’s Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, in which Empire Of Dirt, Don Poli and Carlingford Lough were second, third and fourth, had a significant bearing on the look of the top of the handicap. He has rated Outlander, who beat Don Poli on his last start, on 166.
Don Poli: could form part of a strong Gigginstown assault
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
“The percentage of horses rated over 135 entered in 2017 is 88 per cent, which is the highest ever,” he said. “The previous highest percentage of horses in this category was 85 per cent.
“Significantly, the number of horses rated above 150 stands at a record level, with 34 horses falling into that category. If you go back a decade to 2007, there were only half that number  with a rating of 150 or higher at the time the weights were unveiled.
“The median rating for all entries in this year’s Randox Health Grand National is 146, which again is the highest ever, and if you go back to 2007 it was 137.”
Who will make the cut?
Last year the lowest-weighted horse to get a run in the race was 59th on the list at the time the weights were unveiled.
Among the horses below that potential cutoff point are two Irish Grand National winners, Rogue Angel (60th) and Shutthefrontdoor (62nd), Topham Trophy and Hennessy Gold Cup winner Triolo D’Alene (67th) and Bet365 Gold Cup winner Hadrian’s Approach (75th).
“For years and years, horses in the mid-70s at the time of the weights managed to run on the day, while in 2015 it dropped to 67 and then 59 last year,” Smith added.
“I would be a bit surprised to see it as low as 59 again this year, but I would expect it to be somewhere in the 60s, especially as we know a lot of the entries will be running between now and Aintree. Where exactly in the 60s is in the lap of the gods.
“The top of the handicap is dominated by Irish-trained horses, which is a symbol of the respective strengths of Irish and UK jump racing.”
Assured a start is Definitly Red, winner of the Rowland Meyrick Chase, who with 10st 7lb is 35th on the list. He unseated on his latest start in the Peter Marsh Chase but trainer Brian Ellison said: “Definitly Red looks to have a good racing weight, doesn’t he? I’m happy with that. The horse is fine after unseating at Haydock. I think he probably would have been second had he stayed up. It was just one of those things.
“He’s in great form at the moment and is likely to go to Kelso [Listed Premier Chase] or Doncaster [Grimthorpe Chase] in a couple of weeks. After that, we’ll give him a school over some Grand National fences and, if he takes to them, he’ll probably head to Aintree.”
Raz De Maree finished a length and three-quarters behind leading Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Native River when runner-up last time in the Welsh Grand National, having landed the Cork version in November.
With 10st 4lb he is 55th on the list of entries and trainer Gavin Cromwell said: “I’m happy with the 10st 4lb allotted to Raz De Maree. That’s a nice racing weight and hopefully he should get into the race.
“The horse is in grand form and the plan is for him to run next in the Eider Chase at Newcastle before going on to Aintree.
“He stayed on well when he ran in the race before [eighth in 2014]. A little bit of juice in the ground would suit him as he just lacks a gear but has plenty of stamina.”
Raring to go
Lucinda Russell on Tuesday night said she could not wait for the Cheltenham Festival to be over with as she trains her sights on securing Scotland’s first Grand National winner since 1979.
One For Arthur: Scotland’s big hope won the Classic Chase at Warwick
PICTURE: Getty Images
Russell trains One For Arthur, winner of Warwick’s Classic Chase, who was allotted 10st 6lb in the weights for the world famous jumps race.
At 45 in the list of 109 entries he is almost certain to get a run in the £1 million contest last won for Scotland by Rubstic.
Russell, who trains in Kinross north of Edinburgh, said: “At the start of the season we decided he was only going to have three or four races and this is the fourth one coming up. We have kept him since he won at Warwick specifically for the Grand National.
“In both the Becher Chase and at Warwick he was nearly brought down. He had his nose on the ground. We’ve had two bits of luck and are looking for a third bit.
“It is very important for us and I think it is wonderful we have a decent horse to do it with. I am delighted for the owners and delighted for Scotland. It’s a great honour to have a horse in the race.
“The Grand National is all we are thinking about. We have the whole yard aiming to get him to the race in the right condition. I can’t wait for Cheltenham to be over and get on to Aintree. It’s the race that we have always wanted to win.”
At 20-1 One For Arthur, owned by Two Golf Widows, is the joint-third favourite in ante-post betting in which Don Poli and last year’s runner-up The Last Samuri vie for the head of the market on 16-1.