Grand National top weight Outlander ruled out by Gordon Elliott
Tuesday 14 February 2017
Outlander was announced as a probable non-runner in the Randox Health Grand National just minutes after being unveiled at the head of the weights for the Aintree spectacular.
The Gordon Elliott-trained nine-year-old, who was last seen winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, was given the steadier of 11st 10lb for the world's most famous steeplechase during a ceremony at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London on Tuesday evening.
Hosted by ITV's Ed Chamberlin, the weights were revealed on a big screen in groups of 10 from the bottom of the 109-strong field, before the top 10 horses were shown individually.
However, only moments after Outlander's name was put up in lights, Elliott dismissed any chance of him lining up on April 8.
"He won't be running," said the trainer, who was thrust into the limelight when claiming National glory with Silver Birch 10 years ago.
The Cullentra handler, who has this season emerged as a major threat to Willie Mullins in the race to be crowned champion in Ireland, has a formidable hand of 14 entries in total, more than any other trainer.
Don Poli, ante-post favourite with some bookmakers, is fourth in the weights on 11st 7lb. His stable companion Empire Of Dirt, who was narrowly ahead of Don Poli when runner-up to Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, is just above him on 11st 8lb.
Lord Scoundrel (11st), Clarcam (10st 12lb) and Roi Des Francs (10st 12lb) are other possible representatives for Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud. Gigginstown, the racing operation run by Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary, won the National for the first time last April with Rule The World and have 16 contenders this time around.
Elliott, who has another leading hope in Ucello Conti, said: "It's nice to have a few runners in the race and we will see what happens. I'm probably a little bit disappointed that a few of the top weights are carrying 2lb more in England than they would in Ireland.
"Empire Of Dirt will run in the Gold Cup and we will see what happens after that.
Watch a full replay of last year's Grand National below:
"Don Poli definitely runs. He is in good nick at the moment and he's got solid Grade One form. We are planning to run him in the Gold Cup, then the Grand National.
"Lord Scoundrel will go for the Irish Grand National this year, at the moment. He had a hard enough season through the summer so we have just freshened him up a bit.
"Ucello Conti deserves a big handicap and he is one we are mapping out for Aintree. I think Ucello Conti at 10st 7lb has got a chance of going well.
"Don Poli has got the class but always finds one to beat him."
Phil Smith, the British Horseracing Authority's head of handicapping, revealed the Irish Gold Cup had a significant impact on the National weights.
He said: "When I get the entries, I have a train of thought and then something happens which means I have to change that.
"The race at Leopardstown on Sunday had a big bearing on the weights. It was the crucial race, two days before the weights, which had a big effect on the top of the handicap."
Disputing favouritism with Don Poli is last year's runner-up The Last Samuri. Kim Bailey's nine-year-old carried 10st 8lb when chasing home Rule The World, but is this year set to carry 11st 5lb.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Champagne West, so impressive under a big weight in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last month and bound for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, is the second horse on the list with 11st 9lb.
Watch a full replay of this season's Becher Chase below:
Currently the last horse guaranteed a place in the 40-strong line-up is David Pipe's Vieux Lion Rouge (10st 7lb), winner of the Becher Chase over the famous fences in December.
Other leading contenders include Jimmy Moffatt's Becher runner-up Highland Lodge (10st 6lb), Neil Mulholland's bet365 Gold Cup hero The Young Master (10st 8lb), Lucinda Russell's Classic Chase winner One For Arthur (10st 6lb) and John Kiely's dual Irish Gold Cup scorer Carlingford Lough (11st 6lb).
Of the 109 horses left in the big race, 37 are trained in Ireland. The only French-trained entry is Vieux Morvan (10st 2lb).
The Aintree spectacular is the only handicap of the year where Smith has absolute discretion to deviate from normal handicap ratings when determining the weights.
Smith, who has handicapped the Grand National every year since 1999, hailed this year's renewal as the classiest ever.
He said: "The percentage of horses rated over 135 entered in 2017 is 88 per cent, which is the highest ever. 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 (17) having 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.
"The top of the handicap is dominated by Irish-trained horses, which is a symbol of the respective strength of Irish and UK jump racing.
"I think that every horse down to and including the French horse, who is rated 144, has every chance of getting in."