Racing UK

Phil Smith hits back after Gigginstown protest over Grand National weights

Thursday 16 February 2017

Don Poli

By Racinguk.com staff

One of the biggest owners in jump racing, Gigginstown, have become embroiled in a war of words with Phil Smith, the BHA handicapper, over the Randox Health Grand National weights.

Gigginstown won the world's most famous race with Rule The World last year and entered 16 horses for this year's £1 million showpiece.

However, Eddie O'Leary, racing manager for his brother Michael's Gigginstown House Stud, claims Smith has been too harsh and that that they will run "very, very few of them". Their most high-profile absentee could be Don Poli, the favourite, who O'Leary has described as a "doubtful".

Smith hit back on Thursday, suggesting that Don Poli was actually 2lb well in.

A dual Cheltenham Festival winner when trained by Willie Mullins, Don Poli has finished second in the Lexus and third in the Irish Gold Cup on his last two outings.

Gigginstown won the Grand National last season with Mouse Morris' Rule The World but the then nine-year-old was retired swiftly after as connections felt he would never be given a fair crack of the whip in future Nationals.

Gigginstown is responsible for three of the top four in the weights for the Aintree showpiece but Elliott has already ruled top-weight Outlander out of the race, Empire Of Dirt has either the Ryanair or Gold Cup at Cheltenham as his main aim and it now appears there is little chance of Don Poli heading to Liverpool.

O'Leary told the Irish Independent: "Gordon has announced Outlander would not run, the simple reason he was given far too much weight - a higher mark than any horse who ran in the race in recent years.

"He (Phil Smith) wants to compress the weights so better horses get more of a chance, and that's fair enough. Yet our three top horses got 2lb more from a guy who wants to compress the weights.

"A handicapper is meant to be impartial. What I'd call the National now is a pre-Brexit, post-Brexit handicap.

"That denied him (Rule The World) a chance to come back. He's as sound and as fit as could be.

"We'll run very, very few in the race. Don Poli is doubtful, while Outlander is ruled out. Empire Of Dirt won't go."

Smith endeavoured to answer the criticism and explain his thinking when speaking on At The Races.

He said: "First of all, Rule The World - he (O'Leary) wouldn't know what I gave him because he's retired and wasn't entered in the race this year, so that's a little bit of speculation.

"But let's go with Don Poli and all those other horses at the top - they're actually 2lb lower than I had them, not 2lb higher and that's the first piece of misinformation. Let's take Don Poli, he was rated 165 in last year's end-of-season Anglo-Irish jumps classification. That was agreed by both myself and Noel (O'Brien, Irish handicapper).

"Since then, Don Poli has finished second in the Lexus and third in the Irish Gold Cup, so I still have him on 165. For running two cracking races in Grade Ones, I still have him on 165. I've compressed him by 2lb, as I have all the other top three or four horses.

"It (handicap) is all built around Don Poli being 165, it's straightforward, not difficult at all.

"All of those top horses have been compressed by 2lb. I think the bookmakers have clearly twigged that, because I've got a funny feeling Don Poli is currently favourite in the race - they've twigged he is 2lb lower and not 2lb higher and they are pretty shrewd operators, I think.

"We keep our own Irish ratings, the question is should we? From our handicapping point of view, we spend around an extra 18 hours a week, that's about three hours a week for each of our six jumps handicappers - that we don't have to do - to keep separate Irish ratings. We do it because we want our handicaps to be as competitive as possible.

"It's the same with all ratings organisations - are Timeform's exactly the same as ours? Of course they're not. You often get different interpretations of races, that's just the way of the world.

"Ours are different from Ireland, it doesn't mean they are right or they are wrong. The most important thing is to be consistent with yourself.

"We have to merge two entirely different cohorts into one large handicap. Of course, we can take the lazy way out and say 'let's put them in off their Irish rating', and years and years and years ago we used to do that, with amazingly successful results for Irish trainers, and so English trainers said to us 'we think you should keep your own Irish ratings'.

"The thinking behind that is we will be treating those horses and handicapping those horses the same way as we do with the English. That's an explanation as to why we do it."

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