By Geoffrey Riddle
Phil Smith has admitted that Gordon Elliott’s Bless The Wings has given him the most trouble when framing the weights for the Randox Health Grand National for the 20th and final time.
Blaklion, the 10-1 favourite, has been allotted 11st 6lb following his 12-length victory in the Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree in December.
Bless The Wings, who defeated Cantlow over the Cross Country course at Cheltenham by two and a half lengths in December, has been allotted 10st 2lb, and is a generally available 50-1 to become the first 13-year-old to prevail since Sergeant Murphy in 1923.
“The most difficult horse for me to assess, no doubt about it, was Bless The Wings,” the official handicapper said. “The reason being was that he is rated 17lb higher on his Cheltenham cross country form compared to his rating in Ireland.Bless The Wings bids to become the third 13-year-old winner of the National (PA)
“The form of the cross country races at Cheltenham has historically been very good in relation to Aintree with the likes of Silver Birch, Balthazar King and Cause Of Causes.
“On the one hand, Bless The Wings’ rating of 137 in Ireland would not get him in the race but 154, his cross country rating, seemed to me to be too high compared to his form on park courses.
“In the end, I settled on 143 as a compromise which should hopefully get him in the race. He is a very interesting horse – even though he is a 13-year-old. He is an absolutely super jumper and his cross country form is very good indeed.”
Smith believes that there is the less discrepancy between English and Irish ratings than ever before and a trio of top-class Irish raiders have plummeted down the handicap.
Carlingford Lough, who was joint top-weight back in 2015, is on 10st 11lb for the world’s most valuable chase that will be staged at 5.15pm on Saturday, April 14. Lord Windermere, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, has 10st 3lb, while Road To Riches is on 10st 1lb this year compared to 10st 13lb last year.
Of the total entry of 105 horses, 40 are trained in Ireland, with Willie Mullins’s Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall (14-1) spearheading his challenge of ten entries off 11st 1lb. Mullins’s entries include promising novice Rathvinden (10st 9lb, 50-1), Pleasant Company (10st 7lb, 50-1) and Polidam (10st 5lb, 40-1).The ill-fated Many Clouds was the last Ladbrokes Trophy winner to go on to win the National at Aintree (PA)
Elliott also has ten entries with multiple Group One scorer Outlander set to carry the most weight of the 11 Gigginstown House Stud-owned contenders on 11st 8lb and is 40-1. Others to note for Michael O’Leary’s operation include Elliott’s National Hunt Chase hero Tiger Roll (10st 9lb, 50-1) and Valseur Lido (Henry de Bromhead, 11st 5lb, 40-1).
Elliott also saddles last year’s runner-up Cause Of Causes (10st 12lb, 25-1), who is one of seven entries for owner J P McManus. The leading owner also could feature recent Irish Gold Cup hero Edwulf (11st 9lb, 25-1), last year’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup second Minella Rocco (11st 7lb, 20-1) and Anibale Fly (11st 4lb, 33-1).
On the difference between English and Irish ratings Smith said: “The biggest difference we do have is with Pleasant Company (10st 7lb) who was going really well last year before making a terrible error at Valentine’s on the second circuit (25th). After that, he just coasted home and finished ninth.
“I didn’t feel I needed to drop Pleasant Company very much for Aintree this year because of that one bad error – his finishing position was not commensurate with how he actually ran on the day. I have him 3lb higher than his Irish rating.”
Although Definitly Red tops the weights, Smith hopes he arrives at the Merseyside venue with a top performance at the Cheltenham Festival under his girth.Definitly Red bids to become the first winner trained in the north of England since Auroras Encore won for Sue Smith in 2013. (PA)
“It will be great if Definitly Red lines up on April 14, because I am confident that he will have already at least been placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup by then,” he said.
“In what looks like an open Cheltenham Gold Cup, I think he will finish in the first four. “In the past, horses at the top of the handicap have been very worthy horses, such as horses that had run well in Gold Cups for example, but were perhaps horses on their way down. The progressive horses at the top of the handicap is the biggest change for me when looking at this year’s race.”
He added: "In terms of getting a run on April 14 (there are a maximum of 40 runners), I would say you have a reasonable chance if you are in the top 70, which is down to 10st 2lb. There are six horses in total on 10st 1lb and 10st. Connections of these horses should run and get their marks up as a priority to get to the top of their respective weight groups.
"The median rating this year is 145 - it was 146 last year and 144 in 2016, so it is well within the normal range."
Position required in the weights at entry to gain a run in th Randox Health Grand National since 2000:
2000: 81st 2001: 79th 2002: 68th 2003: 77th 2004: 95th 2005: 75th 2006: 76th 2007: 75th 2008: 71st 2009: 74th 2010: 79th 2011: 70th 2012: 72nd 2013: 76th 2014: 76th 2015: 67th 2016: 59th 2017: 71st