Aintree Racecourse

The Road To Aintree - Grand National Weights

Last Wednesday was billed as Phil Smith’s handicapping swan song, the Grand National weights revealing day for the race he had presided over for the last twenty years, and despite a few technical hitches along the way we now have a definitive set of handicap marks.

Definitly Red, the winner of the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham last month, heads the handicap with 11st 10lb off a rating of 165.

"I sort of expected him to be top-weight really. He's rated 167 so they couldn't do much else.

"The Gold Cup is the plan. We'll get that out of the way and see about Aintree after that.

"He's in great form at home. I couldn't be happier with him” said Brian Ellison.

Blaklion, the current bookies joint favourite at 12/1, has been allotted 11st 6lb following his impressive victory in the Becher Handicap Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree in December.

He reportedly is none the worse for his exhausting run at Haydock on Saturday and he now heads straight to Aintree.

"He's fine, he's 100 per cent," said Twiston-Davies.

"He's going straight for the National. He's not going to Cheltenham. We're saving him for Aintree."

“He will be ridden differently at Aintree this year. He was beaten eight lengths last year and there was no blame on Noel (Fehily) at all, but he kicked on a mile from home. Maybe if you don't kick on a mile from home that eight lengths could be found.”

The Last Samuri currently sits ninth in the weights' list with 11st 4lb off a rating of 159.

Trained by Kim Bailey for owners Paul and Clare Rooney, The Last Samuri finished second behind Rule The World in the 2016 running of the world's greatest steeplechase.

The 10-year-old finished runner-up to Blaklion in the Becher Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree earlier in the season and was last seen out to good effect in the Cotswold Chase.

Bailey, who won the National with Mr Frisk in 1990, said: "The Last Samuri's weight is what we were expecting given his rating.

"If the weights stay as they are and don't rise, I think he would have more of a chance.

"I have been very happy with him since Cheltenham and he will have a prep race somewhere between now and Aintree.

"We have got several options, but there are no firm plans as we will have to see what the weather does first.

"The Last Samuri doesn't need to have a prep race, but we are lining up to have one at the moment."

Last year's runner-up Cause Of Causes (10st 12lb), trained by Gordon Elliott, is one of seven entries for owner J P McManus, who also has the recent Irish Gold Cup scorer Edwulf (Joseph O'Brien, 11st 9lb), last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup second Minella Rocco (Jonjo O'Neill, 11st 7lb) and Anibale Fly (Tony Martin, 11st 4lb).

Elliott is currently mob handed with a total of ten runners entered but this list will be probably whittled down to a maximum of five come April time. As of the weights revealing day he has: Outlander (11st 8lb), Mala Beach (11st 3lb), Noble Endeavor (10st 13lb), Cause Of Causes (10st 12lb), Tiger Roll (10st 9lb), Ucello Conti (10st 6lb), Bless The Wings (10st 2lb), General Principle (9st 12lb), Out Sam (9st 3lb), Poormans Hill (8st 7lb).

Asked about his intended runners, Elliott replied: "I wouldn't like to second guess Michael O'Leary about the Gigginstown horses. If I was a betting man, I would say Outlander's most likely target is the Punchestown Gold Cup. The handicapper has a job to do and you won't hear me complaining.

"I'd imagine I will run Cause Of Causes, Noble Endeavor, Ucello Conti and Tiger Roll. They would be the four at the moment. Bless The Wings could also go if he gets in.

"You'd have to imagine Cause Of Causes is the principal one. He was second in the race last year and he looks like he has a lovely weight with 10st 12lb there again. I'm not complaining and I'd imagine he will go for the cross-country again at Cheltenham.

"Noble Endeavor will have one run and then go for the National and that will definitely be in Ireland.

"Ucello Conti is going to go straight to the race and Tiger Roll will run in the cross-country race at Cheltenham, all being well."

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Dr Richard Newland and owner John Provan combined to land the 2014 race with Pineau de Re. This year they have purchased another interesting contender in Abolitionist (10st 4lb), who finished third in last season's Irish Grand National. Abolitionist is 51st on the list off a mark of 145, and looks a safe bet to get into the race proper.

Dr Newland said: "I bought him for the race in the autumn and although he had a little stress fracture he's over it now and I'm hoping to run him at the weekend over hurdles at Ascot.

"He's got to get through Ascot for a start then he needs to run over fences, probably in the Kim Muir, but it's very much our intention to train him for the National and I think he has the right profile.”

33/1 says that he has the right profile for the race according to the bookmakers

There is every chance that Phil Smith may have left some lucky owners attached to the Gordon Elliott stable a small parting gift.

Smith explained his reasoning behind one of his many quandaries: "Bless The Wings is rated 17lb higher on his Cheltenham cross-country form compared to his rating in Ireland, and 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. He's a very interesting horse – even though he's 13. He is an absolutely super jumper and his cross-country form is very good indeed."

At number 66 in the pecking order it will be touch and go whether the thirteen-year-old will make the final cut, but at 50/1 for a horse that has never fallen in his career, he is certainly worth an ante-post flutter.

 

*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*