Handicappers' blog

Head Handicapper at the British Horseracing Authority, Phil Smith has some words on the last Grand National he will frame before retirement. Phil announces this year’s top weight and has some interesting data based on past Nationals.

  • Wednesday 14 February
  • Blog
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Red Definitly different from some recent top weights in the Randox Health Grand National

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have been the Handicapper of the Grand National for the last twenty years and I am excited by the inclusion of Definitly Red as this year’s top weight as he is still a horse who is progressing, writes Phil Smith. His win in the Cotswold Chase has set him up for the Gold Cup first and then onwards to Aintree.

The race has been blessed with some outstanding top weights in recent years but most of them had already achieved their greatest success by the time they were entered for Aintree. Definitly Red started the season on 149 but will run at Aintree off 165.

Equally, the joint second top weights, Bristol De Mai and Edwulf are on their highest ever rating. Bristol De Mai started the season on 159 but following his win in the Betfair Chase he will run off 164 at Liverpool, while Edwulf began the season under a cloud but has been resurrected by his trainer and has progressed from 153 to a new high of 164. Who knows where those three rising stars might end up.

In most years, Outlander would be a worthy top weight. He has won Grade 1’s in Ireland over 3 miles and this season has been placed in their two top Grade 1 staying chases. The quality of this year’s contest means he has only 11st 8lb to carry. In the first Grand National I assessed he would have been on 12 stone.

Thanks to the amazing work of everyone at Aintree and the generosity of the sponsors, the improvement in the quality of the horses entered in the race has continued to rise. In 2003, 45% of the original entries were rated at 135+. This year 90% of the 104 qualified to run are at 135+.

At this point, 73% of the field are in the handicap and I would be amazed if anything runs from out of the handicap on the day. In 1999 there was not a full field as only 32 horses turned up on the day and 18 of them were out of the handicap. Over the subsequent years it has been increasingly difficult to get a run in the race.

Last year a horse needed to be 71st in the original weights to get a run on the big day. This year the horses on 10st 2lb take the field size to 70. It will be tricky to get a run lower than that. Horses on 10st 2lb and below need to be running well over the next couple of months to project themselves to the top of their weight to get priority in the elimination sequence.

Currently, the favourite is Blaklion and it is not difficult to see why. Coming across the Melling Road for the second time last season he looked much like the winner but didn’t quite last home. Subsequently, he won the Becher Chase and is now rated 161. Despite being favourite, it will still be a big ask to win the race as only Many Clouds (off 160) has been a winner off that sort of mark since Red Rum.

Definitly Red wins the Cotswold Chase
Definitly Red in action winning the Cotswold Chase

The 19 winners in my time as the Handicapper have come from a variety of different origins. 7 have been trained in Ireland and 12 have been trained in Great Britain. Four have been trained in the North of England and one in Scotland.

One has been trained by the Champion trainer and one by the son of a Champion trainer. There have been winning trainers with over 200 horses and others with a handful. That is a great aspect of the National, once you are in the forty anything can win.

In 2005, Hedgehunter became the first horse to carry 11st+ to victory since 1988. Since then another five have carried that burden, so now there are no horses that can reasonably be said to have an impossible task at the weights.

All that is needed now is for the finish on 14th April to resemble that of Neptune Collonges’s last gasp success back in 2012 rather the one when Red Marauder won in 2001!

Handicappers' blog
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