The ongoing feud between Gigginstown House Stud and the Grand National Handicapper, Phil Smith, continued this week as eight horses from the yard were withdrawn from this year’s spectacle.
Fifteen horses in total were withdrawn at this stage however, it is likely that the Gigginstown no-shows will receive the majority of the attention.
Star contenders Empire of Dirt, Don Poli and Outlander are amongst the horses from the yard that will not be competing in the April 8 race.
Devil’s Bride, Clarcam, Tiger Roll, A Toi Phil and The Game Changer were also removed from the list by Gigginstown chiefs with just eight horses from the yard remaining in contention for the Aintree showcase.
These removals aren’t entirely unexpected, as Outlander’s trainer Gordon Elliot said the horse wouldn’t run as soon as the handicap weights were announced. Gigginstown boss Michael O’Leary also expressed serious dissatisfaction at Phil Smith’s handicapping, stating that he would only send a couple of his horses to compete in the flagship race.
O’Leary even accused Smith of an anti-Irish bias, while racing manager for the stud, Eddie O’Leary called the race a ‘Pre Brexit/Post Brexit handicap'. Smith strongly denies these claims, stating that the system used levels out the playing field.
A statement released by the handicapper read: “This is in no way a comment on our colleagues in Ireland. It is purely for consistency purposes – handicapping will always be subjective and it makes sense for every runner in handicaps in Britain to be assessed by British handicappers using identical methodology.
“Since switching approaches the strike rate of British and Irish runners have levelled out with the Irish strike-rate remaining marginally higher at 11 per cent compared to 10 per cent for British runners”.
Fifteen horses were removed from the race at this stage of entry. The non-Gigginstown horses that were taken from the list were Champagne West, Devils Bride, Triolo D'Alene, Vieux Morvan, Gallant Oscar, Tour Des Champs, Dromnea and Otago Trail. That has left 95 entries going forward.
However, the maximum field for the day is just 40. Now that Outlander, Champagne West, Empire of Dirt and Don Poli no longer remain in the running, Carlingford Lough will take up the mantle of top weight with last year’s second place finisher The Last Samurai next on the list.
Meanwhile, Vieux Lion Rouge is the favourite for the race with ante-post odds of around 10-1. The David Pipe trained horse won a Grand National Trial in Haydock late last year and is fancied to be among the front-runners in Aintree too.
With a race that has so many strong runners and that is sure to be a great contest, it is a pity that the main talking points are surrounding matters outside of the racetrack.
With some luck, the world famous yard and the British Handicappers Association will resolve the difficulties and this won’t be an ongoing matter.