Grand National 2016: “This is the highest-quality National I have rated,” says BHA head handicapper

Willie Mullins 2

Willie Mullins trains Don Poli.

By Simon Jackson.

The British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) head of handicapping Phil Smith says the field for this year’s Crabbie’s Grand National is the best he has handicapped.

The Grand National is the only race of the year where Smith has complete discretion over which weights to allocate as he is able to deviate from official handicap ratings.

Smith has made last year’s National winner Many Clouds top-weight on 11st 10lbs, one pound more than he carried last year.

The Willie Mullins-trained Don Poli is next at 11st 9lbs, Silviniaco Conti (11st 8lbs) and Carlingford Lough (11st 7lbs) and Smith admits the decision on who should carry top-weight was not initially straightforward.

“This is the highest-quality Grand National I have handicapped,” Smith admitted. “There is quantity, quality and depth. There are a record a record 86 horses rated 140 and above and 55 horses between 140 and 149 – they are the sort horses I like as they give depth to a handicap. There are also a record 19 horses rated 155 and above.

“I debated for a while about who would be top-weight because I am a big Don Poli fan. I think based on the result at Aintree last year it was only reasonable that Many Clouds is top-weight. Don Poli is a horse that I am very sweet on and I don’t think we have got anywhere near the bottom of him yet. He is the most fascinating horse in the race in my opinion.

“There are one or two horses that have got really good form over the last three or four months. Kruzhlinin is one and the horse he beat, La Reve, who has won subsequently which is something you like to see – it looks strong form. About a year ago I was talking to the sponsors about a horse called the Last Samuri and he has done nothing but improve.

“Five of the last seven winners have carried 11 stone or more but there are two or three really nice progressive horses further down the handicap this year who look interesting.

“I think realistically horses on 10st 2lb will get in the race and if you are on 10st 1lb or 10st my advice is to get running and get winning because by doing so you will get to the top of your weight division.

“Pineau De Re (10st 2lb) was one of three or four horses whose weight I adjusted. He would normally have been off 10st and is on 10st 2lb. I also adjusted another horse with course form, the Becher winner Highland Lodge.”

Read ‘Horse Talk with Simon Jackson’ at London24 for the latest horse racing news.