THE BHA HANDICAPPERS
Weblog: View from the team behind the official ratings
National weights just out but four already well-in
Head of handicapping Phil Smith blogs about the Grand National weights released last week...
Last Tuesday on Valentine's Brook Day at the Savoy Hotel in London I revealed the John Smith's Grand National weights for the race at Aintree which will take place exactly two months later. Most of the trainers were reasonably happy with the weight allocated to their horses as many had done their own calculations based around Ballabriggs being top weight or nearly top weight.
Head of handicapping Phil SmithPICTURE: John Grossick
As it happened I chose Synchronised as top weight. I just felt that his overall profile as a Welsh National winner and a Grade 1 Lexus winner gave him the edge over Ballabriggs. Since we lowered the top weight to 11st 10lbs trainers have been much happier about running under top weight than in the past and both Donald McCain and Jonjo O'Neill spoke encouragingly about their chances.
The only trainer who was in any way critical was Dessie Hughes who felt I had not been fair to Black Apalachi. He was second off 154 in 2010 and was agreed in the 2009-2010 Anglo-Irish Jumps Classifications on 159 which is what he would have run off if he had been fit enough in 2011. As he had been off for so long and the horse that beat him (Don't Push It) was not in the race I dropped him back to 154.
In effect he is 5lbs worse with State Of Play for beating that horse in to third place by 20 lengths. It makes you wonder what Dessie felt would have been a fair differential for those two horses. Meet on the same terms? Give State of Play 1lb, 2lbs, 3lbs, 4lbs, more than he did in 2010? I have to be fair to all horses and if I had dropped Black Apalachi any further then I believe Evan Williams would have had cause for complaint. As it happened Dessie seemed unaware that I had dropped Black Apalachi at all!
Dropping horses for long absences is NOT a given. We always look at their form before they were injured and if they were struggling then they often get a large drop (sometimes as much as 12lbs). However if they were running well and the form still looks solid then often they are not dropped at all. Our results with horses coming back after a long absenceare very encouraging. Perhaps Dessie thought that second in the 2010 Grand National wasn't good form.
Inevitably with a two month early closing race horses entered in the race suddenly start to appear and a number ran over the last week some very encouragingly. First up was Burton Port. I had dropped him 6lbs (166 to 160) for his absence because the form of the 2010 Hennessy had not worked out. Diamond Harryhas disappointed and had dropped from 168 to 160. Denman has retired while the fourth and fifth The Tother One and Niche Market have both dropped a stone since running at Newbury.
Owing to the compression at the top of the John Smith's Grand National weights he received a further 2lbs so he is on 158 in the race. This looked neat as an average winner goes up 8lbs, so if Burton Port could replicate his 2010 Hennessy second he could win the National. Clearly he has been expertly brought back to top form by the owner's racing manager Mick Meagher and his trainer Nicky Henderson. I assessed the Denman Chase through The Giant Bolster, a wide margin winner of a competitive handicap at Cheltenham on his previousrun and now on 160.
Therefore I had What A Friend running to 161 (160 +7 lengths -6lbs) and he has been dropped to a rating of 165. It was an encouraging run by him after an absence but it is now 11 months since he was fourth in last year's Gold Cup and I have dropped him to 165 behind Burton Port who is restored to his post Hennessy 166 (160 +11 lengths ahead of The Giant Bolster -6lbs weight differential +1lb for the error as he stuttered into the last fence).
Asa result Burton Port is now 8lbs well in for the John Smith's Grand National. In February 2010 I had him on 158 and his trainer told me that I had ruined the horse's future. Since then he has won a Reynoldstown, been second in an RSA, won a Mildmay, beensecond in a Hennessy and finished second in a Denman Chase. Not bad for a horse I had supposedly ruined.
Long Run I have performing to 178. Burton Port's 166 +10lbs weight and I called the half a length as 2lbs as like his owner I believe Long Run was idling in front. There has been some total nonsense written that it was a disappointing run. For me it was an excellent trial for the Gold Cup. Last year Long Run improved 3lbs from 179 in the King George to 182 in the Gold Cup and I have no doubt he will do at least the same again this year between the Denman Chase and the Gold Cup so he is sure to run at least in the low 180's under his optimum conditions including going up the hill three times and over 2.5 furlongs further.
The big question is can Kauto Star replicate his Kempton 183 in the King George at Christmas at Cheltenham in March? He will have to if he is to win the race. So far his performances in the Gold Cup have been 172, 174, 186, 0 and 169. He did it in 2009, it will be fascinating to see if he can do it in 2012.
On Saturday at Ascot I thought Massini's Maguire ran an excellent trial for the John Smith's Grand National. He is now 6lbs well in for Aintree as like Burton Port I have restored him to a mark he has already been in the past (148 to 154). Just when it looked as if he was going to get caught he stayed on dourly, expertly ridden by Tom Scudamore who hardly ever gets a mention in the press but who I think is a top, top jockey. In the same race Cappa Bleu showed his 147 will make him competitive at Aintree and must also have pleased connections. His form this year is bomb proof.
At Haydock, Giles Cross who is Mr Consistent won the Betfred Grand National Trial by a neck but it was a cosy neck as the jockey was pretty motionless and I called it 3lbs. He is now 6lbs well in at Aintree (138 to 144). Neptune Collonges was staying on all the time confirming what I thought in his previous run at Sandown that he will be well suited to 4.5 miles. He was moved from 159 to 162 but because I had compressed him at Aintree to 157 he is now 5lbs well in. Finally you couldn't rule out Le Beau Bai who stays on 140 and who looked as if he needed at least another mile at Haydock which is much more of a speed track nowadays despite the heavy ground.
So four days after I released the weights for the 2012 John Smith's Grand National there are four horses that are now well in. Burton Port by 8lbs, Massini's Maguire by 6lbs, Giles Cross by 6lbs, and Neptune Collonges by 5lbs. In 1999 when I did my first National I used to panic when horses showed they were well in subsequent to my release of the weights. I am more relaxed nowadays as obviously they are not all going to win. However a dead heat would be nice.
This blog appears courtesy of britishhorseracing.com