Smith defends National decisions
British Horseracing Authority Head of Handicapping Phil Smith has defended his handling of the weights for this year's John Smith's Grand National, and in particular, his decision to allow Tidal Bay the chance to race from a mark 9lb lower than his official rating.
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Trainer Ted Walsh appeared bemused by the situation, with last year's Seabass receiving only 8lb from Tidal Bay rather than the larger gulf that might have been expected on the basis of their ratings.
Smith is allowed to use his discretion for the National in order to attract higher-class horses to take their chance in handicap company and he frames the weights himself, taking into account various factors.
"He [Seabass] is carrying 11st 2lb this year - the last four winners have carried 11st plus - and he was third last year. Horses have a very good record coming back a second time, and I thought he had a reasonably good chance," Smith said.
Referring to Tidal Bay, he said: "The horse's real rating is 171 and he has achieved that twice this year in the Hennessy and in the Lexus.
"In this race he is going to run off 162 and the theory behind it is that if he can replicate his Lexus run, he has got a chance of winning. The problem is, it's a completely different race.
"It's four and a half miles over 30 fences. If I'd left it as it is, he'd probably have to perform to 180 to win it but he's a 12-year-old and I don't think anyone would believe he could perform to that level. So I've compressed his weight, and some of the other horses at the top, in order to give them a chance of winning."
However Walsh saw things differently and said: "I don't know how Seabass can get over 11st this year if Tidal Bay is rated 171 and my horse is rated 154.
"Whatever Phil Smith does, he does - it is immaterial to me and I can't change it. But you don't have to be a great mathematician to subtract 54 from 71."
Seabass returned to the racecourse for the first time since his gallant Aintree effort to run a staying-on second over two miles in a hurdle race at Fairyhouse last week.
Walsh said: "Seabass will run somewhere in the next three weeks to a month. There is just over seven weeks to Liverpool so I would like to get a run into him. The Bobbyjo Chase at Naas and the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton are possible targets."
Walsh, who won the National in 2000 with Papillon, said of Colbert Station: "Like Seabass, Colbert Station will possibly have one more run. I have no idea where he will go at this stage as he only recently ran. I would also be looking at running him in three weeks to a month's time, which will be ideal timing for the National."
The JP McManus-owned Colbert Station won a valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and followed up over hurdles at Punchestown, ridden on both occasions by Tony McCoy on testing ground.
Walsh said: "I wouldn't be worried about the ground for Colbert Station as it is never anything worse than good jumping ground at Aintree. He has 10st 6lb in the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton and is 3lb higher in England than he is in Ireland, which makes him worse off with Seabass in England."
Seabass was ridden by Walsh's daughter Katie last year, when she achieved the highest finishing place yet by a lady rider in the National. His son Ruby would appear to have a number of choices, while McCoy is retained rider for McManus.
On the subject of jockey plans, Walsh said: "The question of who will ride both horses is the least of my worries at the moment. My only worry is the two horses arrive at Liverpool in good form, healthy and well. Who rides them is a question for another day. I am not even thinking about it and there is no pressure on anybody.
"Nobody has to make their mind up until I have to declare for the race - I don't need to know if Tony McCoy is available or Ruby Walsh is available until they make their minds up, and at the declaration stage will do for me."
The National has once again attracted a far classier line-up than in years gone past, with dual Ryanair winner Albertas Run second top-weight in on 11st 8lb, and 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander on 11st 6lb.
"It's great for the race as the top three have won 10 Grade Ones between them," Smith said.
"We are always talking about wanting high-quality horses to run and set the high standard the race deserves. We've definitely got that this year with Tidal Bay, Albertas Run and Imperial Commander.
"In Imperial Commander, I never thought I'd have a Gold Cup winner that wasn't top or second top weight. Who's to say how good he is, because we've only seen him race once in the last two years."
Smith said three horses had given him particular trouble as he made his decisions.
"Imperial Commander was one, as his comeback run wasn't anything like as good as I thought he was capable of achieving," he said.
"The job of the handicapper is to provide a puzzle which is difficult for the public to solve, and hopefully I've done that with him.
"The others were unusually further down the weights in Wyck Hill and The Rainbow Hunter. Wyck Hill won a race at Ascot some time ago which looked a nothing race at the time and I only put him up 4lb but the second horse Katenko has gone onwards and upwards and I've had to put Wyck Hill up twice while standing in his box. After Katenko won the other day, I thought about putting him up a third time but I really only do that in very exceptional circumstances.
"The Rainbow Hunter is almost a carbon copy, except that he was pulled up on his most recent run, but the second, third and fourth from his previous win have all won since and that could turn out to be a very good form."