McCain: National is too easy; Handicapper: it’s wide open

GRAND National legend Ginger McCain has criticised the great race for now being too easy.

McCain, who entered folklore by training Red Rum to win the National three times in the 1970s and struck again with Amberleigh House in 2004, is not a man known to mince his words.

He said: “Last year, when I saw all those horses coming back onto the racecourse at the second-last I thought, ‘It’s not Liverpool’. You are eliminating the Aintree factor by making it softer, not making it better.

“They should have a top weight of 12st and add more fences – you don’t make it to the top of Everest by taking 10,000 feet off the top. It is all about good horses and brave men.”

Meanwhile British Horseracing Authority head handicapper Phil Smith conceded there was no stand-out horse in this year’s John Smith’s Grand National, but believes the standard of entries is the strongest he has dealt with.

Smith’s job is to frame the weights for Aintree on April 10, with the unique demands of the National meaning the amounts the runners carry can differ from their official vhandicap mark for regular chases.

This obviously puts him in line for criticism from disgruntled trainers, but he takes it all in his stride.

Albertas Run, Madison Du Berlais and Notre Pere are the three at the top on 11st 10lb.

“There are 30 horses over 11st, which is a first for me, and shows what a stellar entry it is,” said Smith at the unveiling of the weights at a ceremony in London on Tuesday.

“You would say there are no superstars. The three top-weights all have run very creditably on occasions, although they all have got little flaws.

“Thankfully for me, there was no Denman, as Paul Nicholls rang me on Sunday night to say he had been taken out.

“Albertas Run has tended to run one fantastic race per season and has the talent to carry top-weight but he is incredibly inconsistent. It depends which Albertas Run turns up.

“It is the same with Notre Pere and Madison Du Berlais. They have some fantastic form, but have been inconsistent too.”

Smith is known for his diligence, adding: “It took me two weeks in all and it had the greatest strength-in-depth by a long way in my time doing the job.

“There are 73 horses rated 140-plus. My first Grand National in 1999 had only 32 runners and I think 14 were out of the handicap – that’s how much it has changed. You give the same attention to the 0-90 races from Hereford and the like, but of course dealing with a better quality of horse gives you more satisfaction.”

Smith was not too pleased by seeing 100-1 shot Mon Mome pull 12 lengths clear of Comply Or Die last April though. He said: “I’d give myself seven out of 10 for last year’s race and hopefully this time we will get a close finish.

“I was disappointed how Mon Mome ran away last year and I have slightly changed my strategy this year. Normally I never drop the placed horses but this time I have dropped the second, third and fourth.

“I had dropped Mon Mome a few pounds after his runs following Aintree, although he has obviously gone up a bit since last year.” One of the most aggrieved trainers was Mouse Morris, who will not be running War Of Attrition after Smith gave him 11st 1lb to carry. But the handicapper responded: “He is 1lb lower than he is in Ireland and I’m afraid if I was doing the Grand National to please Mouse Morris, I wouldn’t last very long.”


Lifestyle

Cross rope bridges strung across the Atlantic or visit reimagining of time gone by; whatever you fancy doing, you’ll find it in Ulster.Staycations 2020: Take your pick from these great things to do in Ulster

I can’t eat anything without chilli flakes stuffed into itShape I'm In: Novelis Emma Murray

Peter Dowdall has advice on caring for these perennial favouritesLook after your peonies and they'll brighten your garden

A routine smear test picked up Eileen Rushe's cancer when she was in her early 30s. It was a long road to recovery, says Arlene Harris.In check: Why every woman must get a cervical screening test

More From The Irish Examiner