Entries for this year's Grand National were released yesterday. Managing director at Aintree, Julian Thick, pronounced himself not at all concerned that the number had fallen below 100 for the first time since 1996.
He described the 82 entries as top-quality, and pointed out that one of the changes that has been brought in following last year's race was the horses now had to have earned a rating of 140 before they can be entered for the National. Thick said, "The Grand National is a higher quality race nowadays and trainers are far more selective about the horses they enter. The race has been evolving and changing in recent years and, while the number of entries is down on last year, we believe this is a testament to the status of the race."
In fact, entries have been falling over the past five years, having peaked at 150 in 2008, which Thick said was largely because trainers recognised that their lower rated horses were unlikely to get a run. That may generally be true, although Willie Mullins' total of 12 entries accounts for 1 in 7 of the total.
Trainers seemed to share Thisk's view. Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has Crescent Island, Hello Bud, Little Josh and Viking Blonde entered, said, "You’ve got to be rated 140 just to get in. The lower entry has nothing to do with the adverse publicity around the race last year. It's all about people realising some horses have no chance of getting in. The prize-money is so good for the National now that many of the better horses are being aimed at it."
Tim Vaughan expressed similar thoughts. "You've got to be realistic about your chances of getting into the race. The overall quality of Grand National runner has risen sharply in recent years. I'm hoping two of my four entries (Our Island, Postmaster, Stewarts House, and Tartak) get in. It's the race everyone dreams about winning."
The next big day for the National entries is on 14 February when the weights will be announced. How many trainers will be sending a card to Phil Smith, the BHA head of handicapping, as he worked out how much each horse will have to carry?