Yesterday’s news that 18 horses had dropped out of this year’s Grand National at the latest entry stage led to divided opinions on the size of the field likely to line up on 14 April. The latest batch of withdrawals leaves just 59 horses left in the race with four weeks still to go before the off.
The connections of Quantitativeeasing and Shakervilz had no choice in the matter, as their charges were ruled out as they had not met the new requirement to have finished in the first four in a race of three miles or further.
But Gold Cup winner Synchronised is still in the list, although by no means certain to take part. Trainer Jonjo O’Neill said, “Synchronised has come out of Cheltenham fine, he seems OK and we’ll make a decision nearer the time whether we go or not but there’s no reason why not at the moment. He’s in great form and if he comes back to the form he was in at Cheltenham then why wouldn’t you go there?” Adding weight to that argument is that Synchronised has been raised only 1lb for his Gold Cup success, and with the compression of weights in the National he would be 7lb better off than in an ordinary handicap.
So just how many horse are likely to line up? Senior handicapper Phil Smith said that he expected only half a dozen horses would come out between now and the race. Yet last year, 12 pulled out over the four weeks between Cheltenham and Aintree. This year there’s an additional week for injuries and so on, with the National having been put back a week so as not to clash with the Easter weekend.
Aintree’s managing director Julian Thick took the opposite view about the extra week saying it “could help horses who have had hard races at Cheltenham to be freshened back up.” Whilst remaining hopeful that the race would have a full complement of runners, Thick felt that if this did not happen, the race would have become a victim of its own success. He said, “The relatively low number of remaining entries is symptomatic of the way in which the overall class of the race has improved. The sort of horses who would previously be given entries in the faint hope they might get a run are perhaps not being put in any more.”