The Grand National has slowly turned into a race where most of the horses are from Ireland. This trend is likely to continue in April. As few as a quarter of the horses in the most famous race in the world may come from stables in Britain.
Last year, Ireland sent most of the runners for the first time, with 21 of the 40 starters. After the weights to be carried in this year’s race on April 15 were released on Tuesday, 41 of the top 60 horses, and all but one of the top 10, are trained in Ireland.
Martin Greenwood, the senior British Horseracing Authority handicapper who set the National weights for the fifth time, said this month that the fact that 31 of the 85 horses in the race were trained at home was “part of a general picture” of the decline of the British National Hunt scene.
Trainer Dan Skelton said that Greenwood’s comment was “offensive” and that “an official of British racing” shouldn’t say things like that. Greenwood took a few steps back from his harsh words at an event in Liverpool to kick off the Grand National buildup, but he didn’t completely change his mind.
“It was a passionate lament about the entries for the Grand National,” he said. “Demise was a strong word in hindsight and I probably shouldn’t have been so strong. I just want the English challenge to be as healthy as the Irish challenge and probably both sides of the Irish Sea would agree with that.”
Eleven of the top 13 names on the early betting list are trained in Ireland. Noble Yeats, who won last year at odds of 50-1, is the favourite at 11-1 to win again, even though he has to race off a 19-pound higher mark.
Martin Brassil’s Longhouse Poet, who jumped well for most of the race last year but faded in the last half-mile, is a 20-1 shot, along with three more Irish-trained contenders: Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now, who came in second and third in the last two Nationals, and Gaillard Du Mesnil and Mr. Incredible, both trained by Willie Mullins.
Corach Rambler, owned by Lucinda Russell, is the home team’s favourite. When Greenwood talked about the “English” challenge, the trainer was sitting at a table with some of the people who helped One For Arthur win the National last year. He was the first horse trained in Scotland to win in 38 years, and Russell is optimistic that Corach Rambler, who will come in at the bottom of the weights at 10st 5lb, can do the same.
“He’s definitely got the personality andhe’s got the ability, and he’s got a turn of foot,” she said. “The big question is going to be if he takes to the fences. He’s a very intelligent horse and if he doesn’t take to them, we’ll know by the fourth or fifth. They are fair fences now, it’s an honest test and he’s an honest horse to take them on.”