One of Britain’s top handicappers has hit back at claims that his assessment of Grand National entries was coloured by an anti-Irish bias after a row broke out ahead of next month’s race.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud yesterday withdrew eight of its horses at the latest forfeit stage, including his big three Don Poli, Empire Of Dirt and Outlander.
That came after his brother and racing manager, Eddie O’Leary, blasted the weights allocated last month, saying: “A handicapper is meant to be impartial. The National now is a pre-Brexit, post-Brexit handicap.”
British Horseracing Authority (BHA) senior handicapper Phil Smith issued a lengthy statement defending his verdict, which followed a change in the BHA’s methodology for assessing Irish horses.
“Since switching approaches the strike rate of British and Irish runners have levelled out with the Irish strike rate remaining marginally higher at 11 per cent compared to 10 per cent for British runners,” he said.
“The Jump Handicappers are confident that based on these figures there is no semblance of any anti-Irish bias and that keeping our own Irish performance figures has given our handicaps greater equality and fairness.”
O’Leary, who won last year’s National with Rule The World, also withdrew Devil’s Bride, Clarcam, Tiger Roll, A Toi Phil and The Game Changer but still has eight entries for the Aintree race on 8 April.
Carlingford Lough heads the weights among the 95 remaining entries, followed by last year’s runner-up The Last Samuri. Vieux Lion Rouge is the 10-1 favourite.