Smith plumps for Synchronised as top weight
JOHN SMITH'S Grand National handicapper Phil Smith admitted the recent cold snap in the UK had given him plenty of time to agonise over who should be top weight in the Aintree feature.
It is Smith's responsibility to decide the ratings for each of the 82 horses entered for the world famous race, loosely based upon their official handicap mark but taking in other factors such as previous form around Aintree.
In the end, he decided Jonjo O'Neill's Lexus Chase winner Synchronised -- not yet a confirmed runner -- should carry 11st 10lb, which is just 1lb more than the Donald McCain-trained Ballabriggs, who triumphed last year.
"It was a lot easier this year as there's been no other racing over the last couple of weeks so I had a lot more time," Smith said.
"Deciding the top weight was something I thought quite a lot about.
"On one hand you have a Grand National winner in Ballabriggs. He's off the same mark we put him up to for winning the race last year and Donald seemed happy with it.
"However, Synchronised is a Grade One winner and I think you've got to have a Grade One winner off top weight.
"It was almost a toss of a coin, but it's really difficult to win Grade Ones."
Looking at the race as a whole, Smith was most troubled by the form of Sunday's Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown when Quel Esprit (11st 7lb) led home Roberto Goldback (11st 4lb) and Treacle (10st 8lb).
"I am really happy with the quality of the race and if you go down the top 17 in the weights, 11 won their last race and the other six were placed," he said.
"That is fairly unusual in the National as you can get a bit of dead wood at the top.
"The most difficult three were the three that ran at Leopardstown at the weekend.
"The two Quel Esprit beat, Roberto Goldback and Treacle, are horses who have a lot of miles on the clock so the form might be a bit dubious.
"So I think I have either got Quel Esprit 8lb too high or too low."