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Highest-quality Randox Health Grand National in prospect at Aintree

The 2017 Randox Health Grand National weights, framed and decided by the British Horseracing Authority’s Head of Handicapping, Phil Smith, will be unveiled by 9.00pm this evening, Tuesday, February 14, at the famous Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

The Randox Health Grand National is the only handicap of the year where Smith has absolute discretion to deviate from the normal handicap ratings when determining the weights.

Smith has handicapped the Randox Health Grand National every year since 1999 and he explained how the class of the great race in 2017 is the highest ever.

He said today: “The percentage of horses rated over 135 entered in 2017 is 88 per cent, which is the highest ever. The previous highest percentage of horses in this category was 85 per cent.

“Significantly, the number of horses rated above 150 stands at a record level, with 34 horses falling into that category. If you go back a decade to 2007, there were only half that number (17) having a rating of 150 or higher at the time the weights were unveiled.

“The median rating for all entries in this year’s Randox Health Grand National is 146, which again is the highest ever, and if you go back to 2007 it was 137.

“Last year, the lowest-weighted horse to get a run in the race was 59th on the list at the time the weights were unveiled.

“For years and years, horses in the mid-70s at the time of the weights managed to run on the day, while in 2015 it dropped to 67 and then 59 last year.

“I would be a bit surprised to see it as low as 59 again this year, but I would expect it to be somewhere in the 60s, especially as we know that a lot of the entries will be running between now and Aintree. Where exactly in the 60s is in the lap of the gods.

“The top of the handicap is dominated by Irish-trained horses, which is a symbol of the respective strength of Irish and UK Jump racing.

“When I get the entries, I have a train of thought and then something happens which means I have to change that. The race at Leopardstown on Sunday (Irish Gold Cup) had a big bearing on the weights. It was the crucial race, two days before the weights, which had a big effect on the top of the handicap.”

John Baker, Regional Director North West at Jockey Club Racecourses, commented: “Aintree is delighted to welcome Randox Health as the new sponsor of the Grand National and they have been rewarded with the best-quality entry ever for the unique and iconic race.

“We look forward to a great evening tonight at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London which sees the unveiling of the Randox Health Grand National weights in a brand new digital countdown format.

“This will give much more drama to the announcement. The top 100 in the weights are being revealed between 8pm and 9pm with many trainers and owners present.

“The Randox Health Grand National Festival at Aintree from Thursday, April 6 to Saturday, April 8 promises so much and the climax is the 170th running at Aintree of the Randox Health Grand National.

“There will be a tremendous welcome over the three days for racegoers, who I advise to book their tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.”

Definitly Red is 35th on the Randox Health Grand National weights list with 10st 7lb and a rating of 149. The progressive eight-year-old has won two of his four starts this season, including an impressive seven-length success in the G3 Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby on December 26.

Trained by Brian Ellison in North Yorkshire and owned by Phil Martin, Definitly Red unseated Henry Brooke on his latest start in the closing stages of the G2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock Park on January 21.

Ellison said today: “Definitly Red looks to have a good racing weight, doesn’t he? I am happy with that.

“The horse is fine after unseating at Haydock. I think he probably would have been second had he stayed up. It was just one of those things.

“He is in great form at the moment and is likely to go to Kelso [Listed Premier Chase] or Doncaster [Grimthorpe Chase] in a couple of weeks. After that, we will give him a school over some Grand National fences and, if he takes to it, he will probably head to Aintree.”

Raz De Maree (Gavin Cromwell IRE, 10st 4lb) got within a length and three-quarters of leading Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Native River when runner-up last time in the G3 Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on December 27.

The 12-year-old already has a ‘National’ under his belt this season, having been successful in the Cork version in November. He also has experience of the Grand National fences at Aintree, having finished a staying-on eighth in the 2014 renewal of the world’s greatest chase for his former trainer, the late Dessie Hughes. His allotted weight of 10st 4lb equates to a rating of 146 and he is 55th on the list of entries.

Cromwell, who is based in County Meath, said today: “I would be happy with the 10st 4lb allotted to Raz De Maree. That’s a nice racing weight and hopefully he should get into the race.

“The horse is in grand form at the moment and the plan at the moment is for him to run next in the Eider Chase at Newcastle (Saturday, February 25) before going on to Aintree.

“He stayed on well when he ran the race before. A little bit of juice in the ground would suit him as he just lacks a gear but has plenty of stamina.”