Gordon Elliott to have nearly a third of Grand National field
Top trainer’s formidable raiding party led by last year’s winner and favourite Tiger Roll
Gordon Elliott celebrates Tiger Roll’s success in the Grand National at Aintree last year. Photograph: David Davies/PA
Gordon Elliott looks like having 13 runners in Saturday’s Grand National, smashing the record for a single trainer in the race, which was the 10 run by Martin Pipe in 2001.
Michael O’Leary’s maroon and white silks will be carried by seven runners, or possibly nine if Don Poli and Outlander fail to sell at auction on Thursday evening.
All of this has revived talk on social media about whether trainers and owners should be allowed to run as many as they please, and I think we can expect more of such talk in the build-up to the race.
Elliott has nearly a third of the field and, while he presumably does not fancy all of them as much as he must fancy Tiger Roll, their presence in the race will have the effect of limiting rival trainers to 27 runners. If, as seems possible, the fancied Joe Farrell misses the cut by one, that will become really significant.
I’ve seen it suggested that trainers and owners should be limited to three runners in the National, out of fairness to others.
The problem with that idea is we live in a time of superpower trainers, when the biggest stables in Britain and Ireland have access to an ever greater number of horses while everyone else is struggling to lay hands on the best material.
If we’re going to tackle the subject, we should start by facing up to the bigger picture rather than focusing on a single race. If fairness is to be our guiding star, we’d have to talk about limiting the number of horses that one trainer can have in their care, which might be difficult to enforce.
Until that happens, I don’t think we should be introducing limits for the National because what we really want for this race is the best available horses, regardless of who owns or trains them, and the present system at least tries to achieve that.
It would be a worry if someone was entering horses that should not be in the National, but we already have rules to tackle that concern.
There’s a ‘Grand National review panel’, empowered to withdraw a horse at any stage if they judge that it should not be competing at Aintree.
As usual, they’ve met three times since entries were made this year and have discussed the suitability of some horses with their trainers. We’re not told if they have intervened and, if they have done, it may have taken the form of an “invitation to withdraw”, with which the relevant trainer and owner are likely to comply.
It’s a good process, even if it isn’t perfect.
If trainers or owners were limited to a handful of runners, we might easily end up deleting a suitable National contender in favour of some horse with much less ability.
I know that some people don’t like the prevalence of O’Leary’s silks but personally I have no objection; he spreads his horses around several stables, he is happy for them to take each other on and he has invested heavily in the type of racehorse I most admire, staying steeplechasers. It seems to me that having a few National runners is perfectly fair reward for what he’s put into the game.