Not known to shy away from saying exactly what is on his mind, Gigginstown House Stud‘s racing manager Eddie O'Leary has once again decided to throw shade on the BHA Handicapper, Phil Smith.
With 11 entries in the 2018 Grand National, O'Leary made his feelings very clear the day after entries were published for this year's contest saying: “The Grand National is a fantastic race but it can only get better when Phil Smith goes.”
O'Leary said the champion Irish owners will be represented in the world-famous contest only if they feel their candidates are fairly treated.
He continued: “It’s a race we love and we’ll always have runners in it as long as they aren’t handicapped out of the thing.
“We’ve entered 11 this week and we’ll see what happens, but we won’t be running anything that is unfairly handicapped.”
It was no secret that in 2017 O'Leary and brother Michael were furious at weights allotted to some of their horses for the National, especially their trio of top-rated contenders. Outlander was given top weight of 11st 10lb by Smith, Empire Of Dirt (11st 8lb) was third in the ratings and Don Poli was fourth on 11st 7lb, none of whom lined up.
Michael O'Leary cited “horse welfare” among his reasons for not running the trio, while accusing Smith of making up the rules and dismissing his rationale for the weights as “utter drivel”.
He also implied a bias against the Irish trained horses and asked if the handicapping policy was “driven by the fact that the top five rated horses are Irish trained.”
In a letter sent to a number of media organisations O'Leary also added “Might we respectfully ask that before the weights close for the 2018 race, Mr Smith explains whether he is going to compress the weights of the top ranked horses or again artificially increase them just for the better class Irish entries.”
When the weights for the 2018 Grand National are announced next week, it will be interesting to see how Smith deals with the Gigginstown entrants, in what will be his last unveiling of the weights before he retires in May.