I know that there has been a lot of chatter in racing circles around the lack of British entries in the 2024 Grand National.

Of course, the Irish’s dominance at Cheltenham hasn’t helped, and all sorts of suggestions have been made to stem the tide of prize money heading across the pond.

Sure, Willie Mullins has almost cornered the market in top-rated horses, but it doesn’t help that when there is an actual chance to race in the best races that Britain has to offer, some trainers take their charges elsewhere.

Bringing the point home today is the fact that trainer Paul Nicholls has decided to withdraw Threeunderthrufive from the Grand National in favour of the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown.

The news came via his owner, who himself was very keen on a shot at the Grand National. However, after some persuasive arguments, Nicholls convinced Max McNeill that they could win the Bet365 off top weight.

And it’s reasonable to assume that anybody in that position would rather take their chances with a race they have a greater chance of winning rather than the lottery that is often the Grand National.

It’s also easy to understand that, much like the top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders who will battle it out for $1,860,000 on May 4th, it’s more attractive to win £90,032 at Sandown rather than nothing at Aintree.

But where does that leave British entries for this year’s Grand National?

The Numbers Are Not Pretty

By any stretch of the imagination, having only FIVE British-trained horses with guaranteed spots left in the 2024 Grand National is not a good look.

Last year’s winner Corach Rambler is once again the favourite and on the back of a successful warm up in the Gold Cup, could easily win back-to-back Grand Nationals.

The other four are Nassalam, the Welsh Grand National winner, Latenightpass, Eldorado Allen, and Mac Tottie.

Even with the absence of Hewick and Threeunderthrufive, the rest of the list of entries doesn’t make for inspiring reading.

The next seven horses (numbered 35 – 41) are all Irish-trained. In fact, we have to get down to Monbeg Genius at number 42 to find the next British trained, and that is Jonjo O’Neill.

Number 44 is Galia Des Liteaux from Dan Skelton, 47 is Chambard from Venetia Williams, and 48 is Kitty’s Light from Christian Williams.

Essentially, 14 horses need to come out for those four to get a spot at the starting tape. The next declaration stages will be very interesting, but there is some hope.

Gordon Elliott Entries

Despite throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the Grand National, Gordon Elliott will never run every horse he enters.

It’s quite incredible that he actually entered 26 runners this year, and yes, being responsible for nearly 28% of the entries is ridiculous, but those numbers will get whittled down significantly.

In 2023 he entered 21 horses but saddled only five on the day. This year, of his 26, only nine are guaranteed a place, and yes, I know, that is still 26%, but not all of them will run.

I can’t see him running Conflated on top weight. Ash Tree Meadow, Minella Crooner, Run Wild Fred, Salvador Ziggy all have Irish Grand National entries. Farouk D’alene is on pretty poor form and Fury Road has options in the Topham Chase.

Even if all of those went, three of the next seven on the list are still Elliott horses – Chemical Energy, The Goffer and Favori De Champdou but there’s no guarantee that he would them anyway.

Willie Mullins VS British Entries

Anybody who thought that the number of Gordon Elliott entries was the biggest problem didn’t count on Willie Mullins entering fewer but better horses.

He may have only put 13 forward, but TEN of them are guaranteed spots, with Hewick and Threeunderthrufive now out of contention.

This is actually quite a surprise as Mullins doesn’t ever tend to dominate the field at Aintree.

His record in the race isn’t too great either. He last won it in 2005 with Hedgehunter and has a few second-place finishes in the years since, but it’s not a race he really targets.

Here’s the thing though, those eleven horses represent SEVEN different owners. Only JP McManus and Simon Munir & Isaac Souede have multiple entries.

So if we look past the ‘British Trainers vs Irish Trainers’ and focus on the actual owners, then there are a lot. The fact that they choose to train in Ireland is neither here nor there.

Bringing It Back Full Circle

There are two obvious issues with the way the Grand National is formatted. When you allow trainers free rein to enter dozens of horses the smaller yards get squeezed out.

Between them, Elliott and Mullins entered 17 of the top 34 horses this year when the weights were first revealed. That is half the field.

The second problem is the OR of the top horses. This year Hewick, who was likely never going to run, set the bar with an OR of 169. In fact only six horses had an official rating of 160 or higher.

But even the BHA Handicapper said it was unlikely and a horse with an OR of 147 or less would make the cut. That is simply too high for the vast majority of trainers who don’t have Grade 1 winners in abundance.

That means British entries like Kitty’s Light, a Scottish Grand National and Bet365 Gold Cup winner, won’t make the cut. And neither would Minella Times before Rachael Blackmore led him to victory in 2021.

Throw in the reduction in field size to just 34, and things become exponentially more difficult. So, there is a lot to think about as we head into the 2024 Grand National.

While looking at ways to improve horse welfare, maybe the BHA and The Jockey Club could also look at ways to encourage more trainers to enter with an actual chance of being able to saddle a runner.