The BHA's head of handicapping Phil Smith has come out in defence of his policy of handicapping Irish horses separately to the Irish Turf Club following controversy over his framing of the Grand National weights.
The top five horses in this year's Grand National, all Irish-trained, have been compressed, as is now traditional, but only from their BHA ratings. Four of the five will run at Aintree from higher marks than they would in any Irish handicap.
On his regular Ask the Handicapper slot on ATR, Smith said: "We spend around an extra 18 hours a week, that’s about three hours a week for each of our six jumps handicappers, to keep [separate] Irish ratings. We do it because we want our handicaps to be as competitive as possible."
He added: "Years and years ago, we used to put them in off their Irish marks and it was tremendously successful for Irish trainers. So it was the English trainers who said that we should keep our own Irish ratings."
To justify his approach, Smith said: "Over the last eight seasons, in all handicaps in Britain, 11 per cent is the Irish strike-rate and ten per cent is the UK strike-rate. I've no problem with it being higher, they wouldn't run one out of the handicap with no chance, for instance, but it's amazing that we've been able to keep it consistent for so long."
He continued: "The Racing Post keeps their own ratings, they're often different from ours. Timeform are often different from ours. Ireland are different from ours. It doesn’t mean they're right or they’re wrong. What's important is that you're consistent with yourself."
Don Poli case causes consternation
There was particular interest paid to the case of Don Poli, current ante-post favourite for the National, who has carried his ITC mark of 161 in three unsuccessful starts in Ireland this year but will be saddled with 163 at Aintree.
The approach had pushed Eddie O'Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud, to suggest on Thursday morning that the horse is now an unlikely runner. O'Leary, speaking to the Irish Independent, also slammed the race as a "post-Brexit handicap", seemingly implying a pro-British slant from the handicapper.
Smith responded: "He has always been 165 with us [in Britain] and that was his mark in the Anglo-Irish classification last season, since when he's been second and third in two Grade 1s.
"He has been compressed to 163 for the Grand National, which is in line with the others at the top of the weights," he added.
"I notice the bookies have him as favourite. They're usually pretty shrewd and they obviously don't think he's been so hard done to.”