Handicapper Smith laughs off notion of 'anti-Irish' bias
Britain's senior handicapper has defended the ratings given to Irish horses, some of them now deemed unlikely runners, in the Grand National.
Gigginstown's Eddie O'Leary has said Don Poli is a doubt and that neither Outlander nor Empire Of Dirt will run in the April 8 race. They account for three of the four highest weights in a handicap generally compressed to favour the better steeds. Irish-trained horses filled seven of the top 10 positions in the weights. O'Leary implied an anti-Irish agenda but Phil Smith rubbished this when speaking to At The Races yesterday.
"A year ago I'd (Don Poli) on 166 and compressed him by two. I did exactly the same this year. In the past, Many Clouds was compressed by one. That looks a bit anti-English doesn't it? Let's get off this anti-Irish nonsense and look at the facts."
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.
"Over the last eight seasons, in all handicaps in Britain, 11pc is the Irish strike-rate and 10pc 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. 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."
Smith was subjected to a robust if friendly line of questioning by Matt Chapman. He rubbished a suggestion that the Willie Mullins-trained The Crafty Butcher was given a lower mark in Britain than in Ireland to keep him out of a big handicap at Cheltenham.
"Connections can just run him between now and then to get his mark raised," Smith said, "and we put him up 5lb for his run at Leopardstown at Christmas. The Irish mark is not relevant to ours."
Meanwhile, the Turf Club's integrity statistics for 2016, revealed yesterday, showed that there were just 29 running-and-riding enquiries in the calendar year, down from an average of 31 in the previous four years, and none of the 29 resulted in a suspension that was not reduced or quashed on appeal.
Whip-rule penalties were down 18pc to 131, while there were four positive drug tests from 178 riders tested. Of 3,540 horses drug-tested, five were positive. The figures also showed an 8pc drop in licensed jumps riders and, though the fall rate in jumps combat decreased to 4.43pc per ride, the injury rate per fall increased to 26.6pc.
Commenting on the medical statistics, the Turf Club's Dr Adrian McGoldrick said that the fracture rate and visceral injury rate was the highest for some years, though a new safety vest introduced this year "has the potential to reduce the visceral rate".
Ex-rider and bloodstock agent Tom Malone went to £480,000 to secure Flemenshill, a four-year-old Flemensfirth gelding, at the Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham January Sale yesterday.
At Clonmel yesterday, the two big guns in the Irish trainers' title race had a double apiece, Chambord Du Lys (1/4) and the game Kate Appleby Shoes (9/10) scoring for Willie Mullins, while Gordon Elliott hit the target with 2/9 chance Runfordave and 9/4 bumper winner Monkshood.