Hughes fumes over Apalachi's weight for National
QUEL ESPRIT, last Sunday's Hennessy Gold Cup hero, has been allotted 11st 7lbs in the Aintree Grand National, three pounds less than top weight Synchronised.
Amid the usual array of talking points to emerge from the unveiling of the weights for the April 14 John Smith's-sponsored showpiece, the Willie Mullins grey is deemed inferior to Jonjo O'Neill's Lexus Chase winner by the English handicapper Phil Smith, confirming the impression that Sunday's Grade One was a weak renewal.
Along with the 161-rated Synchronised, last year's Liverpool victor Ballabriggs (11st 9lb), Midnight Chase and Weird Al (11st 8lb) have also been ranked higher than Quel Esprit, which is as low as 20/1 with both Paddy Power and Boylesports for Aintree glory, though 33/1 can be found elsewhere.
Speaking at the launch, however, Mullins reported the eight-year-old an unlikely runner in the four-and-a-half-mile spectacle. "Quel Esprit is well up to jumping around Aintree but he will go for the Cheltenham Gold Cup instead," said the trainer. "After that he will be trained for the Guinness Gold Cup at the Punchestown Festival -- that may be the best route for him."
Of the 82 entries, 31 are Irish-trained, and 16 of those are sure to make the cut, with Mullins' Cooldine (10st 7lb) currently holding the coveted No 40 spot.
Dessie Hughes' Roberto Goldback, second in the Hennessy, has been given three pounds less than Quel Esprit, but it was the handicapper's treatment of Black Apalachi (11st 3lb) that got Hughes animated.
Runner-up to Don't Push It in 2010, Black Apalachi received no mercy from Smith despite not running since then due to injury.
"Roberto Goldback is entitled to have that sort of weight on his level of form, but I think Black Apalachi's weight is a disgrace," fumed Hughes, who also has Rare Bob (10st 9lb), Vic Venturi and In Compliance (10st) entered.
"He hasn't run in almost two years, he's a 13-year-old now and they haven't dropped him a pound.
"He's been round Aintree a couple of times, but he can't be as good a horse as he was two years ago. The owners will be very disappointed and we'll have to think about whether we run him now.
"Rare Bob will probably run, along with Roberto Goldback," he added.
Tom Taaffe declared Treacle an intended starter after his career-best third in the Hennessy.
The Straffan handler pitched the 11-year-old in at the deep end at Leopardstown in the hope that he would run sufficiently well to earn a hike in the ratings and it is a ploy that paid off beautifully, as a 13lb penalty sees him pitched at No 38 on the list off 10st 8lb.
"The Grand National is absolutely the plan," Taaffe said.
"He has gone up a stone in Ireland due to that run and otherwise he wouldn't have got into the National, and that's why we ran at Leopardstown.
"He was bought as a three-year-old for the owner Mr Nielsen with the intention of being a National horse some day, but we didn't think it would take eight years!"
John 'Shark' Hanlon's dual Kerry National winner Alfa Beat, purchased last year by American owner Irvin Naylor specifically for Aintree, will carry at least 11st 5lb if he turns out.
The Thyestes Chase winner On His Own, one of 12 that Mullins has engaged in total and the shortest-priced Irish entrant at no bigger than 22/1, currently has 10st 11lb, while Arthur Moore's 2011 Irish National victor Organisedconfusion (33/1) has three pounds less.
Mullins' Shakervilz (10st 2lb) and Tony Martin's Psycho (11st) are two Irish contenders among seven overall that are currently not qualified to run in the race, having so far failed to finish in the first four in a chase over three miles or more.
Gordon Elliott's Backstage, 10th last year under Paul Carberry, needs 12 to come out if he is to make the cut this time round.