TRAINER Ted Walsh was left scratching his head by the rating given to his Seabass following the publication of the weights for the Aintree Grand National.
A strong Irish-trained entry of 31 features Walsh's Seabass (11st 2lb) – third in last year's renewal – and Colbert Station (10st 11lb), which won the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown.
Seabass carried 4lb less when third last year, and Walsh, speaking before seeing the full list of weights, said: "I don't know how Seabass can get over 11 stone this year if (top weight) Tidal Bay is rated 171 and my horse is rated 154.
"Whatever Phil Smith (BHA handicapper) does, he does – it is immaterial to me and I can't change it. You don't have to be a great mathematician to subtract 54 from 71."
Seabass returned to the racecourse at Fairyhouse last week when finishing a staying-on second to Rock Critic over two miles in a hurdle race and will have one more outing.
"There is just over seven weeks to Liverpool, so I would like to get a run into him. The Bobbyjo Chase at Naas and the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton are possible targets."
Walsh, who won the National in 2000 with Papillon, said of Colbert Station: "Like Seabass, Colbert Station will possibly have one more run. I have no idea where he will go at this stage as he only recently ran. I would also be looking at running him in three weeks to a month's time, which will be ideal timing for the National."
The JP McManus-owned Colbert Station won a valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and followed up over hurdles at Punchestown, ridden on both occasions by Tony McCoy on testing ground.
Walsh said: "I wouldn't be worried about the ground for Colbert Station as it is never anything worse than good jumping ground at Aintree. He has 10st 6lb in the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton and is 3lb higher in England than he is in Ireland, which makes him worse off with Seabass in England."
Seabass was ridden by Walsh's daughter Katie last year, when she achieved the highest finishing place yet by a lady rider in the National. His son Ruby would appear to have a number of choices, while McCoy is retained rider for McManus.
On the subject of jockey plans, Walsh said: "Nobody has to make their mind up until I have to declare for the race – I don't need to know if Tony McCoy is available or Ruby Walsh is available until they make their minds up, and at the declaration stage will do for me."
Owner Graham Wylie has a strong hand with three fancied entries – Tidal Bay, which heads the weights on 11st 10lb, as well as the first two in the betting, On His Own (10st 10lb) and Prince De Beauchene (11st 3lb) – which are both trained by Willie Mullins.
Ireland's champion trainer has five other entries – Quel Esprit (11st 3lb), Call The Police (11st 1lb), Lambro (10st 6lb), Quiscover Fontaine (10st 3lb) and Shakervilz (9st 7lb) – and is looking forward to the big race.
"It's nice to have two or three chances," said Mullins.
"Prince de Beauchene and On His Own would be our main ones, but I thought Quel Esprit ran very well at Leopardstown. I was expecting him to run a good race and I was a bit surprised he blew up at the end. He'll stay all day."
However, like Walsh, Tom Cooper was somewhat bemused by the mark given to his veteran Forpadydeplasterer (10st 10lb).
"He's only rated 147 now as he was dropped 2lb the other day and Tidal Bay is 171, but we're only getting 14lb from him. That makes us 14lb wrong.
"I've spoken to the owners and they are quite happy to go for the National. I've got a hurdle race in mind at Leopardstown at the early March meeting."
Dessie Hughes – trainer of Tofino Bay (10st 11lb), Magnanimity (10st 3lb) and Rare Bob (10st 2lb) – was reasonably satisfied.
"Magnanimity and Rare Bob want goodish ground, while Tofino Bay will revel in it if it came up heavy," said the Kildare trainer.