Outlander tops National weights for O'Leary team
Lexus Chase hero Outlander has been handed top weight for this year's Grand National at Aintree.
The Gordon Elliott-trained nine-year-old - last seen winning the big Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas - was given the steadier of 11st 10lb for the marathon steeplechase on April 8 during a ceremony in London last night.
It is 10 years since Elliott was thrust into the limelight after claiming National glory with Silver Birch. The Cullentra, Co Meath handler has more entries than any other trainer.
Don Poli, ante-post favourite with some bookmakers, is fourth in the weights on 11st 7lb. His stable companion Empire Of Dirt, which was narrowly ahead of Don Poli when runner-up to Sizing John in last Sunday's Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, is just above him on 11st 8lb.
Phil Smith, the British Horseracing Authority's head of handicapping, revealed the Irish Gold Cup had a significant impact on the weights for the National which is sponsored by Randox Health.
He said: "When I get the entries, I have a train of thought and then something happens which means I have to change that. The race at Leopardstown on Sunday had a big bearing on the weights. It was the crucial race, two days before the weights, which had a big effect on the top of the handicap."
Lord Scoundrel (11st), Clarcam (10st 12lb) and Roi Des Francs (10st 12lb) are other possible representatives for Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud.
Gigginstown, the racing operation run by Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary, won the National for the first time last April with the Mouse Morris-trained Rule The World ridden by David Mullins (above) and have 16 contenders this time.
Disputing favouritism with Don Poli is last year's runner-up The Last Samuri. Kim Bailey's nine-year-old carried 10st 8lb when chasing home Rule The World, but is this year set to carry 11st 5lb.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Champagne West, so impressive under a big weight in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran last month and bound for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, is the second horse on the list with 11st 9lb.
Currently the last horse guaranteed a place in the 40-strong line-up is David Pipe's progressive Vieux Lion Rouge (10st 7lb), winner of the Becher Chase over the famous fences in December and sure to carry plenty ante-post support.
Other leading contenders include Jimmy Moffatt's Becher runner-up Highland Lodge (10st 6lb), Neil Mulholland's bet365 Gold Cup hero The Young Master (10st 8lb), Lucinda Russell's Classic Chase winner One For Arthur (10st 6lb) and John Kiely's dual Irish Gold Cup scorer Carlingford Lough (11st 6lb).
A total of 109 horses has been entered, 37 of which are trained on this side of the Irish Sea. The only French-trained entry is Vieux Morvan (10st 2lb).
The Aintree spectacular is the only handicap of the year where Smith has absolute discretion to deviate from normal handicap ratings when determining the weights. Smith, who has handicapped the National every year since 1999, hailed this year's renewal as the classiest ever.
He said: "The percentage of horses rated over 135 entered in 2017 is 88 per cent, which is the highest ever. The previous highest percentage of horses in this category was 85 per cent.
"The top of the handicap is dominated by Irish-trained horses, which is a symbol of the respective strength of Irish and UK jump racing."
Meanwhile, Richard Johnson was successful on both his rides as he made a winning return to action at Fontwell yesterday after recovering from flu.
The British champion jockey, absent since Saturday, enjoyed a double on odds-on favourites Kayf Adventure and Casper King, both trained by Philip Hobbs.
The first was a satisfying victory for Johnson as he also bred the son of Kayf Tara. The 1/2 shot led before the fourth-last and went on to take the novices' hurdle by 14 lengths from Flemcara.