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Quinn, Williams and Hughes Happy with John Smith's Grand National Weights

North Yorkshire trainer John Quinn is content with the assessment of British Horseracing Authority senior handicapper Phil Smith, who has allotted his Grade Three John Smith’s Grand National hope, Character Building, a handy 10st 5lb for the £800,000 Aintree spectacular on Saturday, April 5.

The lightly-raced eight-year-old went into several notebooks as a potential John Smith’s Grand National contender when finishing a fine third behind the brilliant Denman on his sole start so far this term, in a top-class renewal of the Grade Three Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury on December 1.

Quinn revealed today: “We are happy with the weight he has and he is in good form with himself at present. He is in the John Smith’s Grand National so we will see. I will run him at Cheltenham first and then we will make our minds up about Aintree. The plan is to go for the William Hill Trophy and he will also be put in the Kim Muir.”

Character Building enjoyed a fine novice campaign last term, winning twice and running second to Butler’s Cabin in the four-mile, one furling National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Quinn’s charge was beaten only three quarters of a length at level weights that day and Butler’s Cabin, who went on to secure the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, is 9lb worse off in the handicap for the John Smith’s Grand National.

The Malton handler continued: “He looks on a nice mark in relation to his run at Cheltenham last year but then that depends if you think Butler’s Cabin can win the John Smith’s Grand National.”

Character Building is a 20/1 chance with the tote, official betting partner of the John Smith’s Grand National Meeting.

Another leading contender allotted 10st 5lb is the Nick Williams-trained Philson Run, who carried the same weight when 17 lengths fourth to Silver Birch in last year’s running of the great race.

The 12-year-old, who has relatively few miles on the clock, made a pleasing seasonal debut in the Grade Three Classic Chase at Warwick on January 12. Philson Run stayed on in the heavy ground to finish seven lengths second to D’Argent in the three miles, five furlongs contest.

Williams, who trains in Devon, commented today about the 33/1 hope: “The weight he has is fine, I have no problem with that. The plan is very much to go for the John Smith’s Grand National. Hopefully, he will run this coming Saturday at Haydock in the Red Square Vodka Gold Cup.

“I’m hopeful of another good run at Aintree in April. I can’t ever be confident because he has a history of difficulties in training. If you see me there on the day, that is the main thing. The issue really is getting him to the John Smith’s Grand National in one piece on the day. The ground doesn’t matter much to him really.”

Irish handler Pat Hughes is satisfied with the 10st 10lb given to his hope, Point Barrow, who was 8/1 co-favourite for last year’s John Smith’s Grand National but fell at the first fence.

Hughes reported today: “He’s weighted two pounds less than last year for the John Smith’s Grand National. When he ran in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury in December he was rated 138 and now he’s rated 142, so he’s gone up 4lb since, when I’d have preferred him to be left alone.

“This season we will school him over Grand National-type fences at home prior to April, which I didn’t get the chance to do last year. He wore blinkers for the first time in the Thyestes Chase last time and they helped him concentrate early on in the race. Hopefully this time he will get further than the first fence at Aintree!

“He never shows much before Christmas and we’ve always regarded him as a spring horse. It takes a lot to get him fit and he seems to show his best form later on in the season.”

Point Barrow is currently 16/1 for the John Smith’s Grand National with the tote.



The weights launch for this year’s John Smith’s Grand National, held at the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel, London, on Tuesday, February 5, once again highlighted the continued improvement in the overall calibre of competitors in the world’s greatest steeplechase.

Statistics don’t lie and the numbers this year show that the entries for the 2008 John Smith’s Grand National continue the trend of recent times in attracting a greater depth of high-class horses.

The median rating of the entries this year tallies, at 137, with the median of the 2007 entries at the same stage and is seven pounds higher than the 2004 median.

Beef Or Salmon, the Michael Hourigan-trained 10-time Grade One winner, heads the weights on 11st 12lb and is one of 105 horses in the handicap proper for the Aintree showpiece on Saturday, April 5. That figure represents an impressive 70 per cent of the 149 entries.

British Horseracing Authority Head of Handicapping Phil Smith has expertly framed the weights for the John Smith’s Grand National and the number of horses weighted within the handicap at the weights launch is far and away the highest in recent times.

The figure is impressive when compared to the 92 horses in the handicap at the same stage in 2005, when the race attracted an initial bumper entry of 152, and highlights a vast improvement to the depth of quality when compared to the 29 horses weighted in the handicap in 1999, a year that saw only 95 entries and a final field of 32 on the big day itself.

The past three renewals of the John Smith’s Grand National have attracted a maximum field of 40 and with such a strong entry again, confidence is high that the 2008 race will once more see the full quota line up for the thrilling test.

It is also likely that this year’s contest will continue the trend of the previous three runnings, in which each of the 40 horses on the day competed from within the handicap proper. In 1999, no fewer than 18 horses were wrong at the weights but, since 2001 when 13 horses on the day were outside the handicap, that number has decreased as the overall calibre of the John Smith’s Grand National entries has continued to improve.

Top-weight Beef Or Salmon is allotted a handicap mark of 159, making him one of eight entries rated 155 or above. In 2004, 2005 and 2007, only five horses were rated in that bracket, while in 2006 the number was four.

The other seven horses rated 155+ are Celestial Gold (157), Turpin Green (157), Hedgehunter (156), Hi Cloy (156), Knowhere (155), Mr Pointment (155) and Ollie Magern (155).

The 12 horses in this year’s handicap rated 150-154 equals 2007 and is an improvement on the number of horses in the handicap when the weights were revealed at this juncture in the previous three seasons.

In 1999 and 2004, the horse positioned 95th in the handicap made it to the starting line at Aintree but with the race consistently attracting a host of top-class runners, the past three renewals have seen horses ranked 75th (2007), 76th (2006) and 75th (2005) the last to make it in to the final 40.

The lowest rated horse at the weights launch to make the field of 32 for the 1999 John Smith’s Grand National had a rating of 110, whereas the past three renewals have seen horses with an official mark of 134 as the last to make the cut for the big race.

Red Rum, the legendary triple winner (1973, 1974 and 1977), is the only horse in the past 50 years to carry more than 11st 5lb to victory but with 14 horses currently weighted with that weight or more, there are plenty of high-class performers in line for an attempt to make history. These include totesport’s long-time ante-post favourite Mr Pointment (11st 8lb) who is now 12/1 co-second favourite with Bewleys Berry (10st 11lb) and Cloudy Lane (10st 8lb). Current market leader Snowy Morning (8/1) has 10st 12lb.

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