GRAND National top weight Definitly Red will not line up in the world’s greatest steeplechase, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Malton trainer Brian Ellison spoke out after the chaser was allocated 11st 10lb for the April 14 showpiece race at Aintree.
He confirmed that next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup remains the top priority for the Phil Martin-owned chaser who has climbed to the top of his ratings following his fine win in the Cotswold Chase under Danny Cook.
Ellison said the Grade One Bowl – a valuable three-mile plus chase on day one of the Randox Health-sponsored meeting – would be the horse’s intended target if he heads to Aintree.
The winner of six out of 13 chase races to date for Tickhill-based Martin, Definitly Red only had 10st 12lb when he had to be pulled up by Cook after his saddle slipped at Becher’s Brook.
“I can’t see him going to the National on 11st 10lb,” Ellison told The Yorkshire Post. “The Gold Cup is the priority. If he goes to Aintree, it will be for the Bowl where there will be four or five runners instead of 40.
“He’s in good form. He just wants to run the same race in the Gold Cup as he did last time in the Cotswold Chase. If he does, he won’t be far away.”
Though 105 horses were entered for the £1m race, only the top 40 in the handicap will make the cut and the participation of many leading contenders hinges on their form and fitness following the Cheltenham Festival.
However British Horseracing Authority chief handicapper Phil Smith, who was framing the iconic race for the 20th and final time, believes Definitly Red is worthy top weight ahead of Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai and comeback horse Edwulf who won the Irish Gold Cup for former Derby-winning Flat jockey Joseph O’Brien.
“One of those most interesting aspects of this year’s National is the top three horses in the handicap,” said Smith. “Defintly Red, Bristol De Mai and Edwulf are all on higher ratings.
“It is what they have done this season that has moved them upwards with Definitly Red taking the Cotswold Chase, Bristol De Mai the Betfair Chase and Edwulf the Irish Gold Cup.
“It will be great if Definitly Red lines up because I am confident that he will have already at least been placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup by then. In what looks like an open Cheltenham Gold Cup, I think he will finish in the first four.
“In the past, horses at the top of the handicap have been very worthy horses, such as horses that had run well in Gold Cups for example, but were perhaps horses on their way down. The progressive horses at the top of the handicap is the biggest change for me when looking at this year’s race.”
If Definitly Red – the horse’s name was misspelt when being registered – is a non-runner, Yorkshire hopes appear to rest with Bingley trainer Sue Smith’s I Just Know.
The winner of last month’s North Yorkshire National at Catterick, the horse is 55th in the handicap and is virtually guaranteed a run after being allotted 10st 4lb.
A second season chaser who runs in the colours of longstanding South Yorkshire owner Margaret Scholey and her late husband Ray, Smith says the eight-year-old will have a prep run at either Kelso, or in Doncaster’s Grimthorpe Chase, on March 3.
Smith, whose Auroras Encore was victorious in the 2013 National, also believes I Just Know has the right attributes to be more than competitive in Aintree’s ultimate race.
“He’s a fantastic jumper. He stays very well. He travels very well in his races,” she said. “If he can put it all together, and if we can have him in tip top form on the day, I think he could run a big race.”
It’s unlikely, however, that stablemates Delusionofgrandeur and Vintage Clouds will make the cut.
Delusionofgrandeur is 71st in the handicap, and would have to carry 10st 1lb, while Vintage Clouds is 75th after being awarded 10st.
Fourth in the Welsh National after being badly hampered, Vintage Clouds – owned by three-time National-winner Trevor Hemmings – could only finish second in Wetherby’s Towton Novices Chase when he needed to win this Grade Two contest to go up sufficiently in the handicap for Aintree.
However Gold Present, owned by West Yorkshire businessman John Cotton and his wife Barbara, is assured of a place – the Nicky Henderson-trained chaser is 15th on the list with 11st.
Ante-post favourite Blaklion, winner of the Becher Chase for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and jockey Gavin Sheehan, has 11st 6lb, a mark that won’t change if the diminutive horse wins this Saturday’s Grand National Trial at Haydock.
Meanwhile Aintree specialist The Last Samuri, runner-up in the 2016 National before chasing home Blaklion in the Becher, has 11st 4lb, a mark that satisfies jockey David Bass and trainer Kim Bailey for now if the top three horses don’t defect.
“If the weights stay as they are and don’t rise, he would have more of a chance,” said Bailey.
Jockey Liam Treadwell, who rode 100-1 outsider Mon Mome to Grand National glory in 2009 has announced his retirement from the saddle aged 32. He suffered head injuries after a heavy fall in 2016.