Don Poli: ruled out of the Grand National by Michael O’Leary
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
GIGGINSTOWN House Stud owner Michael O’Leary has accused BHA head of handicapping Phil Smith of making up the rules as he goes along as he ruled favourite Don Poli out of the Randox Health Grand National because of his allotted weight.
In an escalating row over the treatment of Irish-based horses by the handicapper in Britain, O’Leary called on Smith to clearly explain his policy before he compiles weights for the race, so Irish connections could then decide whether to make an entry.
O’Leary, who won the £1 million race last year with Rule The World, is unhappy with Don Poli being allotted 11st 7lb off a rating of 163 in a handicap headed by another of his horses, Outlander, on 11st 10lb, with another, Empire Of Dirt, on 11st 8lb.
Ryanair boss O’Leary had expected horses at the top of the handicap to be more leniently treated in order to encourage the best to take part, but they have been assessed at marks higher than their Irish rating, as a result of which he said none would take their chance at Aintree.
Smith, who has carte blanche when it comes to framing the Grand National weights, appeared on At The Races on Thursday to defend his and his team’s handicapping of Irish-trained horses.
At the unveiling of the weights on Tuesday, trainer Gordon Elliott had ruled Outlander out and described Empire Of Dirt as doubtful, but he had said that Don Poli “definitely runs”.
However, O’Leary was equally adamant on Thursday night that the eight-year-old would not run, and said: “I want to come back on some of the drivel spouted by the head of handicapping.
“I read about Smith’s appearance on the ATR show in which he spoke complete and utter contradictory nonsense, but it’s what we’ve come to expect from him.
“First he says he has a policy of handicapping Irish horses separately to the Turf Club. Don Poli has run three times this year, all in Grade 1s – it’s not like we were running him over hurdles – and was pulled up, then beaten by a 160-rated horse at Down Royal, then beaten by a 160-rated handicapper at Leopardstown.
“If he’d beaten both of those by 15 lengths would Phil Smith still be running him off his 12-month-old UK handicap mark? Of course he wouldn’t.”
He added: “The whole thing with the National for the last number of years leads you to believe as an owner that if you enter your good horses then the weights will be compressed and you may have some chance.
“He now puts the weights up. Phil Smith decides to leave Don Poli on 165 but compresses him by 2lb, as a result of which he won’t run.
“If Phil Smith tells us what the rules are, we won’t waste our time entering good horses. If Don Poli had had a reasonable handicap mark, been compressed down 4-5-6lb off his Irish mark, over four and a quarter miles you might consider it, but he is clearly going nowhere.”
Also going nowhere, or at least not to the Grand National, are Outlander and Empire Of Dirt.
O’Leary said: “None of the top three of mine – Outlander, Empire Of Dirt and Don Poli – will run if they are not going to be treated fairly. They can still go to Aintree or to the Gold Cup and I’d rather they were running in conditions races anyway.”
Referencing Smith’s remark on ATR that bookmakers seemingly felt Don Poli had not been harshly treated, given they made him general 14-1 favourite, O’Leary said: “His justification for this is, ‘I notice the bookies have him as favourite, they are usually pretty shrewd, they obviously don’t think he’s hard done by’.
“So that’s how you run your handicapping system is it, based on what some ante-post spivs think? He is clearly talking utter drivel.”
The obviously outraged owner continued: “I won this race last year with a horse who had never won a chase race in his life. It’s not like we set out to target handicaps.
“We’re talking here about horses that have not even run in a handicap this season. It’s not like they have been minded and protected.
“Don Poli was favourite for the Irish Gold Cup last weekend and was beaten not just by Sizing John, but by Empire Of Dirt, who is just a glorified handicapper and was beaten fair and square.
“If you’re going to ask Don Poli to run four and a quarter miles, at least compress his weight by 4-5lb to give him a chance. Many Clouds had his weight compressed last year, which is fine, everyone accepts that, but tell us what the rules are Phil.
“If you’re going to change the rules where you’re no longer going to compress the weights for the good horses but increase them because they’re Irish entries, then fine. If you don’t want us to enter we won’t enter the good horses.
“But stop making it up as you go along, then coming out with drivel to justify it, which is all he’s said on ATR.”
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