Pineau De Re, winner of the Grand National in 2014, now seems certain to miss the cut for this year’s race on Saturday.
The veteran chaser needs five withdrawals from those above him in the list if he is to be allowed to take his chance and his trainer, Dr Richard Newland, who has given up hope, called for a rethink about the way in which horses are qualified for the famous Aintree race.
“It’s very disappointing,” Newland said, “and all the more frustrating because he is in fantastic shape. But everyone else has paid their £5,000 to stay in the entries to this point, so I would think they want to run and we’re not going to get many dropping out.”
The National field is limited to 40 runners and those on lower ratings are eliminated first. Pineau De Re is now on the same rating as when he won the race two years ago but will be denied a run this time because there are now more higher-rated horses entered. The same issue affects Alvarado, fourth in the last two Nationals, and Royale Knight, trained by Newland to be sixth last year.
“The idea that a rating of 143 doesn’t get you a run is incredible,” the trainer said. It means Pineau De Re will miss his final chance in a National, as he is 13 and likely to be retired by this time next year. “I don’t think anyone expected this and the thing needs thinking about.”
Some have suggested that previous winners could be given an automatic place in the final field, an idea that Newland favours. He also suggests that National entrants could be rated specifically on what they have achieved in other long-distance contests.
“If you look at those horses rated above him, how many have ratings based on races short of three miles? I’m sure there will be changes for next year.
“And there are other issues. In the Irish Grand National last week one owner ran eight horses. At what point do you think that, maybe, as an owner, three runners is enough?”
Newland also noted that Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, locked in a struggle for the champion trainer’s title, are set to field 10 runners between them, a quarter of the field. While he accepts that those 10 have earned their places, Newland points out that a handful of stables are so crammed with talent these days that an especially determined trainer could enter lots of highly rated horses just to shut out rivals.
“I don’t think that has happened this time but one should be aware that it could happen in the future,” Newland said. “It wouldn’t be very attractive.”
The British Horseracing Authority was unable to offer a substantive response to Newland’s points because, more than three weeks after its disciplinary panel reached a conclusion in the case of Jim Best, it took until Monday to publish reasons and a decision on punishments.
That led to the wholly unsatisfactory outcome that those details were finally released after 6pm on the Monday of Grand National week, ensuring media analysis will be minimal.
Best has been banned from training for four years, the panel having found him guilty of pressuring the young jockey Paul John into stopping two horses and then trying to turn the jockey into a scapegoat. Best’s legal team said on Monday night they had not been allowed sufficient time to analyse the reasons before publication but anticipated that an appeal was likely.
John appears to have been treated leniently, being given a 50% remission from his suspension for offering the BHA a confession and information. He will be eligible to apply for a new licence on 19 May.
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