National favourite Don Poli 'doubtful' for Aintree following weights dispute
Don Poli, ante-post favourite for the Randox Health Grand National with most bookmakers, is a doubtful runner according to Eddie O'Leary.
O'Leary, racing manager for his brother Michael's Gigginstown House Stud operation, claims British Horseracing Authority Handicapper Phil Smith has been too harsh on the Gordon Elliott-trained eight-year-old, rating him 2lb higher than his official Irish mark of 161 in allotting him a figure of 163 for the Aintree showpiece on April 8.
A dual Cheltenham Festival winner when trained by Willie Mullins, Don Poli has finished second in the Lexus Chase and third in the Irish Gold Cup on his last two outings.
Gigginstown won the Grand National last season with Mouse Morris' Rule The World but the then nine-year-old was retired swiftly afterwards.
Gigginstown are responsible for three of the top four in the weights for the Aintree showpiece, but Elliott has already ruled top-weight Outlander out of the race, Empire Of Dirt has either the Ryanair or Gold Cup at Cheltenham as his main aim and it now appears there is little chance of Don Poli heading to Liverpool.
O'Leary told the Irish Independent: "Gordon has announced Outlander would not run, the simple reason he was given far too much weight - a higher mark than any horse who ran in the race in recent years.
"He (Smith) wants to compress the weights so better horses get more of a chance, and that's fair enough. Yet our three top horses got 2lb more from a guy who wants to compress the weights.
"A handicapper is meant to be impartial. What I'd call the National now is a pre-Brexit, post-Brexit handicap."
O'Leary indicated Rule The World could have stayed in training, but for the fear of having a big weight.
He added: "That denied him (Rule The World) a chance to come back. He's as sound and as fit as could be.
"We'll run very, very few in the race. Don Poli is doubtful, while Outlander is ruled out. Empire Of Dirt won't go."
Smith endeavoured to answer the criticism and explain his thinking when speaking on At The Races.
He said: "First of all, Rule The World - he (O'Leary) wouldn't know what I gave him because he's retired and wasn't entered in the race this year, so that's a little bit of speculation.
"But let's go with Don Poli and all those other horses at the top - they're actually 2lb lower than I had them, not 2lb higher and that's the first piece of misinformation. Let's take Don Poli, he was rated 165 in last year's end-of-season Anglo-Irish jumps classification. That was agreed by both myself and Noel (O'Brien, Irish handicapper).
"Since then, Don Poli has finished second in the Lexus and third in the Irish Gold Cup, so I still have him on 165. For running two cracking races in Grade Ones, I still have him on 165. I've compressed him by 2lb, as I have all the other top three or four horses.
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