Russell believes qualifying races for the Grand National should be introduced

Last Updated 4 weeks ago | By Enda McElhinney | Commercial content | 18+ | Play Responsibly | T&C Apply | Wagering


Grand National Festival – Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool, Britain – April 14, 2018 Davy Russell celebrates with a trophy after winning the 17:15 Randox Health Grand National Handicap Chase Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs @SCANPIX

Two-time Grand National-winning jockey Davy Russell believes that a proper qualification process needs to be introduced for the world’s most iconic jumps race.

Russell insists that with the field size for the Aintree spectacular now capped at 34 runners, it is time to remove some of the dead wood from the race and help make it ultra-competitive.

Many changes have been made to the Grand National in recent years, often on the grounds of welfare, and Russell says maximising the potential of having genuine contenders to win running in the race should be the next move.

Let the in-form horses run

Some pundits argued in the build-up to the Grand National that too many horses in this year’s race arrived completely out of form, seemingly only to the detriment of keeping other, better-handicapped horses out of the race.

A revised qualification process, perhaps where horses have to finish in the first three or four in at least one 3m-plus chase on their last three starts is one possible solution offered and Russell is behind that notion.

“Some horses have no place in the Grand National. They are just in there to keep others out. They had no chance, and it meant the horse who won the Kerry National [Desertmore House] and Malina Girl didn’t get into the race and they should have,” he told the Racing Post.

“The point I would be making, and the most important thing, is to have a topweight and a bottomweight with no huge extremes between both.

“You don’t want a Gold Cup horse taking on a horse who is 16lb out of the handicap. That can’t happen. You have to find a middle ground, and you also have to fill the race and make sure we have a full field every year.

“You have to be careful that you fill the field and make sure that we don’t just have 28 horses who are qualified to run in the race and nothing else gets into it.”

Some fine-tuning needed

In 2024, the first year of the 34-runner capped field, the Grand National was contested by just 32 runners as I Am Maximus won for Willie Mullins.

Chambard (self-certificate) and Run Wild Fred (vet’s certificate) were both withdrawn on the day of the race, leaving connections of the likes of Desertmore House and Malina Girl feeling frustrated as there is no process for allowing reserves into the contest anymore.

Amongst the field of 32 sat a trio of 100/1 shots and two sent off at 125/1 on the day. Russell says making changes to the qualifying process for the Aintree race could have positive knock-on effects.

“You would have to fine-tune the rules and regulations, but I do believe qualification races would work,” he added.

“You’d have to have plenty of races that you can qualify in and have them far enough away from the Grand National, but also close enough that horses are coming into the race in form as well.

“It would need a lot of studying of various races and figuring out which ones would and wouldn’t work as qualifiers, but I do feel it can work and it should happen.

“I think a band of qualification races would have a positive knock-on effect on the wider programme as well and make more of our staying chases competitive.”

Enda McElhinney

Enda McElhinney is a racing writer with a growing portfolio of work on both British and Irish racing, with a particular fondness for National Hunt racing. While he acknowledges there have been many great runners; there has only ever been one Denman.
@scoobsy

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