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Outlander in top billing for Aintree showpiece

By Nick Robson

Outlander has been handed top weight for the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree. The Gordon Elliott-trained nine-year-old, who was last seen winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, was given the steadier of 11st 10lb for the world's most famous steeplechase on April 8 during a ceremony at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London last night.

It is 10 years since Elliott was thrust into the limelight after claiming National glory with Silver Birch. The Cullentra handler, who has this season emerged as a major threat to Willie Mullins in the race to be crowned champion trainer in Ireland, has a formidable hand of 14 entries in total, more than any other trainer.

Don Poli, ante-post favourite with some bookmakers, is fourth in the weights on 11st 7lb. His stable companion Empire Of Dirt, who was narrowly ahead of Don Poli when runner-up to Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, is just above him on 11st 8lb.

Phil Smith, the British Horseracing Authority's head of handicapping, revealed the Irish Gold Cup had a significant impact on the National weights.

He said: "When I get the entries, I have a train of thought and then something happens which means I have to change that.

"Leopardstown had a big bearing on the weights. It was the crucial race, which had a big effect on the top of the handicap."

Lord Scoundrel (11st), Clarcam (10st 12lb) and Roi Des Francs (10st 12lb) are other possible representatives for Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud. Gigginstown, the racing operation run by Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary, won the National for the first time last April with Rule The World and have 16 contenders this time around.

Disputing favouritism with Don Poli is last year's runner-up The Last Samuri. Kim Bailey's nine-year-old carried 10st 8lb when chasing home Rule The World, but is this year set to carry 11st 5lb.

The Henry de Bromhead-trained Champagne West, so impressive under a big weight in the Thyestes Chase and bound for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, is the second horse on the list with 11st 9lb.

Currently the last horse guaranteed a place in the 40-strong line-up is David Pipe's Vieux Lion Rouge (10st 7lb), winner of the Becher Chase over the famous fences in December.

Other leading contenders include Jimmy Moffatt's Becher runner-up Highland Lodge (10st 6lb), Neil Mulholland's bet365 Gold Cup hero The Young Master (10st 8lb), Lucinda Russell's Classic Chase winner One For Arthur (10st 6lb) and John Kiely's dual Irish Gold Cup scorer Carlingford Lough (11st 6lb).

There are a total of 109 horses left in the big race, 37 of which are trained in Ireland. The only French-trained entry is Vieux Morvan (10st 2lb).

Belfast Telegraph

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