In the news: Women trainers: Queen of Aintree feels the heat from sisters eager for a place in the winners' enclosure

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JENNY PITMAN goes for her third Grand National this afternoon. Julie Camacho goes for her first, in fact her first winner of any description. It is one of the charms of the Grand National that the world's greatest steeplechase can still be collected by the unheralded.

That cannot happen in the Derby; indeed, the Flat is a most barren land for women trainers. National Hunt racing is not so dominated by the dollar and offers greater opportunities for the little man or little woman.

Pitman is attempting to become an even littler woman and there will be a lot less of the "cuddly one" to observe in the winners' enclosure this afternoon should Nahthen Lad be successful. But while Pitman slims down there will never be any diminution in her achievements at Aintree. The Upper Lambourn trainer has won this race twice, with Corbiere and Garrison Savannah, and was also the steward behind Esha Ness, first past the post in the void race of 1993. Both her ex-husband Richard and son Mark have suffered narrow defeats as jockeys in the race. When la Pitman brings in her horses each autumn it is this single contest which preoccupies her mind as she casts her eye over a talented string. Since Lord Gulliver fell at the 13th in 1981 she has saddled a further 34 runners and completed just about as many interviews with Des Lynam. Her many strands with the National were undoubtedly the reason for her being appointed OBE last month.

The Queen Of Aintree has much female company this year, with five others of her sex launching themselves at the prize. According to the betting lists the greatest opportunity belongs to Julie Camacho's Avro Anson, although the horse's aversion to the prevailing wet conditions is bordering on hydrophobia and he may be withdrawn.

Camacho has held a licence since New Year's Day, when she took over the reins at Star Cottage Stables in Malton from her father Maurice. She has yet to experience what it is like to welcome back a winner. An accomplished rider, Camacho is assisted by her husband, Steve Browne, a former pupil assistant with Luca Cumani, in the care of 29 horses.

Venetia Williams, the trainer of Celtic Abbey, too was an equestrian of some note, so much so that she is one of only 12 women to have ridden in the National. She is one of the 10 who failed to complete; indeed, the big race of 1988 was one of the few recent National denouements she failed to witness. Williams and Marcolo went their separate ways at Becher's Brook and the rider was left unconscious on the floor. Two weeks later she broke her neck at Worcester, at the same time severing her connection with competitive riding.

She became her own boss in 1995, training from a base at Kings Caple, near Hereford. The results were stunning. This season she has trained 37 winners from 111 runners for a strike-rate of 33 per cent, a level of excellence unmatched by any trainer in the top 50. If Celtic Abbey wins, it will certainly be a red-letter day for his trainer. She records all her winners with a red felt-tip pen and the losers in black.

The bookmakers will be in the black if any of the other three women- trained horses succeed. Fabricator, prepared by former rider Muriel Naughton, and Griffins Bar, who is sent out again by Pam Sly after falling at the second here on Thursday, have chances only slightly up from nil. Mary Reveley is the most successful female trainer operating today but her sights tend to be aimed at her local exotica of Sedgefield and Redcar.

For those who want to bracket the ladies together in a six-pack, Coral offer a price for the fairer sex. All their horses can run for you at a price of 7-1.

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