Champion supports National underdogs

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Bob Champion, winner of an emotion-packed Grand National on Aldaniti 15 years ago, believes that the conditions that now apply to runners in the race are reducing the spectacle of the world's most famous steeplechase.

Speaking at Aintree yesterday, Champion said: "It's such a shame that there will be so few runners this year because I think that this detracts from the spectacle the race provides for the public."

Barring further mishap or injury, 28 runners will line up in tomorrow's race -the smallest since Gay Trip beat 27 others in 1970. Champion believes that figure would be boosted if it were not for the restrictive race conditions.

"A handicap limit of 120 is far too low. There should be no limit and then they would ballot them out from the bottom of the handicap -that would get rid of the no hopers," the former jockey, now a trainer, said.

"Killeshin would have been one of the favourites for the race and was a good winner of the Eider, yet he can't get into the race. It should be just an open handicap," he added.

Despite the withdrawal of Lo Stregone yesterday, Rough Quest, the favourite, actually eased in the market with the major bookmakers. He is now a top- priced 11-2, from 5-1, with William Hill. That firm now has Superior Finish as the 11-2 joint-favourite, from 7-1 and report a flood of money for that Jenny Pitman-trained horse since Richard Dunwoody was booked for the ride.

n The crowd at yesterday's opening day of the Grand National meeting was 13,374, down 814 on last year's record first day attendance.