Business receives National incentive

Grand National Weights: Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner is leniently treated as BHB handicapper weighs up the 'Aintree factor'
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A gilt-edged invitation to See More Business to run in the Grand National was sent yesterday. The response, however, will not be by return of post.

A gilt-edged invitation to See More Business to run in the Grand National was sent yesterday. The response, however, will not be by return of post.

See More Business, as expected, was allotted 12st in a lavish unveiling-of-the-weights ceremony in France yesterday, but the proximity of those underneath him reveals that he is effectively 7lb better off than he would be for other events, on the everyday official figures.

Owners and trainers like carrots as much as horses, and while the 1999 Gold Cup winner may still be a shade of odds against to line up on 7 April, connections are now tempted to at least consider the gauntlet. Much will depend on See More Business' performance when he attempts to reclaim the Blue Riband at Cheltenham on 15 March.

"It's quite interesting what they have done with See More," Paul Nicholls, the 11-year-old's trainer, said yesterday. "The situation is that he is unlikely to run, as Cheltenham is first and foremost and we haven't thought any further ahead than that. But he has got an entry so it is a possibility and I wouldn't rule it out completely. The handicapper has been very, very fair. He is tempting us to run."

Nicholls was not in attendance yesterday as Martell commemorated their 10th year of National sponsorship by chartering a one-class Boeing 737-800 to fly a group of racing folk out to their headquarters near Cognac. For some of us it was a unique and humbling experience sitting further up the aircraft fuselage than Nicky Henderson.

After the flight from Luton to the Aerogare de Cognac, three buses transported the guests through the antlers of bare vines to the Gallienne distillery. The weights were then delivered in a room framed tantalisingly by huge vats of brandy.

Phil Smith, the BHB handicapper, admitted that he had put together his scale with the intention of getting See More Business into the field. "It is at my discretion to give him any weight and I could have put him on 14st 6lb if I wanted, but I would never give a horse more that 12st over four and a half miles," he said.

"I wanted to encourage him to run. It was nip and tuck about making him or Florida Pearl the top weight. He has finished ahead of See More Business the last two times they have met."

Florida Pearl is, however, an unlikely runner, for this year at least, though his trainer, Willie Mullins, was far more positive about the participation of Alexander Banquet. If the Irish Gold Cup second does run, the weights will rise by a maximum 1lb, with a possible 37 horses left in the handicap proper.

The first 12 home from last year again have an entry and the worst treated of all is the best of those last April, the Ted Walsh-trained Papillon. He will have to carry 8lb more than the official ratings indicate, suggesting that Smith believes the "Aintree factor" remains a valid theory.

"I'm happy with 10st 10lb, but I would have been delighted with 10st 4lb," Walsh said from his Kill stables. "We are very happy to have won the National once with him and a second would be a bonus. I don't think there's as much Aintree factor as there used to be because the fences are not quite as daunting. I remember walking it in the 60s and there were much bigger fences and bigger drops in those days. There were definitely more hazards.

"It's been modified in the last 10 years or so and there are more finishers, and you'll never get to the stage again with Tipperary Tim coming home on his own. But there are horses which do light up to the occasion, the place and the different type of fences.

"Papillon is a good bit better than he was at this time last year. He was horrible then and he ended up winning the National."

Walsh believed at the time, as he still believes now, that Papillon won the National not just because he was the best horse on the day, but also the luckiest. The Aintree factor that will never be disputed is that the victor must have the fates riding with him. "You don't get 40 horses in other races," the trainer said. "You get the special variances of Liverpool, like loose horses, the Canal Turn and horses coming back at you. Invariably, there are five or six loose horses after you've gone a circuit.

"Papillon was lucky on the run to the second last over the Melling Road. There were a couple of loose horses around and Ruby [Walsh, his son and jockey] had to switch him. If just one of them had veered off we would have been in trouble. You need luck in any race, but in the National you need a bigger portion than anywhere else, than any other race."