The well-backed Ross Comm yesterday prised open the door to the John Smith's Grand National on Saturday after three horses higher in the handicap obligingly stepped aside. Previously two short of the safety limit of 40 runners, Ross Comm crept into the race after Ollie Magern and Ground Ball were instead declared for races today, and Eurotrek was ruled out by a leg infection. The absence of the latter means that Paul Nicholls, anxious to seal his first trainers' championship over the next three days, will have to make do with just the six runners on Saturday.
The character of the race this year will be radically determined by the going, with Hedgehunter considered far less likely to impose his class under top weight if things happened to develop into an old-fashioned slog. The meeting starts with kind conditions - despite a drying day yesterday, the going remained officially good to soft, good in places on the National course and vice versa on the Mildmay and hurdle tracks and seems likely to stay that way, with occasional showers forecast today and tomorrow.
Dry weather would heighten confidence in Direct Access, who received a notably confident endorsement from his rider. Tony Dobbin rates Direct Access as his best chance since he won on Lord Gyllene in 1997, even though the 11-year-old has been off the track since winning at Newcastle in November. "I rode him this morning and he's in perfect condition," Dobbin said. "We are obviously carrying a nice weight [10st 6lb] and you can't really ignore him by the form either. He needs to have it rattling good ground to be at his best, but he is progressing really nicely and Nicky [Richards] is delighted with him."