Papillon causes confusion in National betting

A maximum field of 40 runners seems sure to breast the tape before the Grand National on Saturday, after 57 horses were declared for the race at yesterday's five-day stage. The news that Papillon, last year's winner, is expected to be among them was further positive news for the race, as racing looks for an event and a hero to pierce the gloom following the drawn-out abandonment of this year's Cheltenham Festival.

A maximum field of 40 runners seems sure to breast the tape before the Grand National on Saturday, after 57 horses were declared for the race at yesterday's five-day stage. The news that Papillon, last year's winner, is expected to be among them was further positive news for the race, as racing looks for an event and a hero to pierce the gloom following the drawn-out abandonment of this year's Cheltenham Festival.

Papillon beat 39 opponents 12 months ago, landing a sustained nationwide gamble in the process which was said ­ by the bookies' PRs at least ­ to have cost the layers several million pounds. He will repay them handsomely if he can follow up on Saturday, though, for the bookmakers have almost no ante-post liabilities to worry about, and have brought him straight into the betting at a single-figure price.

Ted Walsh's chaser was not quoted for the National by any British firm bar Ladbrokes yesterday morning, but within hours he was challenging for favouritism in most lists. He is the clear favourite at 7-1 with Ladbrokes, ahead of Mely Moss (8-1 from 7-1), who finished second to Papillon 12 months ago. The Tote, though, kept Mely Moss at the head of their market, with Papillon at 9-1.

The going at Aintree is not expected to be any faster than good, rather than the good to firm ground on which much of last year's National meeting took place. "We had 15mm of rain this morning which was very welcome," Ian Renton, the clerk of the course, said yesterday, altering his description of the ground at Aintree from good, good to soft in places, to good to soft, good in places.

"The forecast is unsettled, and we certainly expect further rain during the week," Renton added. "That is what we would want to maintain the ground as it is now, which is really perfect jumping ground."

The weights for Saturday's race will rise by 5lb, following the withdrawal of Marlborough yesterday morning. Beau, last year's Whitbread Gold Cup winner, will now carry top weight, but this did not deter the clients of Coral Eurobet who yesterday supported Nigel Twiston-Davies's runner down to 9-1 second-favourite (from 11-1) alongside Papillon, behind only Mely Moss on 6-1.

Such relative disparity in the ante-post betting ­ and most firms, incidentally, are now non-runner, no bet ­ is unusual so close to a major race. There have been few National Hunt seasons quite like this one, though, and it may be only a matter of time before someone opens a book on which horse will start favourite this weekend.

Earthmover, recommended here at 40-1 when the National weights were published, is next in all lists at prices ranging from 10-1 to 14-1 (Tote), while Dark Stranger, quoted at 16-1 by the Tote, is the shortest of Martin Pipe's 10 remaining entries.

Another of Pipe's entries, the promising seven-year-old Take Control, was taken out of the race yesterday. "He is only seven," David Johnson, his owner, said, "and still effectively a novice, and I think he will lack enough experience for the National fences. He is more than likely to take his chance in the Scottish National."

Take Control's absence means that Dark Stranger is the probable mount of Tony McCoy, who rode the same horse when he started favourite for the race at 9-1 last year. The pairing lasted barely a minute, departing at the third fence, and while the champion jockey will hope to get further this time, Dark Stranger's stamina ­ he is basically a two-and-a-half miler ­ is a serious concern.

Paul Carberry, who rode Bobbyjo to victory two years ago, had admitted defeat in his race to be fit for Saturday's renewal. Carberry had hoped to ride Noble Lord, a solid 16-1 chance, for Richard Phillips.

"We spoke to Paul and he said that it was going to come a bit quick for him," Gordon Clarkson, Phillips' assistant, said yesterday. "We've got Jimmy McCarthy, who will come down tomorrow morning and school the horse so they get to know each other."

Away from the head of the market, National betting was fairly light yesterday, although Inn At The Top was cut to 16-1 from 25-1 by Coral. Addington Boy, who has run with distinction in the last two Grand Nationals, is 20-1 from 25-1 with the same firm.

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