Henrietta Knight, who has had just two previous runners in the Grand National and nearly decided to shun the race forever after one of them – Full Of Oats – fell at the first fence in 1997, confirmed yesterday that she will saddle three in this year's marathon.
Chives, Southern Star and Maximise will represent West Lockinge Farm at Aintree a week on Saturday.
Surprisingly, the stable's No 1 jockey, Jim Culloty, will not be in the saddle on Chives, who is by far the shortest of the trio in the National ante-post market betting at around 11-1 after a fine run in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham a fortnight ago. Ridden by Richard Guest, Chives faded into seventh after leading at the top of the hill.
Guest will continue his partnership with Chives, as part of a long-standing arrangement. Dominic Elsworth, a 23-year-old conditional, has the ride on Southern Star, an interesting 40-1 outsider, while Culloty will be on Maximise.
Culloty, of course, pulled off a spectacular Gold Cup-Grand National double last year on Best Mate and Bindaree. This time – after again riding Best Mate to victory in this year's Gold Cup – he will be on a slowcoach named Maximise in his attempt to repeat the achievement.
"He's not the world's fastest horse," Culloty admitted yesterday. "But he's a brilliant jumper, touch wood. He loves top-of-the-ground and will gallop all day. He'll have no bother getting the four-and-a-half miles."
Henrietta Knight, Maximise's trainer, was also disparaging yesterday about her charge's lack of pace. "He's not very fast," she said. "But ran very well to finish fourth in the William Hill Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival. He is one-paced, but an excellent jumper."
However, there has been a low-key, but steady flow of support for Maximise in the National ante-post market and he is now as low as 20-1 with Coral, but available at 33-1 with Skybet, having been around 50-1 a fortnight ago when it was reported that the nine-year-old could be switched from Aintree to the Irish equivalent.
For Chives, Knight was pleased to hear yesterday's announcement from Aintree that watering had taken place at the Merseyside track in order to produce ground no faster than good for the big race.
"Chives has been aimed at the National all season," Knight said. "But I hope they get some rain up there or that they put plenty of water on the ground. Chives is a big long-striding horse and he's not at his best on firm going. From what I hear, though, Aintree are pretty determined that it won't be any faster than good."
Southern Star, in contrast, would not mind fast going. "I think he will stay well. He's not been the most reliable of jumpers but seems to be improving in that department. He'll certainly have to buck his ideas up around Aintree. Maximise, like Southern Star, has got a good outside chance, but the National is a lottery."
Youlneverwalkalone was cut from 20-1 to 14-1 by Ladbrokes in the National betting yesterday after reports that the horse's Curragh trainer, Christy Roche, plans to run hisCheltenham winner if the ground is good or softer. The Tote trimmed Gingembre three points into 11-1.
GRAND NATIONAL (Latest odds): Ladbrokes: 5-1 Ad Hoc, 8-1 Shotgun Willy, 10-1 Chives, 12-1 Gunner Welburn, 14-1 Gingembre, Youlneverwalkalone, 16-1 Iris Bleu, Killusty, 20-1 Bindaree, Gunther McBride, 25-1 Behrajan, Carbury Cross, Goguenard, Kingsmark, Maximise, Monty's Pass, 33-1 others. Tote: 6-1 Ad Hoc, 8-1 Shotgun Willy, 10-1 Chives, 14-1 Gingembre, Gunner Welburn, 16-1 Iris Bleu, Youlneverwalkalone, 20-1 Monty's Pass, 25-1 Akarus, Behrajan, Gunther McBride, Killusty, Kingsmark, Maximise, Royal Predica, You're Agoodun, 33-1 others. Coral: 5-1 Ad Hoc, 8-1 Shotgun Willy, 11-1 Chives, 12-1 Gingembre, Youlneverwalkalone, 16-1 Gunther McBride, Gunner Welburn, Iris Bleu, 20-1 Maximise, 25-1 Bindaree, Carbury Cross, Blowing Wind, Kingsmark, Supreme Glory, Behrajan, Killusty, Monty's Pass, Southern Star, Ballinclay King 33-1 others.