Racing: Davids Lad stakes claim for National compensation

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The Independent Online

With the focus on the 157th Grand National due to sharpen tomorrow with the announcement of the weights amid much razzmatazz at a grand luncheon in London, the Irish, successful three times in the past five years, laid down some markers yesterday. They came chiefly in the form of two eyecatching performances in defeat, from Davids Lad at Thurles and from Rule Supreme at Punchestown.

Davids Lad, a 10-year-old trained by Tony Martin, has not been blessed with the proverbial luck of his countrymen where Aintree is concerned. Two years ago, as joint second-favourite, he was still tanking along in third place, with only the ultimate winner and second Bindaree and What's Up Boys in front, when he knuckled over four out. Last year he was again second favourite when a 42-day ban under the schooling-in-public rule, applied after he finished last over two miles at Naas, ruled him out of a second cut at the big fences.

Yesterday, again over an inadequate distance, he gave the supporters of 1-3 shot Native Upmanship a bit of a fright by running the two-and-a-half mile king to a length in the Kinloch Brae Chase at the little Co Tipperary track. Native Upmanship, landing a hat-trick in the Grade 2 contest, cruised clear three out but was eased down on the run-in by Conor O'Dwyer, who did not seem wholly aware of the power of Davids Lad's finish as he stayed on up the straight, all against the collar, under Timmy Murphy's driving.

Martin was delighted with the effort of the gelding, who may likely to return to Thurles next month. "The priority is to have him right to be campaigned in the spring," he said, "and there could be a race here for him in about four weeks'."

Davids Lad is now among Grand National market leaders again, challenging two other Irish horses, Ted Walsh-trained Rince Ri and Willie Mullins-trained Hedgehunter, for favouritism, although the shape of the market will be clearer after tomorrow. Mullins has a strong Aintree hand and yesterday two other of his seven entries (a number exceeded only by Martin Pipe's 17) enhanced their prospects. Last year's Topham Trophy runner-up Macs Gildoran, on his first outing for nine months, ran a solid race behind Native Upmanship until blowing up three out and Rule Supreme produced a tremendous effort to fail by only three-quarters of a length to concede 30lb to Coq Hardi Diamond over three and a half miles in testing ground in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown.

Ruby Walsh rode a fine race to give the top-weighted runner-up every chance, putting him in the mix only in the last half-mile. He and Coq Hardi Diamond rose at the last together and it was only a peck there, plus Gary Hutchinson's 3lb claim on the Noel Meade-trained winner, that made the difference. The pair pulled 25 lengths clear of the third and have entered the Liverpool lists at 40-1. The disappointment was 7-2 favourite What Odds, who carries the National-winning Monty's Pass colours. He went out like a light after a circuit and was pulled up.

Native Upmanship, who sidestepped Saturday's Grade One contest over the intermediate distance, the Ascot Chase won by Hand Inn Hand, because of the desperate ground, again has the Queen Mother Champion Chase as his Cheltenham target. The 11-year-old has finished runner-up for the two-mile title for the past two years but should have his own specialist crown to aim for next year when the Cathcart Chase, Hand Inn Hand's target this time, is upgraded to the highest level at the first four-day Festival.

Fondmort, a last-fence faller in the Ascot Chase but remounted to finish fifth, was reported to be slightly lame by his trainer, Nick Henderson, yesterday. "It's a cut on his off-fore heal," Henderson said. "It's a pretty common war wound."