Racing: Roche warns punters that National bets could be lost

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The Independent Online

On one front, there were sighs of relief all round yesterday as the field for Saturday's 157th Grand National began to take its final shape. A record total of 81 horses currently remain on course for the £600,000 marathon and though only 40 will make the safety limit cut, enough of the higher-weighted entries have now been removed from the game to ensure that all the well-fancied contenders are ensured a run, should they chose.

On one front, there were sighs of relief all round yesterday as the field for Saturday's 157th Grand National began to take its final shape. A record total of 81 horses currently remain on course for the £600,000 marathon and though only 40 will make the safety limit cut, enough of the higher-weighted entries have now been removed from the game to ensure that all the well-fancied contenders are ensured a run, should they chose.

But whether or not they all will take up the option may cause concern elsewhere. Most specifically, the connections of the best-backed beast in the race, the Irish raider Youlneverwalkalone, are havering about his participation on ground that may not be soft enough for him.

The nine-year-old, winner of the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham on his most recent outing and with a name that would appeal in a Liverpudlian arena, has been the subject of a plunge from 25-1 to 10-1 in the past week, but trainer Christy Roche issued a stark warning yesterday, even if it was in the face of a swinging stable door. "The owner, J P McManus and myself, wish to advise punters not to back the horse ante-post," he said. "With the current weather forecast, Youlneverwalkalone is unlikely to run."

The Aintree turf was yesterday bathed in bright sunshine and the National course sprinkled with 4mm of water in an attempt to keep dehydration at bay. There is, however, rain forecast on Merseyside today and should it arrive the groundstaff will monitor its effect before deciding on any future deployment of the pumps.

These days at Liverpool the going is not left entirely to Dame Nature; from an animal welfare point of view fast ground is not deemed desirable and the aim is to produce ground on the easy side of good. "If necessary," said Andrew Tulloch, the clerk of the course, "we will be watering even on the morning itself."

Roche will inspect the ground on Thursday before committing his charge, who is not alone among the market leaders in preferring give under his hooves. Andrew Balding-trained Gunner Welburn, who made the line-up with five to spare, has done all his best work in the mud. "I'm very pleased he's made the cut," said Balding, "but now we have to worry about the ground. The easy side of good should be OK but any rain will be welcome."

The current top 40, with jockeys where known, are as follows: Marlborough, Behrajan (Richard Johnson), Kingsmark (Tony Dobbin), Gingembre (Andy Thornton), Shotgun Willy (Ruby Walsh), First Gold (Thierry Doumen), Fadalko (Seamus Durack), Chives (Richard Guest), Iris Blue, Ad Hoc (Paul Carberry), Ballinclay King (Davy Russell), Carbury Cross, Bindaree (Carl Llewellyn), Take Control, Youlneverwalkalone (C O'Dwyer), The Bunny Boiler (John Cullen), Blowing Wind, You're Agoodun, Katarino (Mick Fitzgerald), Red Marauder (Henry Oliver), Red Striker (Larry McGrath), Southern Star (Dominic Elsworth), Monty's Pass (Barry Geraghty), Majed, Amberleigh House (Graham Lee), Maximize (Jim Culloty), Montifault (Joe Tizzard), Polar Champ, Cregg House, Good Shuil (Noel Fehily), Mantles Prince (Ollie McPhail), Torduff Express (Timmy Murphy), Goguenard, Gunner Welburn (Barry Fenton), Gunther McBride, Royal Predica, Supreme Glory (Leighton Aspell), Tremallt (Jason McGuire), Wonder Weasel (JP McNamara) and Djeddah.

The penultimate declaration stage will be on Thursday morning, at which point four reserve horses will be nominated, ready to step in to make the numbers up should there be a vacancy when the bar comes down for the final time at 9.30 am on Friday. This is also when the weights for the race become set in stone; the top-weight, currently Marlborough, will carry 11st 12lb and the way things stand at present only Djeddah is out of the handicap.

The next on the leaderboard are Burlu, Red Ark (Kenny Johnson), Macs Gildoran, Robbo (Alan Dempsey), Bramblehill Duke, Empereur River, Granit d'Estruval, Killusty and Murt's Man (Polly Gundry).

Marlborough is the only one of his owner Sir Robert Ogden's impressive squad (Kingsmark, Fadalko, and Ad Hoc are the others) not jocked up, and he, like First Gold, also holds the engagement in the Martell Cognac Cup on Thursday. But he has not yet been ruled out of another chance at the big one, in which he fell at the first last year.

"On his best form, he should be running in the Grade Two race," said Ogden's racing manager, Barry Simpson, yesterday. "But he has produced two lacklustre performances at that level in his last two runs, so he may be better in the handicap. He is a class act so even with top-weight he wouldn't be out of the equation, and he'd love the faster ground."

GRAND NATIONAL (4m4f Aintree, Saturday) Latest betting (Ladbrokes): 6-1 Ad Hoc, Shotgun Willy, 9-1 Youlneverwalkalone, 10-1 Chives, 11-1 Gingembre, 14-1 Monty's Pass (from 16-1), 16-1 Gunner Welburn, Iris Bleu, Killusty, Maximize, 20-1 Carbury Cross, Gunther McBride, 25-1 Behrajan, Bindaree, Kingsmark, 33-1 Amberleigh House, Goguenard, Royal Predica, Supreme Glory, The Bunny Boiler, 40-1 Ballinclay King, Blowing Wind, Historg, Macs Gildoran (from 50-1), Marlborough, Montifault, 50-1 others.

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