Racing: Russell's Resolve to earn National chance

The most eye-popping ladies' day in world racing awaits at Aintree on Friday, but the horses are not running scared and a total of 85 remain in the greatest steeplechase on the planet.

The most eye-popping ladies' day in world racing awaits at Aintree on Friday, but the horses are not running scared and a total of 85 remain in the greatest steeplechase on the planet.

Le Coudray, the property of a man we have recently learned is worth £400m, is left carrying top weight of 11st 12lb in the Grand National as he attempts to add the biggest chunk of the race's £700,000 prize-money to the JP McManus fortunes. Le Coudray has been raised 3lb following the withdrawal of Grey Abbey and Sir Rembrandt.

First Gold is next in the handicap on 11st 11lb, though François Doumen's gelding also holds an entry in Thursday's Betfair Bowl over the Mildmay fences. Among those high in the handicap also taken out yesterday were Seebald, Rince Ri and Alexander Banquet.

Seebald's trainer, Martin Pipe, has also withdrawn Jurancon II and Venn Ottery, but such are the serried ranks at Pond House that he will not fail for lack of numbers on Merseyside. The champion trainer has a quartet guaranteed a run - last year's third Lord Atterbury, It Takes Time, Iznogoud and Polar Red - while there are another three - Heart Midoltian, Montreal and Latitude - who are some way off making the top 40 allowed to participate.

The cut-off weight is 10st 6lb and of the 10 on that weight all bar one are guaranteed a run. Although Lucinda Russell's Welsh National runner-up Strong Resolve is the unlucky one in numerical order, that is unlikely to be the case when the new handicap ratings become known today. Eliminations of horses on the same weight will be determined by ratings current at the 48-hour declaration stage.

Most intriguing is the failure of Peter Bowen to find a rider for his runner Take The Stand. Runner-up to Kicking King in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and as low as 12-1 in the betting, the nine-year-old should have jockeys crawling over each other like termites to get on his back.

Tony Dobbin rode Take The Stand at the Festival, but he has agreed to ride the Martin Todhunter-trained Just In Debt, while Seamus Durack, who has ridden the horse seven times this season, is committed to riding Bowen's Ballycassidy.

"It's a strange situation after the great race he ran at Cheltenham, but, as none of the top boys can take the ride, I'd rather wait as long as possible in the hope that one of them comes available," Bowen said. "Any jockey who is free now will probably still be free on Thursday."

Jonjo O'Neill is three-handed, with last year's runner-up, Clan Royal, Simply Gifted and Shamawan. "Clan Royal looks OK, but without him having a run for so long, you can't be confident," the trainer said.

Tony McCoy, who will partner Clan Royal, believes his mount's record at Aintree, where he has also won the Becher and Topham Chases, will stand him in good stead. "The form book suggests he's a much better horse over the National fences," the champion jockey said. "He's only average over normal fences but the ones at Aintree bring the best out of him and hopefully they will on Saturday."

Grand National: (Aintree, Saturday): Ladbrokes: 8-1 Hedgehunter, 9-1 Amberleigh House, 10-1 Clan Royal, Forest Gunner, Strong Resolve, 16-1 Joly Bey, Longshanks, Lord Atterbury, Take the Stand, 20-1 Colnel Rayburn, Innox, Monty's Pass, Nil Desperandum, 25-1 Bindaree, Double Honour, First Gold, It Takes Time, Le Coudray, Marcus Du Berlais, Royal Auclair, Spot Thedifference, 33-1 others. Totesport: 8-1 Hedgehunter, 10-1 Strong Resolve, Amberleigh House, Clan Royal, 11-1 Forest Gunner, 16-1 Take The Stand, 18-1 Colnel Rayburn, Joly Bey, 20-1 Innox, Lord Atterbury, Nil Desperandum, Spot Thedifference, 25-1 others. Coral: 8-1 Hedgehunter, 9-1 Clan Royal, Amberleigh House, 11-1 Forest Gunner, 12-1 Strong Resolve, 14-1 Joly Bey, Take The Stand, 20-1 Royal Auclair, Longshanks, Lord Atterbury, Spot Thedifference, 25-1 others.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Jivaty

(Sedgefield 2.30)

NB: It's Music

(Sedgefield 5.00)

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