Racing: Sprinklers at Aintree will not dampen form factor

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Walking the track at Aintree could be a little hazardous this week, with the course executive planning to leave the sprinklers turning until the early afternoon in a desperate attempt to prevent the turf from turning into tarmac. Shrewder punters will have realised that even if the hoses are turned on as the horses head for the first fence in Saturday's Grand National it will make little difference to the fast-draining Aintree turf. This should be a National for the form book, for when the going is good a lot of luck is taken out of forecasting the winner.

Walking the track at Aintree could be a little hazardous this week, with the course executive planning to leave the sprinklers turning until the early afternoon in a desperate attempt to prevent the turf from turning into tarmac. Shrewder punters will have realised that even if the hoses are turned on as the horses head for the first fence in Saturday's Grand National it will make little difference to the fast-draining Aintree turf. This should be a National for the form book, for when the going is good a lot of luck is taken out of forecasting the winner.

What is certainly not going to happen is a deluge of the proportions that enabled Red Marauder to lead four runners home in 2001. That is particularly unfortunate for Richard Guest, rider of Red Marauder two years ago and now his trainer. He had hoped to saddle the gelding, now a 13-year-old, again this year along with his stable-companions Red Ark and Red Striker.

"Unfortunately it does not look like it is going to rain and we will have a look at the Irish National at Fairyhouse for Red Marauder," Guest said as he paraded his Aintree team in front of a crowd of several hundred at the trainer's Brancepeth base yesterday. Guest believes Red Striker is his best hope. "He has a handy weight, has come right at the right time and is the right horse for the race," he said.

Guest, however, will not be on board but partners the Henrietta Knight-trained Chives. "I wouldn't be able to do 10st 6lb on Red Marauder or Red Striker, and certainly would not do 10st on Red Ark. The 11st 3lb Chives has is more my type of weight these days.

"To be fair, I was committed to ride Chives some time ago and he must have a great chance. He ran a cracker in the Gold Cup and you would find it hard to find any negatives about him."

Except the going of course. Chives ran outstandingly in a bog to be second to Mini Sensation in the Welsh National and it would be surprising if he can show the same level of form after the drought of March.

"In February we had 42.4mm of rain compared to 91.2mm last year, and in March, we have had just 21.8mm compared to 36.2mm in 2002," Andrew Tulloch, Aintree's clerk of the course, said. "These are very unusual, difficult circumstances, we have not had rain at the course since 8 March.

"With the soil and drainage we have at Aintree, coupled with the exceptional dry period, the effect of watering can be lost after a short period. Therefore, we are gearing up to water on racedays up to as late as 1pm on the National course."

Youlneverwalkalone, who should not be troubled by the fast ground, continued to attract cash support yesterday and is down to 9-1 with Ladbrokes. The J P McManus-owned nine-year-old was 40-1 with the firm when the weights were announced in February.

GRAND NATIONAL (Aintree, Saturday): William Hill: 6-1 Ad Hoc, Shotgun Willy, 9-1 Chives, 10-1 Youlneverwalkalone, 11-1 Gingembre, Gunner Welburn, 14-1 Monty's Pass, 16-1 Iris Bleu, 20-1 Bindaree, Kingsmark, Maximize, 22-1 Behrajan, 25-1 Carbury Cross, Gunther McBride, Killusty, 33-1 others. Ladbrokes: 6-1 Ad Hoc, Shotgun Willy, 9-1 Youlneverwalkalone, 10-1 Chives, Gingembre, 14-1 Monty's Pass, 16-1 Gunner Welburn, Iris Bleu, Killusty, Maximize, 20-1 Carbury Cross, Gunther McBride, 25-1 Behrajan, Bindaree, Goguenard, Kingsmark, 33-1 others.

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