National field shrinks but Tate fears tension

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The Independent Online
One of the smallest fields for 40 years will go to post for the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, after yesterday's five-day declaration stage produced just 32 names. With further defections almost inevitable before the big day, the final muster could drop below the 30 who set off in 1980, or even the 28 starters in 1970.

A low National turnout was always likely this season, with the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals separated by just a fortnight due to the proximity of Easter. Rough Quest, the Gold Cup runner-up, is the ante-post favourite for the National at present, but very few of his major rivals were also in action two weeks ago. Many trainers felt that they had been presented with an "either/or" situation this year, and the majority opted for Cheltenham.

The first four names on the entry list, including Jodami and Dublin Flyer, came out yesterday, leaving Young Hustler at the top of the weights, which will rise by 6lb. Miinnehoma, who won the race in 1994, was also among the total of 16 who were removed from contention.

While the Aintree authorities may be disappointed by the shrinking cast list, Tom Tate, the trainer of second-favourite Lo Stregone, was not complaining yesterday. "The less horses there are, the less schmozzle there should be," Tate said. ``Lo Stregone is in good order, he worked well on Saturday and at the moment I'm looking forward to the race. But I always get less confident the closer it gets and on the day I'll probably lock myself in the loo.''

Deep Bramble, a 10-1 chance with Coral, went well over four schooling fences yesterday under Tony McCoy, while Jason Titley, the National's winning jockey on Royal Athlete at 40-1 a year ago, was booked for another outsider yesterday. He will now partner Bavard Dieu for Nick Gaselee.