National market firms up as forty stand ground

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The Independent Online
The absence of water at Aintree has brought a sea change in the betting for Saturday's Grand National. Following the recent dry weather most of the market action yesterday, when 40 runners stood their ground for the globe's most celebrated steeplechase, concerned the fast-ground horses such as Young Hustler, Country Member and Lusty Light. The master of mud, Master Oats, is out to 6-1 from 5-1 with Ladbrokes.

Of the 17 defectors only three were in the handicap proper. Deep Bramble and Black Humour had already sent in their sick notes and will now be joined by Martin Pipe's Run For Free, who was a 40-1 shot. Pipe also pulled out Open The Gate, but still has last season's victor, Miinnehoma, Riverside Boy, Chatam and Errant Knight to carry the Pond House pennant.

Miinnehoma is once again the first string, especially as his preparation has gone better this term than it did last, but there is also hope that the kindly weighted Chatam can play a part as long as this erratic jumper is inspired rather than intimidated by Liverpool's black fences.

Pipe is overtaken numerically by Jenny Pitman, who has booked riders for five of her six entries. Mrs Pitman has also tried to improve the bookkeeping in recent days as her Weathercock House stable has adopted the tactics of football's Cup final camps, the dreary scheme of relatively affluent sportsmen swapping their thoughts for cash. If the money has not been talking in Lambourn this week then neither has the Pitman camp.

The stable's contracted jockey, Warren Marston, will ride the 1991 runner- up, Garrison Savannah, while the most fancied of Pitman's sextet, Lusty Light, will be left to the supervision of Rodney Farrant. "I'm really looking forward to it," said the man who fell at the seventh on Gay Ruffian on his first mount in the race last season. "It's brilliant news because the ground is coming right for him.

"Last year the atmosphere was electric and I was on a high for a week." Unlike Pitman interviews, sporting sensations like that cannot be bought.

The other men who will ride for Pitman on Saturday are Peter Niven (Superior Finish), Brendan Powell (Do Be Brief), who won on Rhyme 'N' Reason in 1988, and John White (Esha Ness), who resumes the partnership first past the post in the void 1993 National.

The men who will try to avoid a repetition of 1993's cock-up and thus keep Aintree out of any future Dennis Norden compilation include the former jockeys John Suthern, Peter Haynes and Adrian Sharpe, who will act as advance flag operators.

They will be co-ordinated by a man, who has a rare 100 per cent record at Liverpool, Simon Morant, the Jockey Club's chief starter. Morant was the man who took over from the unfortunate Keith Brown 12 months ago and he goes into Saturday's event protecting a one-for-one record.

He is unlikely to marshall a maximum field. Gordon Richards has left Tartan Tyrant in the race even though his intended target is the Scottish National at Ayr. "The owner is abroad and he phoned me last night and instructed me to leave the horse in," the Penrith trainer said yesterday. "But I won't be making any jockey booking unless the ground turns in his favour."

There was a time when the name of Neale Doughty could safely be scribbled in against Richards's National runner but that will never happen again. The veteran jumps jockey, who was replaced by Tony Dobbin at Greystoke last season, had the last ride of an 18-year career in the saddle at Kelso yesterday on American Hero. It won.

Doughty's was a familiar story. He had lost the battle between will and body over his weight. "It's simple," he said yesterday. "I'm 37 years old and I've been in the game a long time. To keep up with the scales gets harder as you keep getting older. I can't go on forever and I don't have the decent rides to maintain the effort."

Doughty received a trophy from Richards at the Border Country track after describing their turbulent years together. "My second spell with Gordon was probably the best of my career," he said. "We had a lot of success. There was also a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but I'd do it all again. Now I'm going to have a rest. And I'll be eating breakfast tomorow."

That should finally put him out of consideration for the ride on General Pershing on Saturday. Dobbin injured ribs at Kelso yesterday and is struggling to make the National, but as Doughty goes to post at about 10st 7lb and General Pershing has been allocated 10st, an immediate return from retirement looks unlikely.

But even though he will miss this year's Grand National, Doughty will leave behind an astonishing legacy in the race. He has ridden in nine Nationals plus the void debacle, winning on Hallo Dandy in 1984 and failing to complete just once. In terms of survival, it is a record of which Robinson Crusoe would be proud.