Party Politics is given early vote

Richard Edmondson on yesterday's unveiling of the Grand National weights decks
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The Independent Online
Provisos were served in equal measures with the brandy yesterday as the weights for the Martell Grand National were handed out at the Dorchester in Park Lane. Many of the fancied horses for Liverpool are unlikely to appear over the daunting obstacles this season as their primary target, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, falls so close to the National this year.

Patrick Martell slipped ever lower in his seat on the head "Royal Athlete" table, as trainers suggested the statistical anomaly of the two races being just 16 days apart meant they would not be ferrying their charges up to Aintree on 30 March.

Among the top weights unlikely to run are Jodami and Dublin Flyer. Both seem certain to be given a breather after the rigours of Prestbury Park.

Jodami could compete at Liverpool if something silly happens early on at the Festival (such as the course executive borrowing Aintree's old starting tapes), a comment that also applies to Dublin Flyer, who is considered to perform to his optimum with a gap of four to six weeks between races.

"If Jodami has an uninterrupted preparation from now on I would prefer him to miss the Grand National this time unless something goes wrong," Peter Beaumont, Jodami's trainer, said. "If things go right then he will have a hard race at Cheltenham.''

Master Oats, who leads the weights on 11st 10lb, is also a doubtful participant. "The Gold Cup is his priority and he would only be unlikely to run there if the ground was firm at Cheltenham," trainer Kim Bailey reported. "But I would love him to run at Aintree because I have always felt he would run a big race in the right conditions.''

Master Oats and another Aintree front-runner in the weights, Monsieur Le Cure, may be whooping it up on Guinness and oysters at the moment as they remain in Ireland for the rescheduled Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday, but, for the latter, the soft times may soon be at an end.

The winner of the Sun Alliance Chase at the Festival two years ago has always traded on durability, an assessment which is not about to be changed. "He's a very tough horse and I think he could stand both races," trainer John Edwards said yesterday. "He was not at his best all last season because he had a few problems with his feet and it was a big jump from novicing. But he represents the best chance I will have of winning the National.''

The fountain pens were produced with a flourish when Martin Pipe opined that the National course would be just the challenge for the reintroduction of Carvill's Hill, his wounded favourite for the 1992 Gold Cup. The tops were swiftly replaced however as the Pond House trainer revealed that the huge gelding had been retired because of a leg injury.

Party Politics, the winner in 1992 and second last year, remains on course for the race despite his manifold problems. Indeed, Nick Gaselee, his handler, believes him to be in much better vigour than he was this time 12 months ago.

The abiding thought here, the one borrowed from second-hand car dealers, was that Party Politics does not have many miles on the clock. Unlike the sentiment from the motor trade this happens to be true though, and it could be that the behemoth, who will warm up in the Greenalls Gold Cup at Haydock, is the best value at 25-1 off his reasonable weight.

The final word was given (and she usually claims it anyway) to Jenny Pitman, who has entered her usual herd as she chases a third National success. The first lady of Lambourn and Aintree (and anywhere else if she chooses) was typically combative over the prices allocated to her horses.

The much-respected Mike Dillon of Ladbrokes was afforded little deference on this occasion. Mrs Pitman considered him "a robbing sod" for introducing her Smith's Band as the 16-1 joint favourite. "Sixteens about a horse in the National at this stage is ridiculous," she said. "It should be 25-1 to get a horse there. People don't realise how hard it is to get a horse to a championship race and if they went through what I go through they'd be in a psychiatric care unit.''

The animal that may soon have Jenny in the wicker basket business is Royal Athlete, last year's National winner who is sent as many problems as an agony aunt. "Every year he has been in training I have lost five from my life," Pitman said. "It's very difficult to place a horse of his quality after we've lost the races intended for him. He was ready to run recently but he lost a shoe and broke a piece off his foot, which gave us a lot of headaches.''