Politics relieved of National burden

RACING: Two previous winners appear to have been let off lightly as the weights are announced for April's marathon at Aintree
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Think of last year's Grand National, of exhausted horses tripping, slipping and colliding until only six of the 36 starters were left standing. Recall the image of that muddy battlefield and the notion seems ridiculous that a pound or two more or less in the horses' saddle-cloths had any bearing on the result. Yet yesterday the build-up to this year's National on 8 April began with an august gathering of racing professionals listening attentively to the announcement of the weights compiled by the official handicapper, Christopher Mordaunt, without bursting into laughter.

There was even some rather terse criticism. Mordaunt had become used at these occasions to hiding from aggrieved trainers -usually Jenny Pitman -who believe that their top-class candidates have been burdened by cruelly impossible weights. This year, the cry was that the best horses had not been given enough weight and came, unsurprisingly enough, from the trainers that had been squeezed out at the bottom of the handicap.

Josh Gifford, whose Topsham Bay, Fighting Words and Jumbeau will, if Master Oats and The Fellow stand their ground, all be lumbered with 10st, despite being allocated 9st 12lb, 9st 1lb and 8st 7lb respectively, voiced his disapproval. "Normally I'm in favour of looking after the good horses," Gifford said. "But the National is the exception. It is the greatest race in the world for horses that stay and jump. The out-and-out stayers need a bit of glory and they are being pushed out of the race. The handicapper has let the Gold Cup horses have two bites of the cherry, two chances of winning the two greatest races of the season."

David Nicholson, the champion trainer, agreed. "I'd like to see 12st as the top weight and the Gold Cup winner should carry top weight."

But Mordaunt, whose decision to treat the National as "an ordinary race" has taken much of the anticipation out of the weights announcement, countered: "If you have a winner of a Gold Cup or King George still in current top form, I would definitely be looking to give him more than 11st 10lb, but I feel that is not the case here."

Master Oats, who heads the weights with The Fellow, has risen an astonishing 34lb in a year, while Jodami's weight of 11st 8lb has not been affected by his return to winning form at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Last year's winner, Miinnehoma, is 13lb higher than last year on 11st 4lb, but given the ease of his victory on his seasonal return that may not be enough to stop him. The runner-up in 1993, Just So, will like last year, be one of searching for glory from a long way out of the handicap.

Deep Bramble has been raised 5lb for his success at Sandown on Saturday, but with that victory still fresh in the mind, he seems likely to be one of the best backed horses in early exchanges.

The one to really catch the eye though is the 1992 National winner, Party Politics. He has fallen 8lb in the weights in a year and will be 25lb better off with Master Oats for the four lengths by which Kim Bailey's charge beat him in the Rehearsal Chase as recently as December.

Despite that turnaround, the best price against Master Oats winning is 12-1, whereas Party Politics is on offer with Ladbrokes and Hills at 20-1. It sounds tempting, but then the memory returns of last year's race, the five-runner pile-up at the 13th that claimed Master Oats and Double Silk, and the diagrams in the Sunday newspapers entitled "Where Your Money Went".