RACING Bailey could be left high and dry

RICHARD EDMONDSON NAP: The Whip (Fontwell, 3.40) NB: Sheephaven (Fontwell, 2.40)
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The Independent Online


Drying ground at Aintree was yesterday fraying the nerves of those involved with Master Oats and other soft-going specialists in Saturday's Grand National.

A change in the going came less than 24 hours after Kim Bailey, the trainer of Master Oats, had confirmed that his Gold Cup winner would run at Aintree.

"He definitely runs unless weather conditions go against him," Bailey said at Ascot on Saturday. "I spoke to the racecourse this morning and they're saying it's soft with slightly better patches. They say it'll take an act of God to make it good to firm. Hopefully, God will make it rain on Wednesday."

Ever since a horse named Father O'Flynn won the National in 1892 the power of prayer has often been called upon to assist in organising the outcome. But it seems Bailey's faith will be tested this week.

Charles Barnett, Aintree's clerk of the course, reported yesterday that the going was firming up. After walking the track, Barnett said: "Following a dry night, the going on the National course is good to soft all round. The soft patches are no longer in evidence."

After a sunny day yesterday, the forecast from the Manchester Weather Centre was for no rain until tomorrow night, but then some rain is expected on Wednesday through to Thursday morning. The showers should be gone by Thursday afternoon.

The sun in the Liverpool area led to support yesterday for Crystal Spirit and Country Member in National betting. Both horses have shown themselves best suited by a sound surface and have been backed into 16-1 with Ladbrokes. Crystal Spirit was previously a 25-1 chance and Country Member 20-1.

Master Oats, the 11-2 favourite, is a mud-lover, as is the 7-1 second- favourite Miinehoma, last year's Aintree hero.

Corals yesterday cut the odds for Ebony Jane, who finished fourth a year ago, from 33-1 to 20-1, following news that Adrian Maguire will be in the saddle on Saturday.

The mare, trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld, is another who performs well in soft going, but Weld insisted yesterday: "She isn't just a mudlark. The ground at Aintree won't make a difference - she's a tough mare with a sound constitution and she will handle it whatever it is.''

Ebony Jane finished 46 lengths behind Miinnehoma in last year's heavy- ground National but is set to be 11lb better off this time. She has failed to strike form so far this season term and last time out was tailed-off in the Fulke Walywn-Kim Muir Handicap Chase at Cheltenham. But Weld feels he now has her back to her best.

"Ebony Jane probably got a knock or a rap at Cheltenham. She was slightly lame after the race and has been suffering from intermittent lameness. But we now believe the problem is behind her and everything is well. We worked her over a mile and six furlongs at The Curragh yesterday under Pat Shanahan and she worked very well, finishing her gallop strong. She goes to Aintree with a live each-way chance."

Mark Dwyer has been booked to ride the 1992 winner, Party Politics. With Carl Llewellyn, the gelding's jockey three years ago, opting for third favourite Young Hustler, trainer Nick Gaselee has gone for the experience of Dwyer. Party Politics, priced at around 16-1 for the National, should be favoured by less testing going.

Jenny Pitman, who has six horses engaged in the race, will wait until today before finalising jockey bookings. She was pleased to here news that the ground was drying. She remarked: "That'll suit me just fine."