Racing: Boy can complete man's job

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The Independent Online
IT'S A FRIGHTENING race the Grand National. Daunting for horse and jockey, worrying for bookmakers for whom this is the biggest single pay day of the year.

Trepidation is most keenly felt though by the organisers who seek to shepherd the event away from controversy. They could carpet this part of Merseyside in mattresses, but you can never get away from the fact that this is a race of peril. It is what makes the race captivating, the most stirring as well as the most valuable jumping race on the globe.

The soothing suggestion for the executive, however, is that the 152nd running of the Grand National may transpire to be one of the safest marathons ever conducted.

The field has dwindled to the manageable proportions of 32 horses and they will compete over terrain conducive to preserving their good health. After a dry night on the Lancashire coast the going was amended to good (with good to soft patches). That means the competitors will not have to pick their way through a quagmire. Neither will they be bouncing along on dangerously firm ground. It all looks rather promising.

The National is forever a race for drama, and the only surprise is that Lassie is yet to win it. The result which screams out for the romantics today is success for Nahthen Lad and, more pertinently, success for Jenny Pitman.

The Grand National does not usually start until Jenny arrives, but they will have to think of a way to crank the meeting alive next year. Mrs P, OBE, retires at the end of the season, taking with her the memories of Corbiere and Royal Athlete scooting victoriously around these lanes.

Forests may be quivering as Nahthen Lad is by no means a social runner. There is a chance his trainer's name will, once again, be splashed at either end of the newspapers, magazines and pull-outs.

The jockey with the most notable pedigree in the race is Richard Dunwoody, a winner on both West Tip and Miinnehoma. National Hunt racing's most prolific rider has selected Call It A Day as his transportation today, and, again, this is not a name to throw away if it is printed on your sweep ticket. The nine-year-old exhibits his best only when the daffodils are out and there was much to like about his latest effort behind Young Kenny in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter.

The most worried horse must be Fiddling The Facts. The only mare goes into the race on the back of a turbulent recent record for her trainer, Nicky Henderson. The last three of her National predecessors to emerge from Seven Barrows have all capitulated at the first fence.

Fiddling The Facts is a reliable consideration to carry her favour a bit further than that, but the drying ground is going against this steadiest of mares. A similar remark applies to Earth Summit, the reigning champion, and Kendal Cavalier. The latter is another possible storybook theme as his trainer, Nigel Hawke, won this contest in a different life when guiding home Seagram in 1991.

While Bells Life, who has won over these fences and just creeps into the handicap proper, stands out as the best outsider, the race to ferret out our winner is the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It has been a rather futile exercise in the past selecting a horse from the Blue Riband to win a National as the Gold Cup is such a debilitating contest that the winner, at least, never seems to be the same horse again, never mind reaching another peak in a matter of weeks.

There should, however, still be some stuffing in Double Thriller and Addington Boy, who finished fourth and fifth respectively behind See More Business at the foot of Cleeve Hill. The latter has recaptured some of his former excellence since being recruited by Ferdy Murphy's Middleham yard this season, and will be a major beneficiary of the drying ground.

The 11-year-old has run just four times this campaign and, like Double Thriller, who has one fewer outing in his logbook, has had the National on his agenda for some time. Double Thriller himself is such a huge and intimidating horse that it is almost possible to feel sorry for the great spruce mounds he will crash through. Almost.

What hurts most about Double Thriller though is his price. Because of liabilities running on from the Lincoln he is down to as short as 7-2 with William Hill, which would be laughable were the mission he was being sent on not so daunting.

The former hunter will doubtlessly be near the head of what should be a rather swollen field swarming back from the deadly fields of Liverpool. He may not, though, be the outrider. That honour should belong to a horse with a juvenile name for a man's task. Take the value and go with ADDINGTON BOY (nap 3.45).




2. Double Thriller

3. Call It A Day

4. Nahthen Lad

Best longshot: Bells Life



2. Earth Summit

3. Call It A Day

4. Eudipe

Best longshot: Avro Anson



2. Call It A Day

3. Eudipe

4. Baronet

Best longshot: Bells Life