Racing: Brooks so gloomy over Suny

GRAND NATIONAL

Frustrated but determined, trainers yesterday pressed ahead with an unexpected extra 48 hours of preparation for the Grand National. Less than a week ago, it seemed that the remarkable logistical exercise which allowed the 12-runner Dubai World Cup to be staged five days late would be racing's finest example of can-do spirit this year, but it has now been overtaken by the extraordinary effort which will see all but two of Saturday's intended runners line up at Aintree this evening.

The most significant absentee will be Belmont King, who had been expected to start at around 20-1. "Belmont King lost a lot of weight on Saturday," Paul Nicholls, his trainer, said yesterday. "He always loses a bit when travelling and he went up and came back down on Saturday. He didn't eat up on Saturday night." Nicholls's other entry, Straight Talk, is a definite runner today, but another probable absentee is Kate Milligan's Over The Stream, one of the rank outsiders.

Yet the fact that almost a complete field will go to post this evening does not necessarily mean that assumptions made on Saturday morning will still hold good 48 hours later. In particular, there were words of warning yesterday from Charlie Brooks, trainer of Suny Bay, which may cause anyone holding a slip from two days ago to think twice about letting their money ride on the grey this afternoon. Drying ground, compacted by tens of thousands of feet on Saturday afternoon, is far from ideal for Suny Bay, and Brooks admitted yesterday: "I don't think he'll win, but the course is in better nick than any racecourse in England and we would be seriously unlucky to damage him.''

Brooks's comments, and the anxiety they will bring for Suny Bay's backers, demonstrate one of many problems that Saturday's postponement has caused in the betting markets. It does not aid matters than bookmakers have their own sets of rules or procedures which may hide unexpected idiosyncrasies, but for most customers of major chains, the situation is that bets placed after the final declaration stage on Thursday morning will stand for this evening's race, unless cancelled by customers before the opening show of betting this afternoon. Ante-post bets also stand, which means that long-range backers of Belmont King will lose their money.

"The circumstances are unfortunate," David Hood of William Hill said yesterday, "but such are the rules on ante-post betting. He could have been declared and then stood on a stone just before the race, and you have to draw a line somewhere. Punters know that when they back ante-post at inflated prices, there may be a long-term situation which means that the horse does not run.''

The situation for Tote punters is a little more complicated, because the organisation had three distinct divisions - on-course, Tote Credit and the off-course Tote Bookmakers chain - accepting bets on the race.

"All on-course Tote bets are void and money will be returned," Rob Hartnett, the firm's spokesman, said yesterday. "For reasons of security and the integrity of the pools, they had to be closed last night. Tote Credit operates on the same computerised settling system as the course, so we've also had to void all Tote Credit bets at starting price or those placed on the day of the race. Ante-post bets stand, as will bets with Tote Bookmakers, although anybody wishing to cancel day-of-event bets can do so.''

Brooks's observations will no doubt see plenty of cancelled bets and a rapid drift for Suny Bay in the on-course market, but many punters will no doubt stick with their original selections, not least because most trainers of leading candidates seemed happy with their condition yesterday.

Ladbrokes promoted Go Ballistic, fourth in the Gold Cup, to clear favourite in their lists, and a spokeswoman at John O'Shea's Westbury-on-Severn yard provided a positive report yesterday. ''He's fine, he took everything in his stride," she said. "He ate up and drank up last night and he's bucking and kicking. Compared to some of the others we're very lucky. He got wound up when we tacked him up, but as soon as he got back to the stables he switched off. He's a professional who does a job and then he'll switch off. He's fabulous.''

Kim Bailey (Master Oats, Glemot), Arthur Moore (Wylde Hide, Feathered Gale, Back Bar), Tim Forster (General Wolfe, River Mandate) and Nigel Twiston-Davies (Camelot Knight, Dakyns Boy, Grange Brake) were other trainers happy and eager to run their charges yesterday. How many people will be at Aintree to see them is impossible to predict, but the fact that admission will be free can only help to generate the atmosphere the National demands.

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