Racing: Double Thriller worthy of an early flutter

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THE MOST interesting news when the wraps came off the Aintree weights yesterday was that the National is no longer just another handicap chase. In recent years, the notion of an Anitree factor in the handicapper's decisions had drifted out of fashion, along with the steel in the fences and the drop on the downside of Bechers' Brook.

But that was before Phil Smith, the new man in charge of the weights, decided to slide underneath the Grand National's bonnet and start fiddling with the cylinders and spark plugs.

No fewer than 14 of the first 20 horses in the list will carry a different burden to that which the official ratings would require. It may be only a pound or two here and there, but it could be enough to move thick wads of cash from one punter's pocket to another on the afternoon of 10 April.

Many backers will feel that finding the National winner is difficult enough on the morning of the race, let alone two months in advance. Now that the weights are in the open, though, the process is exactly the same, the difference being that the odds on offer about the obvious challenger are a great deal more attractive.

At least half of the eventual National field will go to the tapes without the slightest chance of success. Perhaps a dozen more will be live outsiders at best.

The winner will probably be one of the first 10 names in the betting, and while the prices will shrink before the race itself, the overall shape of the market has now been established.

The horse for the money in recent weeks, if the bookies are to be believed, has been Teeton Mill, which only goes to show that anyone who bets on the National before the weights are published should not be allowed out unaccompanied.

Red Rum was the last top weight to win, and that was in the days when the fences really sorted out the also-rans.

Teeton Mill may win the Gold Cup next month, but even then, the grey will surely struggle to give weight - perhaps as much as two stone - to such an impressive field.

A far better bet at this stage is Double Thriller, who beat Teeton Mill at Cheltenham less than a year ago but will receive more than a stone from the grey at Aintree.

``On what we know so far, he's got the best chance of our three,'' Paul Nicholls, his trainer, said yesterday. ``We know that he's an exciting horse and we're very happy with him at home.''

Double Thriller may be no more than a 12-1 chance, but a good run in the Gold Cup - and who knows, he might even win it - could bring the price down to 5-1 or less on the day.

For those looking for an outsider, though, the bet at this stage looks to be Hanakham, who won the Royal & SunAlliance (Novices') Chase in 1997.

Martin Pipe, who trains the 10-year-old, has possibly been keeping him quiet so far this season so as to get a racing weight. At 33-1, he is a horse to have on your side.