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Racing: Even Flow to stop Pipe plan

THOUSANDS OF punters will walk into betting shops this morning convinced that they have a bet for the big race at Aintree which seems nothing short of pre-ordained. Twelve months ago, Martin Pipe, Tony McCoy and the owner David Johnson sent a five-year-old to run in the John Hughes Memorial Chase over the National fences, and despite his youth, he won as impressively as any horse in the race's history. Today, they will attempt to repeat the trick with Gris D'Estruval, and the bookies will be treating him with as much caution as Double Thriller, favourite for tomorrow's Grand National.

One of the traits which so endears Pipe to backers is that when he finds an angle of attack which works, he exploits it again and again. In recent seasons, he has imported a series of young chasers from France, where they bring their jumping horses on more quickly than their British counterparts, and run them against older horses who are forced to give them weight. Champleve, Cyfor Malta and Or Royal are among those to have won as a result.

The BHB is now considering ways to close this loophole, but Pipe, quite rightly, will keep trying to slip through it until they do. The question for punters, though, is whether Gris D'Estruval is in the same league as Cyfor Malta, who, you may recall, beat See More Business and Go Ballistic at Cheltenham this season before his campaign was ended by injury.

The worry, particularly when Gris D'Estruval is going to start at such a short price, is that his jumping was novicey in the Arkle Trophy. This is fair enough - he is a novice, after all - but not ideal around a circuit of the National fences. An alternative is EVEN FLOW (nap 3.45), a sound jumper who has had a quiet campaign which did not take in Cheltenham.

Punters who like to thread their bets into multiples will struggle to find much to go with him, though, since the remainder of the televised card features some solid favourites. One of the few crumbs of value could lie with Direct Route (next best 2.35), who has yet to prove himself at today's trip but could not have a less demanding track on which to do so.

Tempestuous Lady (4.20) may run well, but the novice chase involves several unreliable horses who may not jump, stay or both, while Barton will surely win the opener. Auetaler, who is part-owned by Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, is one of his better opponents but the decision to take on Barton looks as ill-judged as Fowler's goal celebration at Anfield on Saturday.