Racing: Ex-jockey just the job for start: Hopes of avoiding a repeat of last year's Aintree fiasco will ride on experience gained the other side of the tape

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The Independent Online
ON THE basis that jockeys and former jockeys talk the same language, the team of starters for next week's Grand National should make a better job of communicating with the pilots than during last year's void race. The Jockey Club yesterday announced the line- up that takes over from Captain Keith Brown and Ken Evans, who failed to prevent last year's fiasco, and the emphasis is heavily towards those with riding experience.

Simon Morant, the man who will mount the podium instead of Brown, rode as an amateur in the Sixties and is now the Jockey Club's senior starter. He has 20 years' experience of starting races since giving up training and was involved in the development of the new starting procedure which he operated successfully at Aintree's November meeting.

Morant's deputy, Gerry Scott, and assistant, Mac Turner, have been part of the starting team for 20 years and 14 years respectively. Scott competed in more than 1,200 races as a rider and partnered Merryman to victory in the 1960 National.

Three people will fill the role occupied by last year's scapegoat, the advance flag man Ken Evans. All three, Brian Reilly, Phil Tuck and John Suthern are experienced former jump jockeys who are now employed as starters in their own right. Tuck, who won the Gold Cup on Burrough Hill Lad, finished runner-up in the 1985 National on Mr Snugfit.

A major contribution to last year's misfortune was that the starting tape sagged when stretched 65 yards across the course. The new starting gate has a width of just 40 yards and comprises a single strand of tape made out of woven linen. It will move up and away from the horses at a 45 degree angle, at a speed estimated to be five times faster than when using the old mechanism.

One man who has already played a major role at Aintree, Tommy Stack, Red Rum's rider in his historic third Grand National, will be back this year with a realistic chance of winning the race as a trainer.

Stack saddled Gale Again to win at Sandown yesterday and then, rather then return him to his stable at Golden in Tipperary, dispatched him north to board alongside Red Rum at Ginger McCain's base at Cholmondeley in Cheshire.

''He may learn a bit from Red Rum,' Stack said of the horse who was providing him with a first ever winner over fences. Ladbrokes and William Hill cut Gale Again's National price to 33-1 from 50-1, and Coral to 25-1 from 33-1, although how Peter Piller's chaser, on 9st 13lb at Aintree, will cope with the much longer trip is open to question.

'Declan (Murphy) said he was never out of half-speed and at least we know he will be going well passing the stands on the first circuit,' Stack said.

One obstacle to success for Gale Again is likely to have his participation confirmed today when Francois Doumen is expected to issue a bulletin about The Fellow. While the Gold Cup winner is expected to travel, plans are rather more uncertain for Britain's challenge in Monday's Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.

Of 15 British-trained horses left in the race, only the Sue Smith-trained Baltic Brown is certain to take part in an event won by visitors in Rhyme 'N' Reason, Desert Orchid and Omerta in the past 10 runnings.

Kim Bailey will study the declarations before committing the massive Shraden Leader to the race. 'It's 50-50 at the moment,' Bailey said.

Zeta's Lad is more likely to run at Aintree, which is also the destination for Martin Pipe's trio, Run For Free, Riverside Boy and Hawthorn Blaze, while Jim Wilson, trainer of Glenbrook D'Or, will adopt similar caution to Bailey and decide closer to the day.