On the evidence of their comprehensive 97-runner book on the race, precisely two months before it is run, they could not be accused of providing anyone with the means of financing anything. Moorcroft Boy and Double Silk are the horses of the moment, but if the odds of either even turning up are reckoned as evens, a price of 14-1 now is worth little more than 6-1 on the day.
Anyone brave enough to sample the ante-post market at this early stage must be sure that their selection is fit and healthy, an intended runner, well-handicapped, and being aimed at the National alone (many fancied runners at Aintree succumb to a Cheltenham Festival hangover). And despite the National's newly- found status as 'just an ordinary race', according to the handicapper, the ability to jump soundly and stay forever would not go amiss.
A surprising number of the market leaders fail this basic multiple-choice test, including Double Silk (runs at the Festival), Party Politics (unraced since December) and Carvill's Hill (unraced in recent memory). Yet others pass, almost unnoticed.
Ebony Jane is the most obvious example. Trained in Ireland by Francis Flood, she proved her stamina by winning the Irish Grand National last season, with Zeta's Lad five and a half lengths back in third. Her form this year does not appear encouraging, but as Flood pointed out yesterday, 'on her first run at Clonmel she was going very nicely but slipped up, and last time she travelled very well, but the ground was deep and she tired two out. She's very well, but she's not big enough for deep ground.'
Ebony Jane is a definite runner, unlikely to be distracted by the Festival and fairly weighted on 9st 12lb. 'You have to keep them fresh for that race, you wouldn't want to run them too much before,' Flood said. 'We'll probably get a couple of runs in here at home, but we're definitely looking towards Aintree.'
Encouraging words, yet Sporting Index, the Switch-betting firm, will lay 50-1 this morning, while William Hill offer 33-1 (the mare is only 25-1 with Ladbrokes, Coral and the Tote). At those odds, Ebony Jane is worth a small, long- range interest, while another Irish-trained challenger, Cahervillahow, also deserves consideration at a general 25-1. Otherwise, wait for the day. You will at least get your money back if fate intervenes before the off.