Racing / Grand National Countdown: Lower steps up to ride Scudamore's reject: Pipe marshalls his riding squad for tomorrow's main event as Mark Pitman procrastinates

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THE OPENING day of the Grand National meeting here yesterday and the most attractive card of the season to be ignored, as interest surrounded who would partner Martin Pipe's seven runners in tomorrow's main event rather than the winners of the seven races.

Only Pipe's Skipping Tim has been removed from calculations, and the champion trainer has already booked riders for Chatam (Jonothan Lower), Riverside Boy (Mark Perrett) and Bonanza Boy (Simon McNeill). His possibles include Roc de Prince, Obie's Train and Paco's Boy, who was sold only yesterday and may run in new colours.

Peter Scudamore, Pipe's main rider, yesterday embroidered on his decision to desert the Wellington stable and plump instead for Nigel Twiston-Davies's Captain Dibble, on whom he won the Scottish National last season.

'I don't know whether I've done the right thing,' the champion jockey said, 'but Captain Dibble's run at Sandown last time looks good because he was a good third to Country Member and Rushing Wild.'

Mark Pitman, on the other hand, continues to procrastinate and will select from the well-fancied Royal Athlete and Garrison Savannah, on whom he won the 1991 Gold Cup, only when declaration time beckons.

Royal Athlete was eased a point to 9-1 by William Hill yesterday, while Laura's Beau, last year's third, contracted to 14-1 (from 18-1). The coming horses with Coral and Ladbrokes were Cahervillahow (20-1 from 33-1) and Captain Dibble (7-1 joint-favourite from 8-1) respectively.

Kim Bailey, a National winner in 1990 with Mr Frisk, continued his good run at Aintree yesterday when Docklands Express followed up his stablemate Kings Fountain's victory in last year's Martell Cup. Docklands Express, like Mr Frisk before him, will now attempt to go on from Liverpool to win the Whitbread Gold Cup, an event he took on the disqualification of Cahervillahow two years ago.

Great things are also expected of Roll A Dollar, who has run just four times over timber but who is already considered Champion Hurdle material by his trainer, David Elsworth. 'I am sure that next year this horse will go to the very top over hurdles,' said Elsworth, who was still in his car as Roll A Dollar went into overdrive at the end of the opening race.

Elsworth has hit smart form recently and believes his National participant, Givus A Buck, represents good value at 25-1. 'We're hopeful because he ran the best race of his life at Cheltenham last time,' he said.

The 10-year-old, a skittish customer, will travel to the course with the only beast capable of soothing him, Gertrude the goat.

Confident trainers were not difficult to locate yesterday, and Toby Balding, a National winner with Highland Wedding (1969) and Little Polveir (1989), took comfort about Romany King's prospects when Sirrah Jay won the year's first race over the National fences, the John Hughes Memorial Chase.

If Sirrah Jay thought his reward for clambering over these towering obstacles would be a protracted rest he should have looked at the date. If six of the 46 horses declared for the National drop out, Sirrah Jay will be be required for duty tomorrow and will have to start all over again.

Results, page 35

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