Racing / Grand National: Threats could halt Zeta's run: A trainer whose Aintree comments caused controversy feels forced to withdraw his top steeplechaser from the Irish National

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The Independent Online
JOHN UPSON was yesterday considering withdrawing Zeta's Lad from next Monday's Irish National after receiving death threats against himself and the horse. The trainer referred to Ireland as a 'backward little country' in a television interview in the aftermath of the Grand National fiasco and has received many threatening telephone calls since.

Zeta's Lad was among the favourites at Aintree and a disappointed and angry Upson then told the interviewer that what occurred 'would not happen in a point-to- point race in Ireland'.

Unbeaten this season, Zeta's Lad would have an excellent chance of gaining compensation in the Irish National at Fairyhouse, but the threatening calls have swayed Upson against making the trip.

'I've had people ringing me saying if I dare to go to Ireland, myself and my horses will be shot,' he said yesterday. 'In the light of what's happened, I don't think I'll be taking Zeta's Lad to Ireland.

Upson, who buys all his horses in Ireland and has many associates among the racing community there, said. 'This is all just so devastating and I don't know what I'm going to do. Anyone who knows me will say that they've never met anyone who's more pro-Irish. I meant to say exactly the opposite of what came out - it was all in the heat of the moment.'

One horse that is heading for Fairyhouse is Party Politics, prevented from winning a second successive National by the abandonment of this year's race. 'We're only running on Monday because of what happened at Aintree,' Nick Gaselee, his trainer, said. 'It's not ideal, my horse was prepared for last Saturday. If I'd have been training him for the Irish National I wouldn't have taken him to Liverpool the Saturday before and galloped him for two miles.

'Luckily he went only a circuit and when we got him back at 10 o'clock on Saturday night he ate everything. He seems in good form and he looks well, so I hope it hasn't affected him.

'Carl (Llewellyn, his jockey) said the horse was going tremendously well. The plan, bearing in mind the ground was very fast, was to be 15 lengths off the leaders after a circuit. I know nine got left behind, but he was only seventh, only 10 lengths off the leaders, and swinging along. We were absolutely thrilled with him. He was handier than all of us expected him to be.'

Party Politics is also among the entries for the Scottish National, but hopes of providing compensation for Aintree runners by re-opening entry to the Ayr race on Saturday week were dashed yesterday. The Jockey Club quashed the idea because of fears that connections of horses already entered would have grounds to take legal action against the race organisers.

'The weights had already been published and it would have meant a total re- haul, for which there was not enough time,' Mark Kershaw, Ayr's chief executive, said. 'Many horses have been prepared for this race in particular and to have it re-opened would not have been fair on them.'

Thirteen of those engaged in the National are entered for the Ayr race, including Saturday's 'winner' Esha Ness, Royal Athlete and Garrison Savannah.

As a result of Saturday's debacle, Aintree is unlikely to be again given the opportunity to profit from selling the race to punters in Hong Kong. The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club will not simulcast further runnings of the race which was relayed to a bemused crowd of 28,000 at Happy Valley on Saturday.

Around pounds 2.2m was bet on the National in the colony and a percentage would have been returned to Aintree. However, the pictures portraying inefficiency were not well received at a track where false starts are signalled by red lights flashing around the course and hooters sounding off.

With some irony, Saturday's events occurred against a background of rising professionalism in racing. Yesterday the Jockey Club gave its formal blessing to the British Horseracing Board, which will see a dilution in the powers of the self-elected body.

The founding of a new governing body for the sport were approved at a meeting of Jockey Club members, but amendments to the Royal Charter covering the Club and the approval of the Privy Council are still required.

'This is an historic step forward for racing,' the Senior Steward, Lord Hartington, said. 'It really does give the industry every opportunity to put itself on a much surer footing - both from a financial and a political point of view.'

(Photograph omitted)

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