Racing / Grand National: White under starter's orders for Esha Ness: Rider returns for fresh Aintree challenge on the winner of the race that never was: Richard Edmondson weighs up the hopefuls now allotted their Liverpool handicap mark

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The Independent Online
JOHN WHITE, the winning jockey in last year's void Grand National, is to resume his riding career in Britain and his partnership with Esha Ness in an effort to capture this season's running on 9 April.

White, who retreated to his native Ireland and started a training career after the 1993 'non-start', will ride in Britain for the first time this season as he guides Jenny Pitman's gelding towards Aintree.

Mark Pitman, assistant trainer to his mother, said at the announcement of the weights in London yesterday: 'John will ride Esha Ness in his preparation race, which will be at the end of this month. We'll look at a long distance handicap steeplechase just about anywhere that fits in with the horse and where the ground is decent.

'John reliably tells us that he's as fit as a flea and keen as mustard, so he's going to ride the horse. He got on very well with Esha Ness last year and he's got a record round Aintree second to none.'

Indeed, White, 34, appears to have gone out of the Liverpool weighing room with Velcro breeches down the years, and has yet to have these pants dirtied. 'I've been round there nine or 10 times and I've never fallen,' he said yesterday from his base near Wexford.

As Pitman testifies, he is also in good shape, having ridden in Ireland this season. 'I did 9st 10lb the other day at Limerick and I'm fitter than most of the boys over there I can tell you,' he said. 'Last year was a fiasco, but I'm looking forward to riding Esha Ness again because he can get round the course and he can get round quickly. Last year was a fast time. He'd have a good chance round there because he copes with the big track and the fences so well.'

Jenny Pitman's view is that if justice is the prerequisite Esha Ness should win, but that if handicapping is the criterion Francois Doumen's The Fellow should be the selection. Pitman, who developed interesting tactics to contend with the Grand National topweight, Carvill's Hill, in the Gold Cup two years ago has already conceived a stratagem to foil the French challenger. 'If he comes through the Channel tunnel I'm going to head him off with a barrel load of bricks,' she said.

The leader in the trainers' championship, David Nicholson, also considers The Fellow to be the National's best treated horse, but has high aspirations also for his own Moorcroft Boy, though the gelding has it to do via the form book with the top hunter- chaser, Double Silk. 'The Duke', however, disagrees with the handicapper's notion that modifications to the course have made the race just another long-distance event. 'I wouldn't think Mr (Christopher) Mordaunt was right having seen the races (at Liverpool) in November,' he said. 'The fences seemed to take a lot of jumping then.'

They would surely account for the clumsy Carvill's Hill, one of 17 entries from Martin Pipe and a horse who will leave plenty of work for the topiarists if he goes to post. The champion trainer imparted the belief that Riverside Boy was the best of his runners yesterday, but otherwise he was at his zip-mouthed best. 'Carvill's Hill has been galloping, swimming, walking and treadmilling,' he said, during a rare moment of enlightening.

Carvill's Hill, who has not run since finishing a sorry beast in the 1992 Gold Cup, has been treated kindly by Mordaunt. The official handicapper has dropped him 8lb in the ratings either to allow for his creeping age or, more likely, to allow more horses into the handicap proper.

If he runs, National Hunt's most charismatic performer will draw even greater attention to racing's most popular race. A measure of the strength of this year's field is that below him in the weights are two former Gold Cup winners, Garrison Savannah and Cool Ground.

Their participation will be magnetic to viewers on and off course, but the main attraction of the 1994 Grand National will be for those who want to see if the race starts at all. The 97 entries are chasing the opportunity of imprinting their names both on the Aintree scroll and probably the largest audience ever to watch the race.

(Chart showing weights and betting for the National omitted)