Racing: Handicap thwarts National outsiders

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For those punters whose Grand National fancies have been allotted less than the day-of-the-race minimum of 10st, there was depressing news yesterday. The British Horseracing Board has decided not to recommend any change to the arrangements for the weights and numerous runners will have to run with more than their allotted handicap burden in this year's race.

The problem is that Master Oats, the race's top weight on 11st 10lb, is likely to be declared on Thursday for the event (along with the Derby one of only two to have a 48-hour final declaration stage), but may well be withdrawn if the going is too fast.

That would mean that the top weight on the day will be no higher than 10st 9lb, with a maximum of only 11 horses carrying their allotted weights.

The committee discussed a number of possible measures, including reversion to 24-hour declaration and allowing the weights to be raised after the time of declaration. After taking account of problems represented by modifying conditions at such late notice, the committee decided not to ask the BHB to take special measures.

Out of the handicap and out of the race is Go Go Gallant. Fergie Sutherland reported yesterday that his gelding, backed from 40-1 to 33-1 in recent days, has suffered a minor leg injury.

The uncertainty over Master Oats's participation has also affected jockeys' plans. Graham Bradley, who has been linked with the ride on the 1995 Gold Cup winner, is far from certain to team up with him, according to his agent, Graeme James.

"Graham has been linked with four or five horses and we are waiting on the ground and other riding plans," James said, warning that events may lead to Charlie Swan, whom he also represents, switching from Lo Stregone. "If Paul Carberry and Norman Williamson are not fit he might be claimed for an Irish runner. There could be a knock-on effect and a merry-go-round of jockeys."

Racing in Britain resumes after its Good Friday break with seven meetings tomorrow.