Racing: Lad leaves Upson in a National dilemma: Greg Wood reports from Kempton

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The Independent Online

JOHN UPSON has a difficult decision to make in the next few weeks, so his reaction to Zeta's Lad's Racing Post Chase win here yesterday was understandable. 'I'm going to go and get drunk like I always do,' he said, 'and then think about it tomorrow.'

Upson's principal headache - once the self-induced one has passed - is this. Until yesterday, he had intended to run his dependable, but possibly declining, old servant, Nick The Brief, in the Grand National, and send Zeta's Lad to contest the Irish equivalent at Fairyhouse. After yesterday's success - which left Zeta's Lad 8-1 favourite with a run for Aintree - he must be wondering if he will ever have a better candidate for the race which most trainers prize above all others.

It was the manner of the win which screamed Liverpool louder than a fan on the Kop. Held up, but in touch, as Mr Entertainer cut out the early running, Zeta's Lad moved smoothly towards the pace as they left the back straight for the final time.

He was clearly going best as he challenged for the lead, two fences from home, with just Bradbury Star, the favourite, and Docklands Express, winner of the race for the last two years, still strong enough to make a race of it.

Bradbury Star cracked first, but Docklands Express, returning to form for the first time this season, offered stiffer resistance. Zeta's Lad put his head down and made sure. His combination of a good cruising speed, stamina and resolution is an Aintree identikit.

'If Nick The Brief is sound and well, he'll go to Aintree,' Upson said. 'I think Ireland will suit Zeta's Lad, and he'd be better if it was softer.'

Maybe so, but there was little wrong with his showing on yesterday's good ground. Upson does at least have several weeks to think things over.

Looking almost as pleased as Upson in the paddock afterwards was Kim Bailey, trainer of Docklands Express. In the morning, Bailey had said that he would be entirely satisfied if the gelding finished 'within 15 lengths of the leaders', and yesterday's performance was a fine advertisement for the plastic overshoes which Docklands Express was wearing to help alleviate a foot problem.

'He's the first jumps horse to use them, as far as I know,' Bailey said. 'They're a plastic mould around the outside of the shoe, which act as if he's running on stilts.'

Docklands Express now goes for the Gold Cup, in which he finished third last year, and Bailey is confident that 'if we get the (fast) ground we want he'll run a very good race.'

Coral offer a generous-looking 25-1 (from 33-1) about his chance.

Additional Festival ante-post interest was provided by the Tote Placepot Hurdle for four-year-olds, a Triumph Hurdle trial. The winner was Amazon Express, trained by Reg Akehurst, but the handler will have to overcome a few reservations if Amazon Express is to line up at Cheltenham.

'I'm not a lover of the Triumph, you only have to look at the record of the winners,' Akehurst said.

The pounds 50,000 bonus offered by the Tote if the winner can go on to take the Triumph is powerfully persuasive, though, and, so long as the ground is no faster than good, Amazon Express will be there.

Roll A Dollar will not, not this year at least. The comfortable winner of the opening Dovecote Novices' Hurdle had been a possible runner in the Champion Hurdle, his owner, Ken Higson, said, 'but Brian Rouse, my Flat jockey, talked me out of it, saying that he was too inexperienced. David (Elsworth, his trainer) will have him in it next year. He told me years ago that Roll A Dollar would win it one day.'

Party Politics, last year's Grand National winner, returned to form - after being tubed less than a month ago - in the Greenalls Gold Cup Handicap Chase over three and a half miles and 110 yards at Haydock, but the result might have been different had Fiddlers Pike not been ridden by his 50-year-old owner/trainer, Rosemary Henderson. Still, her name was in the morning papers, so disgruntled punters have only themselves to blame.

Party Politics is now top priced at 16-1 with Coral to repeat last year's Aintree success, though yesterday's was hardly a National winner's form.

The trainer Nick Gaselee does not see it that way, however. Party Politics will now head straight for Liverpool, and his handler believes the gelding has a good chance of completing a famous double.

'Party Politics went tremendously well on Wednesday when Carl rode him at work. I've been telling everybody to back him at 33-1 for Aintree, and I couldn't be more pleased with today's victory,' Gaselee said.

Even as he passed the post, most thoughts were for Twin Oaks, the Haydock specialist, who broke down when going well in the back straight. He suffered a bowed tendon, and is now likely to be retired. Few have deserved it more.