Racing: Party spirit still fresh enough for Ayr: The 1992 National victor can sink sentimental hopes for this year's 'winner' Esha Ness in Scotland

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THE TURN of racing's seasons offers a diverting contrast today, as the favourites for the afternoon's two principal races will have little more in common than four legs and a fondness for oats. Eight elegantly bred three-year-olds attempt to establish Classic credentials in Newbury's Greenham Stakes, but punters, with predictable recklessness, are more likely to focus on the 21 brawny chasers in the Scottish National at Ayr.

The latter race is the salvation of Channel 4's coverage, which might otherwise have suffered the embarrassment of boasting more anchormen than horses. Even that contest, though, is much less competitive than it looks, as the presence of Run For Free means that just four are in the handicap proper.

Sentimental backers will support Esha Ness without a second thought, as John White's distraught expression on learning that his Grand National 'success' was not going to count was as poignant an image as the sport has produced. There are few punters as poor as a sentimental punter, though, and anyone supporting Esha Ness today is likely to leave the betting shop wearing a similarly long face.

While White's mount will surely feel his Aintree exertions, the degree of debilitation of those who pulled up after one circuit is harder to assess. Another of that number, Zeta's Lad, seemed to have lost his finishing kick in Monday's Irish Grand National, but he had already had a long season and it is worth taking a chance that PARTY POLITICS (nap 4.05) is still close to his peak.

Nick Gaselee's huge gelding has just three (and a half) races to his name this year and so is unlikely to be feeling jaded, while his weight is far from unreasonable for a horse who won the 1992 Grand National convincingly and has been revitalised by a wind operation. His regular jockey, Carl Llewellyn, has decided to partner Dakyns Boy today - Declan Murphy replaces him - but he may well regret climbing aboard a novice in such a gruelling contest.

No one will retire after backing Cab On Target (3.25), but Mary Reveley's young chaser should at least provide a model round of jumping for purists. Superior Finish will also start short, but negotiates obstacles with much less fluency and is worth opposing with Musthaveaswig (2.55).

It is hard to see the Greenham having any effect on the 2,000 Guineas market bar a reinforcement of Zafonic's position at its head. Inchinor and Firm Pledge, two of today's leading contenders, were both well beaten by the French colt in the Dewhurst last October, and while Basim has more potential than most of his rivals, he seems to prefer an easy surface.

John Gosden, who sent out the surprise winner of Thursday's Craven Stakes, Emperor Jones, saddles Tinners Way (3.00), who scored comfortably on his only run last year. He should complete the Guineas trial double for the Newmarket handler, but, as he runs in the same pink and green silks as Zafonic, is not even entered for the Classic. Beneficial (3.20) should prove a similarly uninformative winner of the Classic Trial at Thirsk.

It should pay to follow the judgement of Alan Munro in the John Porter Stakes, with Fahd Salman's retained jockey climbing aboard Always Friendly (2.30) in preference to Jape.

Richard Hannon took the card's opener with Beyton last year and can do so again today with Jackpot Star (2.00), but the champion trainer's Port Sunlight may have to give best to Highland Magic (3.30), who need only reproduce his winning form of late last season to take the big handicap.

(Photograph omitted)

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