Racing: Punters attracted by Rough odds

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The Independent Online
THE BEST that can be said about yesterday's declarations for Saturday's Grand National is that there are a lot of them. With 50 left in at the five-day stage the race could have the maximum-allowed field of 40 for the first time since the year of Party Politics, 1992.

But as for quality, despite the top five in the handicap having run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on their last outing, there is a marked absence of horses in form. Of the 50, a total of 12 have the letter P denoting their most recent performance - and it is not for showing promise.

Even the favourite was a faller last time out - not the ideal qualification for Aintree. At least in this case there is proof that the horse in question, Rough Quest, the winner two years ago, can jump round the Aintree circuit.

The weather too is in his favour with more showers forecast for the Liverpool area to keep the ground - currently good to soft, but soft in places - on the easy side for the race.

"Rough Quest has been by far the best backed horse in the National in the last two days," Simon Clare, of Coral, said. "In general, the betting public are trusting the forecasts and pinning their hopes on the soft- ground performers."

With all the major bookmakers now betting "non runner - no bet" this is probably the best time to take a price about some of the leading contestants that are sure to be at shorter odds come Saturday.

Certainly Rough Quest, who does his last piece of serious work this morning, is more likely to start at 6-1 or 7-1 than the 10-1 now on offer, while Him Of Praise, 7lb out of the handicap but the winner of four of his six races this season and placed on his last two starts, is certainly the horse with the most inspiring form figures and could be half his current price of 14-1 on Saturday.

Time For A Run is the most appealing of the Irish trio, but his participation remains in doubt. "I will know tomorrow," Edward O'Grady, his trainer, said yesterday "I will have to speak to the owner, J P McManus. The vet was here today because the horse was a bit flat in his work over the weekend and I wanted him checked out."

Similarly undecided is Gordon Richards about Addington Boy - "I don't know whether he'll run. I need to do a blood test" - and Susan Nock about Senor El Betrutti - "My husband kept him in because the `experts' think the race is going to cut up even more". The 25 cut out yesterday included the injured Cyborgo, Bells Life and Young Hustler and the retired Couldnt Be Better and Fantus.

The BHB's initiative to stimulate betting on midweek races, Showcase races, gets back on track today with the main firms quoting prices on the Newcastle 3.25 after ignoring the previous day's selected race at Hamilton.