Racing: Sherwood insists upon genuine Praise

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The Independent Online
YOU do not need to see the neatly-embroidered initials on the saddle cloths to know when Oliver Sherwood's string is pulling on to the gallops above Lambourn. There are plenty of Flat horses in the Valley these days, but they do not hold with such things at Rhonehurst, and you will struggle to find a single horse in the Sherwood team without both the breeding and the build to jump fences. His horses are steeplechasers, and proud of it.

It is strange, then, that to date, the entire story of Oliver Sherwood and the Grand National runs to no more than about 15 seconds, which was how long it took Sacred Path, his only runner in the race in more than a decade with a licence, to reach the first fence in 1988.

Sacred Path fell, taking with him the hopes not just of his trainer, but of the thousands of punters who had backed him down to favouritism at 15-2. Now, 10 years later, Sherwood is back for another try.

Him Of Praise may need only to reach the second to improve on his trainer's record in the race, but as a soft surface on Saturday seems ever more likely, his backers at least are in optimistic mood. Coral cut him from 12-1 to 14-1 yesterday, although it has to be said that Him Of Praise might well be a clear favourite had he taken a break from racing after his victory in the Mildmay/Cazalet Chase at Sandown in January, which was his fifth success in a row.

Instead, he has been to the track twice, and neither outing has been satisfactory. In the Singer & Friedlander National Trial at Uttoxeter, he had the race at his mercy going to the last, but stopped in front and was run out of it by Ottowa. Then, in the Greenalls National Trial at Haydock, Him Of Praise stayed on for second place behind Dom Samurai but only after being vigorously ridden almost from the moment the tapes went up.

As a result, some have questioned his attitude, but his trainer will have none of it. "It's ridiculous," he says. "I was disappointed with the way he threw it away, he had the race won and the form is being franked all the time, but he's a very genuine horse and he's as tough as they come.

''The only worrying thing about a National is that you've got to travel early on. If he gets detached early on he could lose interest, but he loves soft ground and there's a fair bit of rain forecast for the end of the week, so that should help him."

Nor would Him Of Praise be the first horse with a few ideas of his own about the business to find his interest reawakened by Aintree's unique challenge.

"He's a lazy horse," Sherwood says, "and he's better than his bare form suggests. I hope the razzmatazz of the day on Saturday will jazz him up a bit. ''We've got a nice low weight, and you need only look at the records to see that no horse has won with more than 11 stone on his back since Corbiere."

Him Of Praise has also enjoyed an untroubled preparation for the National, although Sherwood knows only too well how fortunes can change in a matter of seconds. "It was a great excitement when Sacred Path ran," he says, "but a great disappointment that it was all over so quickly. But you never expect to win the National as a trainer, you can only hope to get round."

Sherwood should, at least, get a run for his efforts, unlike the connections of both Belmont King, last year's Scottish National winner, and Time For A Run, who was one of the favourites when the weights were published in February, both of whom were scratched from the race yesterday.

Belmont King suffered an over-reach while cantering after a morning schooling session, while Eddie O'Grady, Time For A Run's trainer, does not think him "perky" enough to go to Liverpool.