RACING: Spring of the eternal no-hoper

At least the worst horse in the race can jump. Greg Wood reports
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The Independent Online
"Year on year people go for catchy names," Graham Sharpe, of bookmakers William Hill, said yesterday. "They don't give a damn that it couldn't win if it started yesterday. They want a name and they remember Foinavon." This year, it seems, the name on every punter's lips is It's A Snip.

The 200-1 chance should not even be running. After a series of fatalities among no-hopers a few years ago, the Jockey Club introduced a quality threshold for the National. It's A Snip could not rise above it with a rocket strapped into his saddle, but he will line up after squeezing through a loophole. A concession to allow horses placed in the Velka Pardubicka (Czech National) an entry at Aintree was supposed to encourage the development of chasing in central Europe. It's A Snip, however, travelled from Lambourn to the Czech Republic, finished second, and thereby secured a ticket for Liverpool.

His experience in the Pardubicka, including such notorious obstacles as the vast Taxis ditch, is the only source of encouragement today. He could certainly give a few of his rivals something to think about by muttering "Huh, call that a fence?" on the run to Becher's, but if he is even in touch as they approach the Brook (fence six) it will be a considerable surprise.

It's A Snip was ridden in the Czech Republic by Charlie Mann, his trainer, whose career as a professional jockey in Britain was cut short by a broken neck. Mann recovered and subsequently attempted, without success, to persuade the Jockey Club to renew his licence, but managed to be in the saddle in the Pardubicka thanks to creative use of the international licensing rules. In the saddle today is John Kavanagh, who can at least be reasonably confident of jumping round. Mann is an irrepressibly optimistic figure, whose humour was only increased by two defections at the final declarations. "He's got just 34 to beat now, hasn't he?", he said.

Mann is pleased his first National runner is the one every sweepstake player wants to avoid. "It's nice to have a runner when there's no pressure, and next year I hope we'll have a couple of decent horses and things will be a bit different."

For It's A Snip, though, this is a unique opportunity, and whatever today's result, he can claim one major achievement. He has persuaded the Jockey Club to change their rules.