Racing: Suny Bay heads the National assembly

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The Independent Online
Rough Quest, the 1996 Aintree hero, is back on track to attempt another victory in the race. Richard Edmondson reports.

In the salubrious setting of The Dorchester in Park Lane yesterday, weights were allotted to the enormous number of entries for the Grand National. The great congregation of spectators for the race itself on 4 April, however, will be gaining access to a somewhat scruffier Aintree.

Racegoers will pass through an airport-style archway and subject themselves to body-searches (all promising ante-post vouchers will probably be confiscated). The expected 6,000 cars that trundle to the course will have to be pre- booked and all will also be subjected to scanning with machinery that the police tell us hi-tech (apparently it's better than that old stuff they used to use).

The topweight this year is likely to be Suny Bay, if the Hennessy Gold Cup winner recovers from the malaise currently ailing him and his confederates at Uplands. The grey has pulled a muscle in his hind quarters, but is expected to start cantering next week.

His options include the Greenalls Gold Cup at Haydock (which he won 12 months ago), the Gold Cup and the National. "We'd be very unlucky if things were bad enough that we could not run in two of those those three races," Brooks said.

If last year's runner-up does manage to incorporate Newton-le-Willows into his programme he may meet Belmont King, Paul Nicholls's Scottish Grand National winner. It is something of a shame that the Somerset trainer has not entered another of his equine staff, Ottowa, who would have been a great selection for your Canadian on the day, but the trainer nevertheless has four entries.

Nicholls is a man worth considering as the National encapsulates his sole interest among animals in training. He has prepared more steeplechase winners than anyone this campaign.

"Belmont King is our main hope," Nicholls said. "He has been trained solely for the race and will run in the Greenalls and then the National. He was in the process of running his best for race for us when he fell in the Hennessy. You can ignore his run in the Welsh National as he came back coughing.''

Nicholls, it appears, will also provide the Tricast combinations. "I was very pleased with Court Melody's run at Sandown on Saturday. He was second over the National fences in the Becher Chase earlier in the season. General Crack could go well if the ground was fast.''

Of Rough Quest, one of the favourites, trainer Terry Casey said: "He'll go straight to the Gold Cup first and though that might be a bit beyond him at his age now, he will run a lot better than he's been running. He's at his best in the Spring.

"I rode him on Sunday morning and he felt super. Before I left him today he looked fantastic, in fact he's never looked better."

Gordon Richards has nine horses in the contest yet could not bring himself to savour the warm smoked-haddock and asparagus tart yesterday at the sumptuous weights lunch. Cup-a-soup serves a better purpose in the frozen north.

The Boss has yet to tell us what the Greystoke squad will be. "It's very difficult to say at this stage with Cheltenham still to come," Richards said. "I want to get Addington Boy, and The Grey Monk, to the Gold Cup.

"But if a week beforehand I thought The Grey Monk wasn't quite right and if he had cut in the ground in the National he could be the one. He's had a very light time and he would relish the trip. A lot depends on the ground. "McGregor The Third might take his chance if the ground was fast. Buckboard Bounce was fourth last year and he could be the one but he disappointed me last time out.''

Nigel Twiston-Davies was pleased by Young Hustler's light weight, though the old horse is hardly living up to his name these days. He is in a more fighting mood about his other runner, Earth Summit. "They've both got fair weights," he said. "Young Hustler is usually among the topweights. Earth Summit is in good nick and will run in the Greenalls before going for the National.''

Martin Pipe described Cyborgo and Challenger Du Luc as his "two serious ones" among nine entries from his stable, but both head to the Gold Cup first. "It could be just Challenger's sort of race," Pipe said.

Oliver Sherwood said: "Him Of Praise has had only nine runs under Rules and is very inexperienced. But he might never have a weight like that again."