Racing / The Grand National: The contenders' colours of distinction: From Bishops Hall to Zeta's Lad, a punters' guide to the 39 runners aiming to break the circuit at Aintree today

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Stamina essential in search for the winner

In making your selection, bear in mind that favourites have a poor record - just four successes since the War - but the winner is usually well fancied. Seven of the last 10 have started at 16-1 or lower. On today's ground in particular, the ability to stay every yard is essential and Gay Trip, in 1970, was the last specialist over shorter distances to win. Nine-year- olds have won 31 of the 89 runnings this century and no mare has won since 1951.

ELFAST

Many punters believe that two-and-a-half milers can canter for the first circuit, and make their speed tell on the second. Their ancestors believed in hobgoblins, with as much justification. John Webber's runner will not be the first or last middle-distance specialist to run out of puff six from home. Odds: 16-1

GAY RUFFIAN

Martin Pipe did not become the champion trainer by selling potential National winners, so the fact that he let this one go is cause for concern. Two falls in four outings this term imply that Rodney Farrant, having his first National ride, will be rejoining the ranks of spectators fairly swiftly. Odds: 150-1

ITS A CRACKER

Has as much chance as any of the Irish- trained contingent, ie, practically none. Worthy runner-up in the Midlands National last time, but two wins from 29 starts is the record of a painfully slow animal. Subsequent races may be delayed while they wait for him to finish. Odds: 66-1

MIGHTY FALCON

Generally on offer at 150-1. By comparison, the odds against the Queen abdicating this year are reckoned by Hills to be just 66-1. Do not be tempted to back David Elsworth's runner, even if the strangely familiar woman in front of you in the queue is betting with the Crown Jewels. Odds: 150-1

MR BOSTON

Should he win, Desmond Lynam will get more out of the horse than his taciturn trainer, Mary Reveley. An unlikely scenario, perhaps, but he has long given the impression that extreme distances on soft ground will suit him ideally. A place in the frame is not beyond him. Odds: 33-1

RIFLE RANGE

As a jockey, Jonjo O'Neill suffered many reverses here, not least in 1973 when he carried Noel Le Mare's first colours on Glenkiln. The second silks were on Red Rum. As a trainer, the run will continue. Even now, Rummy could give this one a race. So, for that matter, could his statue in the paddock. Odds: 200-1

RUN FOR FREE

HAS the build and stamina of a Chieftain tank. And the steering. No jockey or bridle can stop him veering violently left under pressure. At Aintree, sadly, he will be asked to turn sharp right after the last. A place in the National history books beckons - as the first horse to jump the Chair twice. Odds: 25-1

ZETA'S LAD

John Upson, his trainer, was infectiously confident about his chance last year, but in the intervening 12 months his horses have simply been infectious, with a debilitating virus. The stable star was spared for much of the season, but an poor display last time does not inspire confidence. Odds: 20-1

EBONY JANE

FOR a horse who, in February, was supposedly to be targeted at Aintree alone, she has had plenty of diversions. A gritty third in Monday's Irish National at Fairyhouse was commendable, but hardly a final light canter on the home gallops. Fatigue will strike a mile from home. Odds: 25-1

GARRISON SAVANNAH

THE 1991 Gold Cup winner led on the run- in here three weeks later with greatness apparently beckoning. But Seagram came to grab him, and he has never been the same since. Has shown signs of mental fatigue, and reacquaintance with Aintree could push him over the edge. Odds: 25-1

INTO THE RED

Fancied by some when the weights were published, but his form has since nose-dived and John White's runner has been pulled up on his last two outings. The stallion Cash And Courage features in his pedigree. Backing him will require all your courage. And someone else's cash. Odds: 20-1

MASTER OATS

Contests only the 10th race of his career, but will start favourite thanks to his 15- length defeat of Moorcroft Boy at Kempton in February. That was a far less frenetic contest than today's, however, and he is poor value when the National hurly-burly could well unsettle him. Odds: 6-1 fav

MOORCROFT BOY

Beaten 15- lengths by Master Oats last time, but Kempton did not bring his stamina into play until too late. An Identikit National horse, who acts well on the ground, jumps soundly and stays forever. Could hardly be more obvious if he had 'winner' tattooed on his forehead. Odds: 10-1

QUIRINUS

THE no- hoper from eastern Europe is now as much a part of National day as the mounted police escort for the winner. Indeed, this Czech-trained entry might be better employed with a bobby on his back. Would struggle to go the early pace if he was riding a motorbike. Odds: 200-1

ROMANY KING

Past Aintree form is the only source of encouragement: he was second to Party Politics in 1992 and jumped round again last year. But his subsequent poor run has persisted too long to be written off as a mid-life crisis, and though only 10, his best years seem to be behind him. Odds: 25-1

YOUNG HUSTLER

Third place in the Gold Cup last month was a high-class performance, but even this tough workaholic may baulk at repeating it, particularly on ground he dislikes. Nigel Twiston-Davies, his trainer, staked pounds 1,000 on him at 50-1 in Febuary. He will need to remember his cashpoint card. Odds: 10-1

THE FELLOW

Replied to poorly disguised xenophobia by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month. But of the 14 Gold Cup winners to run in the same year's National, only one has won. This cannot be mere coincidence. Expect the Little Englanders to be crowing again this evening. Odds: 7-1

TOPSHAM BAY

Classy chaser with one crucial flaw, an inability to act on soft ground. His stable- lad could wear sunglasses and Bermuda shorts in an attempt to convince him that summer has arrived, but failing a 100-degree heatwave from now until off-time, his chance has surely gone. Odds: 16-1

USHERS ISLAND

Would have won a contest over the National fences in November, but fell two out. The subsequent decline in his form has been mirrored throughout Howard Johnson's yard as a virus has stopped his runners in their tracks. There is no reason to think that the malaise has passed. Odds: 50-1

WINDY WAYS

Bold jumper who should quickly adapt to the big fences, but the soft ground in between - it is said to be four inches deep in places - is far from ideal, as he has yet to win on anything worse than good. Also lacks the touch of class now essential in a National winner. Odds: 40-1

BLACK HUMOUR

Owned by Lady Lloyd Webber, wife of the famous composer. Despite occasional glimpses of talent, his performances usually offer more style than substance. Much the same is true of her horse, who tends to break blood vessels at vital moments. Will be in the chorus, not the spotlight. Odds: 33-1

CAPTAIN BRANDY

Will need a bottle of the stuff to get him going, having run fourth on desperate ground in the Irish National at Fairyhouse just five days ago. Indeed, the effects of that effort should produce similar symptoms: weak legs, slow reactions, and perhaps an inability to remain upright. Odds: 66-1

CHANNELS GATE

There are but two explanations for his form figures. Either he has been cunningly primed to land the gamble of the century at 100-1. Or he is useless. Since the big bookies are ready with a hankie the moment a fancied horse sneezes, the latter solution is the strong favourite. Odds: 100-1

DOUBLE SILK

Folksy background (trained by one farmer, ridden by another) augurs well, given the National's penchant for romance. Winner of his last nine races, but usually faces a handful of very slow opponents. The rise in class will not embarrass him, but the odds are hopelessly inadequate. Odds: 7-1

BISHOPS HALL

A horse must be in top form and stay every yard of the trip if it is going to win the National. This one isn't, doesn't and won't. Well down the field in his last three outings, most recently at Cheltenham, his appearance is a testament to his owner's optimism. Or should that be masochism? Odds: 66-1

FOURTH OF JULY

Rumoured to be for sale, with a pounds 40,000 price tag, earlier in the week, though the notion was subsequently denied by Mick O'Toole, his trainer. As investments go, it would have made shares in Euro Disney look like gold bullion. One of many who will not see out the trip. Odds: 50-1

HE WHO DARES WINS

Or doesn't, in the case of Chris Grant, the unluckiest jockey in recent National history. Second three times, he seemed destined to watch from the sidelines until stepping in for this no-hoper. A spot on the County Stand roof would provide him with a better view of the finish. Odds: 200-1

LAURA'S BEAU

Third here on unsuitably fast ground two years ago. The going should now be perfect but, Sod's Law being as it is, Frank Berry's gelding will be anything but, having declined steadily ever since. Returning to Liverpool may rekindle his enthusiasm. Don't bet on it, though. Odds: 50-1

MISTER ED

Ran away with the Midlands National last season but recent performances indicate that he is yesterday's horse. Even that home-from-home for archive sitcoms, BSkyB, has allowed his wise- cracking Sixties namesake to trot off into oblivion. Smart punters will take the hint. Odds: 33-1

PACO'S BOY

Worst of the five saddled by Martin Pipe, the champion trainer, and even the best of them carries little stable confidence. His losing sequence extends back to December 1991, including a fall when well behind in last year's void race. His efforts today will prove equally futile. Odds: 200-1

ROC DE PRINCE

Runs in the same colours as Party Politics, successful here two years ago, but the similarities stop there. Notched up 10 wins during a successful career in Ireland, but the last of those was two years ago. Even a move to Martin Pipe's yard has failed to arrest his decline. No chance at all. Odds: 100-1

SOUTHERN MINSTREL

Beaten 56 lengths by Master Oats at Kempton last time, and will struggle to finish even that close to Kim Bailey's runner today. The epitome of a National also-ran, dependable but out of his depth. Might have a say in the result, but only if he falls and brings down the favourite. Odds: 40-1

FIDDLERS PIKE

There are many words to describe the riding style of Rosemary Henderson, the 51-year-old grandmother who is his owner, trainer and jockey. Elegant and forceful are not two of them. Has stamina problems too: the horse should stay the distance, his partner probably will not. Odds: 100-1

HENRY MANN

Lazy and reluctant at the best of times, so it is anyone's guess what will run through his mind at the start as he contemplates the run towards Becher's. A once-fine talent sadly gone to seed. Charlie Swan, the Irish champion jockey, will earn every penny of his fee. Odds: 50-1

WINDY WAYS

Bold jumper who should quickly adapt to the big fences, but the soft ground in between - it is said to be four inches deep in places - is far from ideal, as he has yet to win on anything worse than good. Also lacks the touch of class now essential in a National winner. Odds:

JUST SO

Went back for seconds when stamina was handed out, but forgot to queue up for speed. Passed a dozen horses on the second circuit here two years ago, eventually finishing sixth. Could well go a couple of places better on today's ground, and is the best each-way bet among the outsiders. Odds: 33-1

MIINNEHOMA

The top staying novice of his generation, but has since lost time to injury. Richard Dunwoody dons the colours of Freddie Starr, but his form behind The Fellow in the Gold Cup indicates that we will be spared a burst of Starr's zany knockabout humour in the winners' enclosure. Odds: 20-1

NEW MILL HOUSE

Like the New Avengers, a poor imitation of the original. Fortunately, the position of the first Mill House among the greats of steeplechasing is sufficiently secure to survive comparison with this declining Irish handicapper. Stays, jumps and acts on the ground, but does so very slowly. Odds: 66-1

RIVERSIDE BOY

Winner of the Welsh National in December, and might be among the favourites today were it not for his two outings since. A front- runner, he seems to lose all interest when overtaken, as he surely will be by the nippier animals on the run to the first. May pull himself up shortly afterwards. Odds: 33-1

RUST NEVER SLEEPS

Stable boasts a National pedigree - Tommy Carberry, his trainer, rode L'Escargot to victory in 1975 - but unfortunately its runner does not. Pulled up on three of his last five outings, most recently on Monday, but given his chronic lack of speed you have to wonder, how could they tell? Odds: 66-1

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