Thornton was booked yesterday to partner Nahthen Lad, whose form over the last couple of seasons gives him no more than a slim hope of success, but who will also be Jenny Pitman's final runner in the big race. Given Aintree's habit of producing romantic results, only brave or unsentimental punters will leave his name off their slip.
Even without his trainer's imminent retirement, Nahthen Lad might attract support simply because his overall form resembles that of Royal Athlete, Mrs Pitman's most recent National winner. Like Royal Athlete, Nahthen Lad was a fine novice chaser, but also a horse who then found it difficult to make his way in handicaps under an almost inevitable top weight. There were distinct signs of a return to form, though, when he ran on into third place in the William Hill National Hunt Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month.
Unlike Royal Athlete, however, Nahthen Lad is one of the more prominent horses in ante-post betting on the National, and until yesterday, perhaps the outstanding spare ride in the race. "It's a nice sort of ride," Thornton said yesterday. "I know a bit about him. We were beaten only about 10 lengths in last year's Scottish National. He won the Sun Alliance, is the right age (10 years old) and has a touch of class, so he'd have to have a decent chance."
A less sought after vacancy in the saddle was yesterday awarded to Tom Jenks, who was recently jocked off Earth Summit, last year's winner, in favour of Carl Llewellyn. Jenks will now ride Commercial Artist, which is not much by way of compensation, since he is one of the least reliable jumpers in the race and quoted at an appropriate 200-1 by Ladbrokes.
A slightly better chance looks to be held by Frazer Island who does at least tend to show his best form in the spring. Fourth over the National fences in the John Hughes Trophy 12 months ago, Frazer Island pleased his trainer, Richard Rowe, in one of his last pre-race gallops yesterday.
"I am hoping that Richard Guest or Barry Fenton will be able to ride him," Rowe said yesterday. "Richard rode him in the John Hughes last year and Barry has ridden him on park courses this season. He was running a good race at Cheltenham [before being brought down in the Kim Muir] and I suppose the good thing with him coming down at half-way is he didn't have the chance to have a hard race. He was a bit stiff for a couple of days but he is in good form and he seems to come right in the spring."
Before the Grand National there is the Irish version at Fairyhouse on Monday to be considered and the race lost its favourite almost as quickly as it had found him yesterday.
Celtic Giant, an impressive winner at the Cheltenham Festival, was installed at the head of the market on Tuesday, but Len Lungo, his trainer, said that the chaser is unlikely to make the trip. "I don't see much point in travelling that distance if overnight rain turns the going against Celtic Giant," Lungo said. "He must have it good to firm." The Scottish National or a race at Aintree next week seem better alternatives.
Without Celtic Giant, the race seems wide open, with Manus The Man, Papillon and Bob Treacy all within a point of each other at around 7-1.
n Richard Dunwoody still requires three winners to pass Peter Scudamore's record tally of 1,678 after all three of his mounts - Strong Paladin, Kurakka and Kinnescash - failed at Ascot yesterday.
n The trainer Ben Hanbury was fined pounds 1,750 and jockey John Stack suspended for 12 days under the "non-triers' rule over the running and riding of Quiet Millfit in a maiden race at Catterick yesterday.
Nap: Bound For Pleasure
NB: Squire Corrie