Racing: Upson's Lad can add to the National argument: Today's big chase at Fairyhouse will provide fresh evidence for punters convinced that the chaos at Aintree cost them a fortune

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The Independent Online
THE ESSEX publican who last week converted his pool table to stage a Grand National with snails - 'they'll start at eight o'clock and we've applied for a late licence' - is a shrewd judge of the popular mood. Punters, occasional and habitual, wanted a result, not a refund, and will sieze upon any evidence that the chaos at Aintree cost them a fortune.

If anyone ever feels lucky enough to sue the Liverpool starter for loss of winnings, the result of this afternoon's Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse is likely to be Exhibit A. Zeta's Lad and Royal Athlete were well-fancied animals who started but did not finish in the National that wasn't, Rushing Wild and Sibton Abbey provide high-class lines of form, and a strong show by The Committee, who finished 'fourth' at Aintree, would leave those who backed Esha Ness feeling particularly hard done by.

Rushing Wild, the Gold Cup runner-up, lacks acceleration and must carry top weight, while Royal Athlete's jumping causes concern, and Zeta's Lad (3.55) is the likely winner this afternoon, for the same reasons that he would probably have won at Liverpool. He is a proven, improving, high-quality stayer, and a sound jumper who is still at least a stride ahead of the handicapper, while the last nine days have given his trainer, John Upson, an added incentive to succeed.

No matter where the blame is finally laid for the first major breakdown in communications on Grand National day, there can be no doubt as to the originator of the second. The link between Upson's brain and his mouth failed at a vital moment, prompting him to describe Ireland as a 'backward little country' to the watching world.

It was an aberration, borne of distress at seeing his hard work destroyed by incompetence, but that could not protect Upson from a tidal wave of vitriol, and even a number of death threats. There are few more unlikely candidates for the role of anti-Irish bigot than Upson, whose mainly Irish-bought horses are ridden by an Irishman and looked after by a staff that is 80 per cent Irish, but if he wishes to make any further amends, there could be no better place to do so than the winners' enclosure at Fairyhouse.

By comparison to the bravery of the long-distance runners in Ireland, Kempton's televised card is thin stuff, though it is intriguing to speculate how Lord Rosebery, the arch-traditionalist's arch-traditionalist, might react to the latest incarnation of the race named in his honour. The Rosebery Handicap has become the Westminster Motor Taxi Insurance Rosebery Rated Stakes, which must be causing the gravebound Lord to rotate faster than a cabbie's meter in a traffic jam.

The change from a handicap to a conditions event is part of the Jockey Club's Grand Plan - detention, all those who sneered - to make racing more competitive. The logic of this switch is far from obvious, but you have to hope that someone, somewhere, knows what they are doing.

Certainly, this is a far less competitive heat than many of those which LUCKY GUEST (nap 3.40) contested last season. Just as horses with over-optimistic names such as Faster Than Light usually turn out to be painfully slow, so Lucky Guest seemed to attract every misfortune going in a string of good handicaps last summer, emerging with a solitary success to show for 10 starts. The ability is there, though, and even he will struggle to find trouble in today's relatively small field.

He should also act on the soft going, an attribute shared by Night Jar (next best 4.10). Part of Lord Huntingdon's team of go- anywhere runners last year, she won a Listed contest at Evry and finished a good second in Munich, form which gives her the clear beating of today's field.

Taroudant (2.35) and How's Yer Father (3.05) look best in the handicaps, particularly the former, who is a certain stayer in the two-mile Queen's Prize.


Carlisle: 2.30 The Titan Ghost; 3.00 Kushbaloo; 3.30 Spanish Fair; 4.00 Mister Moody; 5.00 York Imperial; 5.30; Amadeus.

Market Rasen: 2.15 Nishkina; 2.45 Delpiombo; 3.20 Balaat; 3.55 Polar Region; 4.30 Corrin Hill; 5.00 Reggae Beat; 5.30 Balhernoch.