Racing: White and Ness start out on National trail

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When Esha Ness was first past the post in the 1993 Grand National the race did not count and his owner missed out on about £100,000 in prize-money. Yesterday, the 12-year-old began his build-up to perhaps his last attempt at Aintree, in Thomas Har dy country, and the race did count. He finished third and won £905.

Among Wincanton's few attractions for the press in the past have been Desert Orchid and a vat of oxtail soup which is produced for consumption. But yesterday there was the draw of a reminder of the sport's most shameful day, when the world's best-known race was undermined by starting tape with the elasticity of briefs on a retirement home washing line.

The same team was on hand yesterday. Trainer Jenny Pitman, in a green coat (with frog brooch appended) and red shawl looked like a Russian mother doll; owner Patrick Bancroft (who still laughs about receiving telegrams of congratulation from friends who watched the race abroad with foreign commentary) talked with John White, Esha Ness's regular jockey.

White, in fact, is no longer a face on Britain's circuits. He now trains in his native Ireland, but will return each time the gelding runs on the way to Aintree.

White may be gone but he is not forgotten if his autograph signing yesterday is anything to go by. Esha Ness, however, was largely ignored in the betting for the Racing In Wessex Chase, setting off the outsider of five runners.

Nevertheless, he jumped with alacrity on only his second run in two years, even if his speed on the flat was not sufficient to worry the leaders. "I'm very pleased with the way he's going this year," Pitman said, and was not contradicted by her jockey.

"He gave me a good feel and he always jumps well," White said. "It wouldn't be a waste of time at all me coming over here to ride. I would be pleased enough with him, but it's a long way to go.''

Fifteen horses will have to come out of the National entries if Esha Ness is to get a run in April but that is the least of the worries at his Weathercock House yard in Lambourn. There was no mention of the lost National from connections yesterday, no mention of the tape that cost them a moment of great celebration. The only barrier that will cause concern this morning is the door to the horse's box, when the inspection is held to see if he has emerged from Wincanton unscathed.