Racing: Zeta's Lad can land lottery: Paul Hayward makes his National selections

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The Independent Online
RACING's hardliners believe that Saturday's big race at Liverpool should be rechristened the Bland National now that many of the dangers have been removed from the course. One thing is certain: gone are the days when brave plodders like Ben Nevis and Little Polveir could win.

For three years now the country's foremost betting race has been run over less hazardous obstacles and each time it has been won by a horse with class who was not overburdened with weight. Mr Frisk (10st 6lb), Seagram (10st 6lb) and Party Politics (10st 7lb) were all gifted, sure-footed steeplechasers with a chance, at the weights, of preserving some energy for the end of their four and a half mile journey.

As John Upson, trainer of Zeta's Lad, said this week: 'From being the great lottery with incidents quite likely at most of the obstacles, the National has become a very good long-distance chase with two difficult fences.

'Realistically, racing couldn't go on staging the Grand National in the way it used to. Sooner or later, someone would have tried to get it banned. It's still a great spectacle, a very exciting race, but now a fairer one, too.'

Zeta's Lad, along with Royal Athlete and Captain Dibble, is precisely the type of horse who catches the attention in these changed conditions. He is unbeaten in five handicaps this season and last time collected the valuable Racing Post Handicap Chase at Kempton, a reliable trial. Upson says Zeta's Lad is notoriously 'grumpy', but like all products of his sire, Over the River, he is not short of the agility and resolution required to win round Aintree.

Royal Athlete, the favourite, is lightly weighted and lightly raced, but is abysmal betting value at the 6-1 offered by William Hill. Against that, his jockey, Mark Pitman, does say: 'One of his attributes is that he'll gallop all day, and the ground doesn't seem to bother him too much, either. As a novice he was never a particularly brilliant jumper, but he seems to have sorted himself out on that front now.'

Of the other front-line candidates, Garrison Savannah (second in 1991) is rediscovering his old form but still may not be as sharp as he was in his Gold Cup-winning year, while Party Politics - who was almost too topical to back at election time 12 months ago - is higher in the weights and has had an operation on his breathing (the bathroom plug attached to his throat shows that he has been 'tubed' to aid his respiration). Moreover, no horse has won the National twice since Red Rum in the mid-Seventies.

Romany King was second last year but has been disappointing this season. Chatam, who was beaten just a head by Jodami in Ireland, jumped like a hippo behind the same horse in the Gold Cup, and so is a long-shot to make it round Aintree, never mind win. Captain Dibble, who won the SGB Chase at Ascot, is a much sounder candidate and deserves inclusion on the short-list.

With class reasserting itself over luck and courage, Zeta's Lad can win the Grand National.