Murphy ready to pull Mr Pointment

Trainer willing to sacrifice place to get form contender Cerium into National field

If plotting a course round Aintree to win a Grand National takes a bit of guile, then so, apparently, does getting a horse to the start. With the 40 runners, the safety limit, plus four reserves due to be finalised tomorrow morning, and 65 still in the mix for the £925,000 John Smith's-sponsored purse, trainers with horses near the cut are beginning to juggle their options.

Take Paul Murphy, whose Cerium, fifth 12 months ago, is number 42 on the list. Until yesterday the nine-year-old was number 41, but then lost out for the higher spot to 2007 winner Silver Birch. The two horses have an exactly equal official rating and had to be split by a random draw.

But Murphy also has Mr Pointment, in the same Wilson family ownership, with a guaranteed place, and will withdraw him if necessary in favour of the contender with the better current form. "At the moment," said the Yorkshire-based handler, "if one horse comes out, then Silver Birch will get in and we'll be next, and if that happens I'll take out Mr Pointment to get Cerium in the race. But if nothing comes out, then Mr Pointment will run."

One or more reserves will get a run only if called on before Friday morning. After that, the bar comes down even in th event of withdrawals.

Howard Johnson is in a similar quandary, with Abbeybraney the last one above the cut and Royal Rosa, whom he fancies more, the next on the list behind Silver Birch and Cerium. Both are owned by the Co Durham yard's chief patron Graham Wylie.

"The one I really want to run is Royal Rosa," Johnson said, "and he still needs a few to come out. Well have to play it by ear but if it looks as though Royal Rosa is just going to miss the cut by one, I'll have to take Abbeybraney out. Both the horses are really well. I took them down to the sea at Redcar the other day and they loved it."

With stable jockey Denis O'Regan due to ride one of the leading fancies, Black Apalachi, for Dessie Hughes, Johnson has booked Wilson Renwick if one of his charges runs, with Ryan Mania, who has yet to ride in the National, on standby for the other.

The weights for Saturday's showpiece will remain as set; David Pipe-trained top weight Madison Du Berlais, due to carry 11st 10lb, has been confirmed as a runner rather than go for a repeat in tomorrow's Totesport Bowl, in which he would have to take on Gold Cup-winner Imperial Commander. Tom Scudamore will ride Madison Du Berlais, but Timmy Murphy will leave his choice between the Pipe pair Comply Or Die and The Package as late as he can.

Imperial Commander will face just four rivals in tomorrow's Grade 1 contest, the Cheltenham fourth and sixth Carruthers and Calgary Bay, plus What A Friend, and Nacarat.

David Casey, due to partner Snowy Morning on Saturday for Willie Mullins, was cleared to resume riding at Fairyhouse today after a crashing fall on Monday. The gelding's trainer Willie Mullins continued in sparkling form when Golden Silver took yesterday's feature Dan Moore Memorial Chase at the Co Meath track.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery


Cabal (2.00 Lingfield) Well-related filly who showed promise on her sole juvenile outing and should be primed to get off the mark before better things.

Next best

Xpres Maite (4.20 Nottingham) The versatile gelding is upped to 10 furlongs for the first time and is down to a manageable turf mark.

One to watch

Private Equity (W Jarvis) Finished strongly over an inadequate 12 furlongs at Yarmouth on Monday, looks ready to win once upped in trip.

Where the money's going

Flintoff, who was a late withdrawal from the Irish Grand National on Monday, was backed yesterday to hit the bookmakers for six in the real thing at Aintree, from 100-1 to 50-1 with the Tote.

Chris McGrath's Nap

Ventura Cove (4.10 Catterick).

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