Son Of War ready to do battle

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The Independent Online
IT is 21 years since L'Escargot became the last Grand National winner trained in Ireland, but with the Gold Cup winner Imperial Call heading a magnificent seven at Cheltenham, the Irish have their tails up and send a strong team to Aintree on Saturday.

The raiders' challenge in the Martell Grand National is led by Life Of A Lord, trained by Aidan O'Brien, and Peter McCreery's out-and-out stayer Son Of War, who can buck another trend by becoming the first grey to score since Nicolaus Silver in 1961.

Vera O'Brien's nine-year-old, winner of the Irish National two years ago, has not won for 15 months. But his last two runs have indicated that he is coming to his best; in February he was a staying-on fourth to Imperial Call in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, then failed by a whisker to concede nearly three stone at Fairyhouse.

He has shown his best form on the soft (or worse) but, according to his trainer, the good ground now prevailing at Aintree will suit him just as well. He will be ridden by the Gold Cup-winning Conor O'Dwyer, bidding to become the first since John Burke in 1976 to bring off the double, and there is even the prerequisite fairytale attached, for McCreery's grandfather sent out Mr What to win the 1958 National.

Life Of A Lord is not certain to make the journey unless he gets his favoured fast ground. One of the most improved handicappers in Ireland last year, he has plenty of weight, but was not disgraced when pulled up in the heavy behind Imperial Call last time out. The National has always been his target, and he will have the invaluable help of his jockey, Charlie Swan.

In recent years, classy horses who ran well in the Gold Cup have been thereabouts in the National, and Rough Quest, runner-up at Cheltenham this year, seems a certainty at the weights. The only doubt about his jumping is that it may be too bold for Aintree; a more serious question mark hangs over his ability to see out the run-in. It is a long way from the last fence to the winning post for a horse who sometimes seems not to relish a battle.

The top weight, Young Hustler, turned in an exhibition round on his essential fast ground over the big fences in November, and showed signs of a return to form when just pipped for fourth place in the Gold Cup, but his stamina over four and a half miles must be taken on trust. Party Politics is sure to give a good account of himself again round his favourite track.

Lo Stregone, favoured by cut, will stay every yard, though probably not fast enough. Deep Bramble finished a long way behind him in the Haydock trial last month but that was his first run for nearly a year and he can turn the tables next weekend.

Few National winners come from out of the handicap, but one of that brigade who could merit consideration on easy ground is the improving Wylde Hide. The nine-year-old, winner of the Thyestes at Gowran in January, is trained by Arthur Moore, whose father, Dan, prepared L'Escargot for his famous victory. Of the longer-priced horses, although Micky Hammond's Sir Peter Lely fell early in the Great Yorkshire last time out, he at least knows his way round Aintree, having twice completed the course last year.

Sue Montgomery's tips

1 Son Of War 12-1

2 Party Politics 11-1

3 Life Of A Lord 14-1

4 Deep Bramble 9-1

Long shot Sir Peter Lely 50-1