Son Of War to master Rough test

GRAND NATIONAL: A steely grey can provide Ireland with its first winner in the race since L'Escargot beat Red Rum in 1975
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The Independent Online
Racing Correspondent

One pulse will be missing from the Grand National this year, the very one that did most to popularise the race. Red Rum died last October, but he has not been forgotten at Aintree this week amid scenes which confirm why today's is the turf's premier production in Britain.

Much of the lead up to the National has been about Dubai and Cigar, but now we have Aintree and the whole humidor. A representation of the many who respect and recognise Red Rum's record at Liverpool have wandered through the daffodils that surround his grave at the winning post this week. The franchise for a tissues' stall would have been priceless.

While some have been spending quiet moments at Rummy's graveside, the doomsters have suggested that the body racing as a whole will be lowered into a dark hole after this weekend. The sport has had to circle the wagons since the Lottery came whooping over the horizon and now comes the big test as its greatest earner competes for the coins in trouser pockets.

The make-up of the National this year hardly helps. Good horses (Jodami) and well-backed horses (Lo Stregone) have been frogmarched away from calculations and there are now just 28 runners who will test themselves over the frightening fences, the smallest field since 1970. The winner that year was Gay Trip, and as nobody seems to consider he was gifted the race on that occasion, it may be safe to assume that the abbreviated cast list this afternoon will be of little significance. The winner will still be no coward.

The prices in the build-up have suggested this is a two-horse race between Rough Quest and Superior Finish. On a pure handicapping level, the former might just as well start clearing his voice for the acceptance speech as he was second to Imperial Call in the Gold Cup but runs here with just 10st 7lb on his back.

It is not, however, that simple. Terry Casey's gelding likes sticking his head out as much as a tumbril passenger and it will be some feat if Mick Fitzgerald can time his challenge up the long alley that is Aintree's run-in.

In addition, the record of horses coming here after the Gold Cup is appalling, and that is from times when there was a greater gap between the races than there has been this year. Recent Blue Riband winners such as Cool Ground, Garrison Savannah and Master Oats have all failed. They had to come because they would never have been as well weighted again. Rough Quest is similar to the trio in that respect and he may also be similar in performance. His price has been lengthening all week.

The National is traditionally the jockeys' race of the year, when the riders request a financial gift for placing themselves in peril over the daunting obstacles (this system does not stretch to the horses). Nobody will be getting more before he sets off than Richard Dunwoody, who rides Superior Finish for Jenny Pitman, dislodging the stable jockey, Warren Marston.

Both horse and rider have been bought up by one of the smaller newspapers, the one you usually see rolled up in the back pocket of someone on their way to a building site. Superior Finish himself rolled over here last year and looks a bad price.

There are, though, horses with form over the obstacles. Into The Red has won over the National fences, but his form is beginning to look like tiles on a Scrabble rack and a better proven animal is Party Politics. The behemoth won four years ago and was runner-up last time and even though he may be getting close to walking-stick time he can trundle into a place.

The frame beckons also for the top weight, Young Hustler, a course winner, and an Irish representative, Life Of A Lord, but it is another visitor from over the water who may provide us with the winner, Ireland's 17th overall and a first since L'Escargot in 1975.

SON OF WAR (nap 3.00) has already won a National, the version in his homeland two years ago, and has been brought along kindly this season by trainer Peter McCreery with this race in mind. The form of his fourth to Imperial Call at Leopardstown in February is persuasive, as is the fact he will be directed by the Gold Cup winner's jockey, Conor O'Dwyer.

Son Of War, like Cigar in the East this week, would be a great result for those who look a bit further ahead than having a couple of bob on, as he will be one of the horses identified in the paper in the builder's jeans as a "housewives' favourite". Son Of War is grey, a hue that has not won since Nicolaus Silver was victorious in 1961. That is about to change.



1. Son Of War (nap)

2. Party Politics

3. Young Hustler

4. Life Of A Lord

Longshot: Antonin


1. Wylde Hide (nap)

2. Deep Bramble

3. Son Of War

4. Rough Quest

Longshot: Vicompt De Valmont


1. Rough Quest (nap)

2. Party Politics

3. Life Of A Lord

4. Young Hustler

Longshot: Bishops Hall