The colours to follow on the field of battle

GRAND NATIONAL: A guide to the 28 runners that today contest Britain's most gruelling test of the thoroughbred racehorse
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ANTONIN

When he won a series of valuable chases two seasons ago, a lucrative career seemed ahead. Instead, his star waned more rapidly than that of any pop idol (yes, even Robbie Williams), and his victory in the Ritz Club Chase at the 1994 Cheltenham Festival remains his most recent win. Sue Bramall, his trainer, is packing up and moving abroad soon. Antonin's winning form did the same a long time ago. Odds: 33-1

BAVARD DIEU

The mount of Jason Titley, who steered Royal Athlete to success at 40-1 last year but now faces an even more daunting task. Whereas Royal Athlete was a high-class performer who recaptured his form at the ideal moment, Bavard Dieu has nothing worthwhile to rediscover, as evidenced by his distant fourth at Sandown this month. If Titley wants to relive the memory, he had better bring his scrapbook. Odds: 66-1

BISHOPS HALL

Poor traveller whose previous forays to Aintree from Ireland were doomed before he left home. Now based in England, this proven fast-ground performer will disembark to find the track conditions ideal. Showed a flicker of form at Sandown last time, and Marcus Armytage, who was the last amateur to win, has a chance of repeating the trick. Not much more, it's true, but a top-six finish is within reach. Odds: 22-1

BRACKENFIELD

Some horses are said to jump fluently. In Brackenfield's case the correct description is somewhere between pidgin and Linguaphone. Plugged on into a very distant fifth in the Midlands National two weeks ago after a typically hairy series of leaps. Bookmakers love to offer odds about every member of a group of four or five runners completing the course. Expect to see Brackenfield's name in every list. Odds: 100-1

CAPTAIN DIBBLE

When your sire is called Crash Course, the Grand National is never likely to be your race, and while he won the Scottish version of this marathon as a novice four years ago, his form has steadily tailed off since. He did likewise on his only outing this season, before a terrible blunder at Newcastle's 19th fence shot his rider out of the saddle. His main target today must be to reach The Chair without being lapped. Odds: 40-1

CHATAM

It makes no difference what the fences are made of -birch or fir, he treats them all like candy-floss. It is a testament to the ability which lurks within his error-prone frame that his record includes a Hennessy Gold Cup win, but that was almost five years ago and he has won just once since. Tony McCoy's potential was never more in evidence than 12 months ago, when he stayed attached to Chatam until the 12th. Odds: 33-1

DEEP BRAMBLE

Chairman Mao would have been proud of the four-year plan which Paul Nicholls has mapped out for his nine-year-old, with the National the sole aim each season and a hope that they might get lucky once. With so many leading horses missing this time, Deep Bramble's first chance may be his best, and on the evidence of his only run this year, when lack of fitness told at Haydock, he will run with great credit. Odds: 10-1

ENCORE UN PEU

Caught on the line when his stamina appeared to fail at Cheltenham. That was after just over three miles, so it will be a biological miracle if his puff extends to four and a half. Martin Pipe, his trainer, won two years ago with Miinnehoma, but also has the habit of running utter no-hopers. Encore Un Peu's name may appeal to Francophiles, but they would be better off spending the cash on a villa in Provence. Odds: 20-1

FAR SENIOR

Never more than half-decent at his best, but has now developed into a surly, unco-operative character. Performed as if the whole business was beneath him at Doncaster in December, when he clambered over the fences at his leisure and was soon tailed off. This cussed nature is unlikely to be improved by the view from the start, looking past the first five fences towards the looming mass of Becher's. Odds: 200-1

GREENHILL RAFFLES

Changed hands at Doncaster Sales this week and apparently runs today because his new trainer's father produces a brand of gin called Raffles and felt it might be a useful advertisement. Seems more likely to publicise what too much of the hard stuff can do for you -a slow, ponderous gait, for instance, and a tendency to fall over. Last seen out in December, when seventh in a humdrum race at Haydock. Odds: 150-1

INTO THE RED

A previous winner over these big fences, and was beaten only 14 lengths into fifth behind Royal Athlete 12 months ago, but what a difference a year can make. Age started to eat away at his form soon afterwards, and he has lost his way so hopelessly this season that he could give lessons to Mark Thatcher. Even if reacquaintance with Aintree improves his state of mind, the legs and lungs will be unable to match it. Odds: 50-1

LIFE OF A LORD

Aidan O'Brien wisely ignores comparisons with his namesake Vincent, but his compatriots do not. Victory for his first National runner would secure his position as heir apparent to the man who won this race three years in a row. The soft ground was against him when performing poorly at Leopardstown last month, and today's surface will suit. A burden just 1lb below the top weight will not, however. Odds: 9-1

LUSTY LIGHT

Can only improve on last year's showing when he made the classic Aintree novice's mistake of overjumping at the first. He fell (and was remounted) on his most recent start too, but again through over-exuberance and he will run a good race if Warren Marston can keep his mount's flamboyance under control. Likes fast ground, but surely missed his chance last year when he was lower in the handicap. Odds: 14-1

OVER THE DEEL

Received a thorough slagging in this space 12 months ago, prior to running the race of his life to finish third. Due to a printing error, last year's entry should have read "interesting outsider who will go well at a big price", while suggestions that he was a hopeless old boat were intended for this year's guide. We trust that this time Over The Deel will do the decent thing and run as poorly as recent form suggests. Odds: 40-1

OVER THE STREAM

Kim Bailey has won the National, Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle during the last five years, but his only runner today is little more than a token effort. Capable at his own level, Over The Stream is in at least half a dozen rungs over his head, and although he finished third over the course in November his overall form is not within 50 lengths of the serious contenders. If all 27 rivals were to pull out, you could still get odds against. Odds: 40-1

PARTY POLITICS

An uncannily appropriate winner at election time four years ago, but like John Major's majority, his best form now seems a thing of the past. Runner-up to Royal Athlete 12 months ago, and Aintree certainly brings out the best in him -his remarkable size makes him that rarity, a horse who towers over the fences. Pulled up in the mud last month on his return but will be fitter today and better suited by the ground Odds: 9-1

PLASTIC SPACEAGE

Veteran chaser who at 13 might prefer a mug of warm milk to a tilt at the season's toughest chase. But then life has never provided him with an easy ride, ever since those clever people at Spaceage Plastics cursed him with one of the ugliest names ever to appear on a racecard. Second at Chepstow last time out, but the most he can hope for after today's exertions is four warm slippers and a copy of The Oldie. Odds: 150-1

RIVERSIDE BOY

The third member of Martin Pipe's team, and while his decision to run the other two is slightly mysterious, the appearance of Riverside Boy could be a plot-line in The X-Files. Without a win since the 1993 Welsh National, and on any reading of the form book has no chance of beating a dozen of his rivals. Should plod round safely, but his jockey's most important task will be to switch out the lights as they leave. Odds: 100-1

ROUGH QUEST

Rough indeed for a horse who finished second in the Gold Cup just 16 days ago. On that evidence, he should have at least a stone more on his back, but time and again similar "good things" have discovered that any advantage in the handicap is outweighed by the effects of a hard race at Cheltenham. A tricky customer who needs to be brought with one late run, never an easy assignment in the Aintree melee. Odds: 7-1

RUST NEVER SLEEPS

His stamina has improved with age, and he recorded his first victory at more than three miles last April, but while this trip will probably suit, a three-fence start would do nicely too. If the starter sets him off with the rest -never an assumption to make lightly at Aintree -his 12-year-old legs will be feeling the pace by half-way. A measure of justice, since a horse with such an awful name does not deserve to win. Odds: 25- 1

SIR PETER LELY

A faller on his most recent run, but that should not detract from his record over these fences. Runner-up to Young Hustler here in November, and placed behind Dublin Flyer last year, he might have had prospects in the days when 90 per cent of the field failed to complete. In the less attritional Nineties, though, National horses require class, and he will need a transformation of Eliza Doolittle proportions to figure. Odds: 33-1

SON OF WAR

The betting implies he is Ireland's best hope of taking their first National for 20 years, and he will not lack resolution having failed by just a short-head to give Carrigeen Kerria 35lb at Fairyhouse last month. However, several shrewd judges of the Irish turf think he may be at his best in small fields and will struggle to lie up with the pace. The loss of regular jockey Francis Woods, who partners Wylde Hide, will not help. Odds: 7-1

SUPERIOR FINISH

Runs for a retired fork-lift driver who won a day's lease in a competition in The Sun. The currant bun's first move was to jock off regular rider Warren Marston in favour of the champion, Richard Dunwoody, and he has been heavily backed as a result. A dour plodder who lacks the class required of a National winner. Monday's headline may be "The Boy Dun Good", but "We've Dun Our Dough" looks more likely. Odds: 7-1

SURE METAL

That there can ever be only one Red Rum will be plainer than ever to Ginger McCain when the great horse's trainer saddles Sure Metal after attending a memorial ceremony at Rummy's grave by the winning post. Has seen a track just twice since the void National three years ago, on both occasions running without distinction. Even Ginger admits he will be surprised if he gets to Becher's a second time. Odds: 250-1

THREE BROWNIES

Three legs is nearer the mark if even his best form is anything to go by. Amid what is, as ever, stiff competition, he shades the vote as the most hopeless outsider, and it is a considerable testament to the allure of the Grand National that he is making the trip from Ireland at all. Some outside chances are halfway-down-the-garden outside. In Three Brownies' case, we are talking sitting on top of Ben Nevis without a tent. Odds: 150-1

VICOMPT DE VALMONT

Unlikely to beat his stablemate Deep Bramble, but could still give long-odds punters an excellent run for their money. Was a little disappointing at Newcastle last time, but that was just seven days after an eye-catching effort when his limitless stamina carried him into third place from a hopeless position at the home turn. One of few runners who actually needs today's extended trip. Far and away the best outsider. Odds: 66-1

WYLDE HIDE

Owned by legendary Irish gambler J P McManus, but you do not need to bet in mortgages to appreciate his chance. A gritty stayer with a touch of class, his Aintree prep, a novice hurdle, was somewhat unorthodox, but Arthur Moore is one of Ireland's most experienced handlers and surely knows what he is doing. Take the remarkable value still available before J P heads, as he likes to put it, "into the trenches". Odds: 16-1

YOUNG HUSTLER

Only two of today's rivals are younger than the top weight, but only one has more races on his cv. Today's will be the 59th start of Young Hustler's career, a record which includes National mishaps in the last two years. It was thus a triumph for spirit over experience to return to the big fences in November to land the Becher Chase, but he faced just nine rivals there and today's field may rekindle unpleasant memories. Odds: 7-1

THE FALLERS AND FAVOURITES

Year Winner Favourite Ran Finished Fell UR/ Ref/ Going

BD PU

1995 Royal Athlete (40-1) Master Oats (5-1) Seventh 35 15 12 7 1 Good

1994 Miinnehoma (16-1) Moorcroft Boy (5-1) Third 36 6 15 10 5 Heavy

1993 Void race

1992 Party Politics (14-1) Docklands Express (15-2) Fourth 40 22 3 3 12 Good to soft

1991 Seagram (12-1) Bonanza Boy (13-2) Fifth 40 17 5 4 14 Good to soft

1990 Mr Frisk (16-1) Brown Windsor (7-1) Fourth 38 20 8 4 6 Firm

1989 Little Polveir (28-1) Dixton House (7-1) Fell 40 14 11 2 13 Heavy

1988 Rhyme 'N' Reason (10-1) Sacred Path (17-2) Fell 40 9 10 5 16 Good to soft

1987 Maori Venture (28-1) West Tip (5-1) Fourth 40 22 4 9 5 Good

1986 West Tip (15-2) Mr Snugfit (13-2) Fourth 40 17 12 6 5 Good to soft

1985 Last Suspect (50-1) West Tip (13-2) Fell 40 11 14 3 12 Good to soft

1984 Hallo Dandy (13-1) Greasepaint (9-1) Second 40 23 10 3 4 Good

RULES FOR BETTING

1. Do not ignore favourites in the National, although none have won in the last 10 years they have reached the frame on five occasions during that period.

2. Do ignore horses that are a long way out of the handicap (carrying 10st when they should be carrying much less). This particularly applies when the ground is riding fast, as it is today.

3. Instead of each-way betting, which is no insurance against your selection falling, split your stake between more than one horse.

4. Get up early. The odds on offer this morning will probably be better than the starting-prices.

GUIDE: GREG WOOD

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