The contenders' colours of distinction

150th GRAND NATIONAL: From Antonin to Wylde Hide, a punters' guide to the runners aiming to break the circuit at Aintree
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ANTONIN

Showed astonishing improvement three years ago, winning a string of valuable races, but it took a move to Ireland with his trainer to rekindle the class of '94. Looked back to his best when winning by a distance at Punchestown last time, and has scored at Cheltenham off a 9lb higher handicap mark than this. Has form on good ground, a leading jockey and a sure-footed approach to jumping which makes him the best bet in the race. Odds: 16- 1

BUCKBOARD BOUNCE

To be ridden by Paul Carberry, whose father, Tommy, won on L'Escargot 22 years ago. A rider with a gift of conjuring improvement from almost every horse he sits on, Paul coaxed 100-1 shot Three Brownies into sixth last year. He faces a harder task today as his mount was beaten 33 lengths at Carlisle seven days ago, so victory today would see enough form books on bonfires up and down Britain to accelerate global warming. Odds: 25- 1

DON'T LIGHT UP

Not the most appropriately named of today's runners, since possession of a betting slip naming Venetia Williams's chaser is one of the few decent excuses left for pulling out a fag. The only runner in this afternoon's race yet to see a racecourse this season, and you suspect his odds would be even longer if he had had the chance to blot his copybook any further. Odds-on to come to grief somewhere on the first circuit. Odds: 200-1

FULL OF OATS

Rounded off last season with three wins, but this campaign has proved more difficult with the soft ground which bring his stamina into play all but non-existent. The extended trip should allow him to gain a measure of respectability, and his third behind Flyer's Nap two runs ago looks rather better following the latter's success at Cheltenham. Should finish about 14th, if the bad mistake he drops into every other round fails to materialise. Odds: 66-1

GO BALLISTIC

Ran far beyond expectations when fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, making him an apparent blot on the handicap here rather as Rough Quest, the 1996 Gold Cup runner-up, was 12 months ago. The presence of Master Oats at the head of the list has done him no favours, however, costing six of the 10lbs he appeared to have in hand, and while he is generally a safe jumper, he tends to make at least one bad mistake per circuit. Odds: 10-1

LORD GYLLENE

A brilliant jumper, which, strangely, is not always the ideal requirement at Aintree, where the drop on the landing side can catch out horses who jump too big. Among the favourites after three victories in six outings, but has not won away from Uttoxeter and appeared jaded when folding tamely behind Seven Towers at that track last month. Success would not be the greatest surprise, but he is very poor value at the price. Odds: 10-1

MASTER OATS

Kim Bailey is running well behind Screaming Lord Sutch in popularity polls in many training centres thanks to his decision to declare the 1995 Gold Cup winner, thereby keeping the weights down and denting the chances of at least 20 other runners. Seventh when favourite two years ago, but form has deserted him and on his only outing this term he was pulled up. The ground is too fast while he is simply too slow. Odds: 25-1

NEW CO

Santa Claus is supposed to leave things behind, but when he called on Mouse Morris's chaser last December, he seemed to remove his will to win. Things had been going well until then, with two wins at home in Ireland including one which netted pounds 45,000, only for the second half of the year - and a hike in the weights - to usher in a series of disappointments. Would need to carry about two stone less to figure here. Odds: 40-1

PLASTIC SPACEAGE

Has lugged what must be the ugliest name on the turf around the gaff tracks for all of 14 years now, to the point where the punters deserve a rest every bit as much as he does. Has not visited the winners' enclosure for four years, and even then it was at Newton Abbot, which barely counts. By far the oldest horse in the field, he has been feeling his age this week and his participation will remain in doubt until this morning. Odds: 150-1

STRAIGHT TALK

The mount of Joe Tizzard, who will become the youngest rider to set out in the race since Bruce Hobbs on Battleship in 1938. Hobbs returned victorious, but this partnership will do well to return together, since Straight Talk's last visit to the big fences saw him unseat his rider. Also against him: that the last election-time National was won by Party Politics. This time, as cynics will point out, there could be no less appropriate winner. Odds: 66-1

AVRO ANSON

Has never won a handicap chase, which is not an obvious qualification for a potential National winner, but there are plenty of other indications that he will go close. Stamina is no problem - he passed the post first in the 1994 Stayers' Hurdle only to lose the race in the stewards' room - and his debut run this season, when third to Jodami at Haydock, was outstanding. Goes well fresh and has a good chance of a place in the frame. Odds: 10-1

CAMELOT KNIGHT

Named in honour of men who performed valiant deeds, which is a little unfortunate given that his finest moment - worth all of pounds 2,980 - came in a Chepstow handicap four years ago. Returned one of his better efforts since when sixth, beaten 30 lengths, in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham last month, but even a repeat performance would take him no further than the first two-dozen home. Can be passed over without a second thought. Odds: 100-1

NORTHERN HIDE

A potential National winner needs a little luck, but he used up his share for the year - for the decade, in fact - when finishing second to Dextra Dove at Sandown back in February. Decent opponents like Coome Hill, Avro Anson and Go Ballistic came to grief that day, and a more reliable measure of his ability is the distant ninth to Terao posted at Cheltenham last time. What's more, he wouldn't stay if he had a 10-furlong start. Odds: 50-1

RIVER MANDATE

Will carry the Arkle colours of Anne, Duchess of Westminster, but then you can get both Metros and Ferraris in red, and only one of them will do 0-60 in under three seconds. The only prize he can realistically pick up is for being the best-named horse in the field (by Mandalus out of Liffey's Choice), though admittedly his penultimate run, when third to Turning Trix at Newbury, does imply that he will do himself a small measure of justice. Odds: 50-1

SUNY BAY

Charlie Brooks, his trainer, says he would be standing for the Referendum Party were it not for the demands of his job, but thankfully for supporters of this grey, his devotion to lost causes remains political rather than professional. Cantered home in the Greenalls' Trial and is still improving, so could be the handicap blot, but his dismal run when breaking a blood vessel last year is hard to dismiss, especially at these odds. Odds: 9-1

BACK BAR

Like a trident with a prong missing, Arthur Moore's three-strong team for this year's National includes two elements which could do some damage, and another which is utterly harmless. This one's the dud, with just three wins in 27 starts, and all of those back in his novice days, at two and a half miles or less. A very distant fourth on his most recent start, his main target today is to avoid finishing a very distant 40th. Odds: 100-1

CELTIC ABBEY

Has just two wins under Rules to his credit, fewer than any other runner in the field, and will not be playing catch-up today. Lost his prospective rider, amateur Dai Jones, on Tuesday when his application to ride in the race arrived at the Jockey Club too late, which prompts the conclusion that everything about him is slow. His jumping is rather hit-and-miss and at Aintree, of course, one miss is one too many. Odds: 100-1

NUAFFE

Used to be quite good, but then so did Chris Evans, and Pat Fahy's chaser has now entered what might be termed the "TFI Friday" phase of his career - lacklustre and painfully predictable. Second to Dublin Flyer in a good race at Cheltenham several seasons ago, but pulled up at Downpatrick (the Fakenham of Irish jumps racing) last time out, and has won just once in 15 outings over the last two seasons. Odds: 66-1

SCRIBBLER

In the long list of dreadful jumpers, somewhere between the one you thought was cool when you were 14 and the one you got last Christmas, sits this chaser, an unreliable conveyance at the best of times, but all the more so around what is still one of the most formidable circuits in the world. Bookmakers like to compile five-horse groups and offer odds on all five completing. Expect this one to figure prominently in most of them. Odds: 100-1

TURNING TRIX

Bought seven years ago by Mel Davies as a prospective National horse, and might yet prove to be one of the most prescient purchases in turf history. Lightly raced for a 10-year-old, he seems sure to appreciate today's step up in trip, although the suffocating presence of Master Oats at the top of the weights has done him no favours. Should go well at a big price, even if a spot in the top four may be asking too much. Odds: 33-1

BELMONT KING

Launched his season well after a spell troubled by injury with victory in the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow. As it turned out, the rehearsal turned into an opening night, and his two outings since have offered little encouragement that his name will be up in lights. Made no impression on the average Giventime at Chepstow last month, and would prefer more give in the ground. His relatively prominent position in the betting is a mystery. Odds: 22-1

DAKYNS BOY

Hit the high point of his career in a valuable novice event at Kempton five years ago, since when it has been a steady freewheel downhill. Unseated his rider at the 10th two years ago, since when his form has declined further. Now very much one of life's also-rans, he was beaten 65 lengths at Chepstow last month and was probably fortunate to get that close. Others demand to be considered, he demands to be ignored. Odds: 100-1

EVANGELICA

Not seen out since January, perhaps to allow her to recover from the shock of being beaten by a 100-1 shot. That says all you need to know about her chance today, which is most conveniently viewed with a powerful magnifying glass. The only mare in the field, but the last one to win was Nickel Coin back in 1951 and that statistic at least could not be any safer today if it was locked in the vaults of the Bank of England. Odds: 50-1

GENERAL WOLFE

Favourite when the weights were published in February, but did little to advertise his chance when tailed off behind Belmont King at Chepstow last month. Tim Forster, his trainer, is a notorious pessimist, so the fact that he has discussed this contender's chance in almost upbeat fashion - allied to the fact that he has saddled three National winners - is encouraging. Needed the weights to rise and may just miss a place in the frame. Odds: 16-1

GRANGE BRAKE

Quirky, nay certifiable, beast who seems to apply himself only when the odds are stacked against him. He would, for instance, probably have finished third in the Hennessy at Newbury last November - at odds of 100-1 - but for a last-fence mishap, and on that basis, he should go pretty well today. As trustworthy as a triple agent and is the sort of horse who would find a way to lose if he was 20 lengths clear rounding the Elbow. Odds: 100-1

LO STREGONE

As rugged as a mountain bike, but with the gearbox of a Chopper, Tom Tate's runner goes from a walk to a steady gallop and does not get any faster. Soft ground is not, as some suppose, essential, but it does slow down his opponents. Third in the Hennessy at Newbury in November, but then dreadful behind Suny Bay at Haydock, and unlike 12 months ago, when he was a late absentee, he is now weighted up to his best form. Odds: 14-1

MUGONI BEACH

Does his winning on the summer circuit at tracks like Bangor and Newton Abbot, and is proof that the rules to ensure that National runners are of a reasonable standard are still too lax. Recorded his last win back in 1995 and provides a first outing in the race for Jamie Evans, a former champion over the sticks in his native Australia. It will not be long, however, before Evans sees Bondi beach as a far more appealing alternative. Odds: 100-1

OVER THE STREAM

Achieved the not inconsiderable feat on his latest outing of being beaten by 89 lengths - and by six other very limited opponents - in a minor event at Newcastle, which makes him a short price to be the last horse home. Beaten even further on his only other run this season, though he has got round safely on his two previous excursions here and can be expected to do so again today. Or, if not today, then some time tomorrow. Odds: 200-1

SMITH'S BAND

Both his trainer and jockey, Jenny Pitman and Richard Dunwoody, have won the National twice before, which is something no other runner can claim, but this one is unlikely to improve either record. Pulled up on his only outing this season, and while snippets of form hold out hopes of a place - when narrow runner-up at Haydock last year, for instance - it looks as if we will be spared the "Queen of Aintree" routine this time. Odds: 12-1

VALIANT WARRIOR

Yet another of the redoubtable extras whose sole task is to make the field look respectable. An honest, hard-working creature who goes to post relying on mishaps to others - and a dozen of them at that - if he is to make it into the first six. Third to the useful Senor El Betrutti at Newbury last time and has form on a fast surface, but could only be flying higher today if he had checked in for the 3pm Concorde to New York. Odds: 50-1

BISHOPS HALL

One to back if your attention span is limited, since he has failed to get past the first fence in each of the last two years. Was fancied in some quarters 12 months ago, since good going - which prevails again today - is his preferred surface, and runs off a 1lb lower mark this afternoon. Doubts remain about his ability to see out the trip, so remaining upright until the second, before a mid-division finish, is as much as he can hope for. Odds: 50-1

DEXTRA DOVE

A grey individual with practically no chance of winning, which should make him the obvious choice when the current occupant of No 10 is deciding where to stick his pounds 1. A fortunate winner at Sandown in February when all others with a chance fell, but drew the wrong lesson from that and has run lazily since. May receive his first crack of the whip on the run to the first, and his unfortunate jockey faces an exhausting 10 minutes. Odds: 33-1

FEATHERED GALE

The forgotten figure in the Irish team, but arguably has as much chance as any of the raiders of taking the National across the water for the first time since 1975. Won the Irish National last year on good to firm ground, beating the former Gold Cup winner Jodami by eight lengths, and while he has yet to reproduce that form this season, he has not had either the ground conditions or the suitably extended trip to suit. Odds: 20-1

GLEMOT

A quarter of any prize-money he earns will be donated to a Sheffield children's hospital by his owner, but the likelihood is that the calculation will be to find 25 per cent of nothing. Yet to win beyond 21 furlongs, and while some punters still insist that two-and-a-half milers can hack for one circuit and accelerate on the second, they do so from the gutter. Victory today would make a mockery of 100 years of genetic science. Odds: 50-1

KILLESHIN

Some horses are born to take centre stage, but most will never be more than faces in the chorus, and here we have a prime example. Five wins in 33 starts is more than many chasers achieve, but he is up against the big boys now, and the form which carried him into third behind Seven Towers at Newcastle in February may just find him a place in the first 15 today. Stays forever, but sadly at little more than walking pace. Odds: 33-1

MASTER BOSTON

"Won" the John Hughes Trophy over the National fences on Thursday, but without his rider, who was disposed of at the second fence. Getting rid of almost 11 stone of Richard Guest lightened his burden but he still had a testing workout and crashed into some running rails as well. That makes his readiness for this, in the unlikely event that he makes the line-up, doubtful. Would have stood little chance even with an ideal preparation. Doubtful

NAHTHEN LAD

A former top novice who appears to have lost his way, trained by Jenny Pitman and ridden by Jason Titley. If the description sounds familiar, it is because it tallies exactly with that carried into the race by Royal Athlete, the winner at 40-1 two years ago, and that will guarantee him a measure of support. The trail of coincidence will surely go cold just before four o'clock, since he has showed little in four outings this season. Odds: 16-1

PINK GIN

Double whisky, more like, both for Chris Bonner, his unfortunate jockey, and anyone who has pulled him in the sweep. Shares with Spuffington the dubious privilege of carrying fully two stone more than his true handicap weight, and while the same trainer and jockey managed to get Over The Deel into the frame at 100-1 a couple of years ago, this is another matter. He may win, but if he does, the Loch Ness Monster will finish second. Odds: 200-1

SPUFFINGTON

Such a confirmed member of the Slow Horses Club of Great Britain that he pays his subs by direct debit. Dour stayer whose last win came more than two years ago, he is utterly bereft of a change of pace and is required to carry two stone more than his true handicap weight. However, he is a safe enough jumper who should give Philip Hide a relatively trouble- free round assuming he can get to the last fence before sunset. Odds: 150-1

WYLDE HIDE

Just getting into the race when departing at the second Canal Turn 12 months ago, and has clearly been laid out for this year's renewal. Attracted a pounds 20,000 cash bet a week ago - surely related to the fact that his owner is J P McManus, the biggest punter this side of Vegas - just before Charlie Swan was named as an encouraging jockey booking. Even McManus cannot control the elements, and lack of rain has not helped his chance. Odds: 10-1

20 years of fallers and favourites Year Winner Favourite Ran Finished Fell UR/ Ref/ Going

BD PU

1996 Rough Quest (7-1) Rough Quest (7-1) First 27 17 1 5 4 Good

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

1983 Corbiere (13-1) Grittar (6-1) Fifth 41 10 12 6 13 Soft

1982 Grittar (7-1) Grittar (7-1) First 39 8 19 6 6 Good

1981 Aldaniti (10-1) Spartan Missile (8-1) Second 39 12 18 2 7 Good

1980 Ben Nevis (40-1) Rubstic (8-1) Fell 30 4 12 3 11 Heavy

1979 Rubstic (25-1) Alverton (13-2) Fell 34 7 14 8 5 Good

1978 Lucius (14-1 Rag Trade (8-1) Pulled up 37 15 19 1 2 Firm

1977 Red Rum (9-1) Andy Pandy (15-2) Fell 42 11 19 5 7 Good

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