National well worth weight
The life and work of Dick Francis are too fresh in the mind to warrant assumptions about the likely outcome of any steeplechase, never mind the one to which his surreal misfortune on Devon Loch made such a defining contribution.
Certainly anyone already claiming to know the winner of the 2010 John Smith's Grand National has soon forgotten what happened last year.
The tape was played back yesterday to guests gathered in London for the publication of the weights, and the official handicapper, Phil Smith, presumably had a renewed sense of a job well done when over a dozen horses remained clustered on the bridle approaching the second last. Only the fact that one of them, the |100-1 shot Mon Mome, then surged clear on the run-in prompted a modest revision of his score to “seven out of 10”.
Not that everyone present was impressed. Ginger McCain, the outstanding nominee for induction into a new Aintree hall of fame, was aghast. “I'm bloody disgusted,” Red Rum's trainer declared cheerfully. “There were far too many horses still with chances. They should put the top weight back up to 12 stone, make the fences stiffer, and put one or two drops back in. That would sort that lot out. I'm old and I'm grumpy, but they don't make it easier to climb Everest by taking 10,000 feet off the top.”
Sir Peter O'Sullevan concurred with the bookmakers, who make Tricky Trickster as short as 8-1 favourite after his unexpected intrusion on what was supposed to be a lap of honour for his mighty stablemate, Denman, at Newbury on Saturday. When Denman fell three out, Niche Market was already clear but Ruby Walsh then engaged top gear on Tricky Trickster and collared him on the line. Bob Buckler, Niche Market's trainer, suspects that he was idling in front, but Smith has now transposed the weights so that Tricky Trickster, receiving 3lbs at Newbury, has 11st 7lbs and Niche Market 11st 4lbs.
His skilled supervision of a small stable has never previously taken Buckler to the National, but then nor have the unrivalled resources of Paul Nicholls ever made him any more at home in the race. The champion trainer has saddled 44 runners without success, but remains adamant that both Tricky Trickster and Big Fella Thanks — sixth as a novice last year — both have “an outstanding chance”.
Venetia Williams, who is likely to step up Mon Mome's preparations at Haydock on Saturday, had few complaints about Smith squeezing his rating up 2lbs. “Is there an Aintree factor?” Smith asked himself. “Some people don't think so, but seven of the last nine winners had previous experience over the course. It's not a massive sample, but it's quite convincing.”