Timbera, the 10-1 ante-post favourite for Saturday’s Grand National has been ruled out of the race, further diminishing the Irish challenge following the defection of Harbour Pilot and Rince Ri earlier in the week.

The Irish-trained gelding showed signs of a lung infection when he was scoped yesterday morning. Trainer Dessie Hughes said: “He didn’t scope clean this morning, so it’s highly unlikely we’ll get him there. We always scope them before a big race, just to make sure. It’s dreadful.”

The withdrawal of Timbera has sent the betting market into a spin. Sporting Odds is offering odds on which horse will be favourite come 3.45pm on Saturday afternoon, with Clan Royal at 7-4 expected to lead the market.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained horse is a popular choice, and connections say the horse is in great form. He won over the national fences in November, but the distance may prove not to his liking.

Meanwhile, the Tony McCoy factor is likely to play an important role in Jurancon II’s market placing. At only seven, the gelding is fairly junior in this race, but French jumping horses are considered to mature quicker than their English and Irish counterparts.

He has proved himself over four miles, and has fared well against many in this field. Champion Jockey McCoy has been having a smashing season, but he has yet to ride home to victory in the world’s most famous steeplechase.

A victory for Southern Star would be a fairytale ending, providing trainer Henrietta Knight with a Gold Cup – Grand National double. The nine-year-old got round in last year’s Grand National, and will be partnered by Joe Tizzard, who also has experience in this race. The gelding could definitely be in the running although he may find it a struggle if the pace is too quick.

Bear on Board, who has just crept into the race, could also be outpaced early on, but if he can preserve his energy, he is in with a big chance. The Alan King-trained nine-year-old won over 4m1f at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, and has proved his adequacy over the sticks. Although this is his first visit to Aintree, he could provide a valiant challenge.

Other current market favourites include David’s Lad, Hedgehunter and 2002 winner Bindaree. The 10-year-old David’s Lad could find the distance just too tough, although he has an Irish National under his belt and was going well in the 2002 Grand National when he fell late on.

Hedgehunter will have all the Irish money on him. He is a consistent jumper and can stay the distance. But on this, his first visit to Aintree, the competition could prove just too stiff.

Bindaree has had a mixed season, but kicked some of the strongest competition in this year’s Grand National field into touch in the Coral Welsh Grand National in December. He carries 11lbs more than when he won here in 2002, but under old-timer Carl Llewellyn, he could repeat the victory.

Outsiders in with a chance include:

  • Ardent Scout – beat Amberleigh House and Blowing Wind to victory over these fences in the 2002 Becher Chase. He thrives at Aintree and could make a place if he finds his form
  • What’s Up Boys – has won over the Aintree fences and came a gallant second to Bindaree in 2002. Improved weighting and a partnership with top jockey Richard Johnson puts him in with a big chance
  • Gunner Welburn – has a good record at Aintree and had an easy win at Sandown last month. At 12-years-old, he’s a veteran, but could easily make a place

Try your luck

HHO users can join in the Grand National fun by visiting the British Horseracing Board website: www.britishhorseracing.com. Visitors can try their hand at jumping round the infamous Aintree course with “Henry Horse”, and anyone who completes the course successfully is eligible for a prize draw to win a VIP day out at the Epsom Derby.

The site also has everything you need to organise a sweepstake with friends, family or work colleagues for the great race.

  • For a full run down on the runners and riders, plus Marcus Armytage’s thoughts on the course, see tomorrow’s issue of Horse & Hound (1 April 2004)