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Agony for Balding as Lane's National bid hangs in balance; Gelding needs six horses to come out.

Byline: Graham Cunningham

Ian Balding's worst fears were realised yesterday when leading Martell Grand National hope Moor Lane was left well outside the top 40 horses at the five-day stage, writes Graham Cunningham.

A record total of 71 horses stood their ground, though the King George winner Florida Pearl is more likely to go for Thursday's Martell Cup, according to his trainer Willie Mullins.

His absence will give hope to those just out of the handicap, but Ian Balding's impressive Great Yorkshire Chase winner Moor Lane, 12-1 joint-fourth favourite with Coral, still needs five others to come out at Thursday's 48-hour declaration stage if those who have backed him from 25-1 are to get a run for their money.

Amberleigh House needs eight withdrawals to fulfil Ginger McCain's dream of a fourth National success, and connections of both horses were in subdued mood yesterday as the prospect of failing to make the cut loomed large.

Moor Lane is one of eight horses on 9st 7lb in the long handicap, but in the ballotting sequence, which was carried out when the weights were first published, he has less chance of making the line-up than six of them.

His chance of getting a run would increase if Balding opts to withdraw his other entry Logician, but the Kingsclere trainer says that is unlikely to happen if the weather forecast proves accurate.

Balding said: "It looks dodgy, it really does, and we'll just have to sit tight and see what happens.

"Moor Lane thoroughly enjoyed himself when we schooled him over Aintree-style fences last week, but we clearly need some luck now if he's to run in the National rather than the Topham on Friday."

Martin Pipe, who ran ten horses in last year's

National and has a team of 12 left in this year's race, including ante-post favourite Blowing Wind, is determined to send as many runners as possible to post.

He said yesterday: "The intention is to run all those that are in the handicap. Imperial de Thaix is the only one who might not run as he is in at Ascot on Wednesday."

More Than A Stroll looks a more likely

absentee after finishing out of the money in yesterday's Irish National, though Balding feels it unlikely that Moor Lane will be helped by a couple of rivals closer to home.

"Moor Lane's owner Bob Michaelson also has a share in Celibate, but I don't think he will come out if the ground stays good and nor for that matter will Logician," said Balding.

Amberleigh House, allotted 9st 6lb on the strength of his win over the National fences in the Becher Chase last November, moved up to 48th on the list yesterday, but looks in

serious danger of being ballotted out.

McCain issued a strong criticism of Martin Pipe and Ferdy Murphy over the weekend, arguing that most of their multiple entries have little chance and are jeopardising Amberleigh House's chance of running in Saturday's race.

McCain knows all about saddling National longshots, having seen his last five runners in the race sent off at 100-1 or bigger, and conceded that his love of Aintree would make him "run a ruptured hen" there after Amberleigh House had won the Becher.

Nevertheless, he accused Pipe of "making a mockery of the National" and was in no mood to backtrack as he weighed up his prospects yesterday.

"The National deserves more respect than to just run any old horse in the race," he said. "The reason I'm really fed up is that some of the dross above us could deprive a horse who is in the form of his life of a chance he deserves.

"We've been worried that this might happen for a long time and I have to blame the handicapper Phil Smith, who refused to use the Aintree factor to help Amberleigh House get a run.

"There's not a lot we can do except sweat it out, but it will be desperately sad if he doesn't make it, as he has an outstanding chance."

Murphy laughed off McCain's criticism and, though Luzcadou looks odds against to make the cut, his quartet of Paris Pike, Streamstown, Ackzo and Birkdale gives him a powerful hand.

He said: "The drying ground will be perfect for Paris Pike and Ackzo, and all four of them took to a spruce fence brilliantly last week."

Murphy confirmed that last year's winning rider Richard Guest will be aboard Paris Pike, with JP McNamara on Streamstown.

"Robert Thornton got on brilliantly with Ackzo last week and will ride him if Supreme Charm doesn't get a run," he added. "Jason Maguire will be riding Birkdale."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 2, 2002
Words:778
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