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Aintree on high alert over safety as heat rises

Aintree, which hosts the Grand National a week later than normal this year, has gone further than just implementing the 30 recommendations in last year's comprehensive National review.

The current spell of unseasonally warm weather may not last until April 14, when this year's race is run, but it has certainly concentrated minds and there's no question that heat would present a problem for runners.

Horse welfare has become such a high priority that not only has the track installed 14 hose points in a dedicated state-of-the-art wash-down area where the horses pull up adjacent to the stand, it is 'borrowing' a special misting machine for cooling over-heated horses from Greenwich, venue for the Olympic three-day event, and it will also put up a tent to provide shade.

Another indisputable fact is that the softer the ground the softer the falls tend to be and the course has also completed the installation of a pop-up irrigation system from the Melling Road to Becher's to make it much easier for clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch to water if he deems it necessary.

Speaking yesterday, Tulloch said: "A lot of the recommendations are intangible, like the tightening up of the qualifications which means that there will be no six-year-olds running, that jockeys must have ridden 10 chase winners rather than 10 chase or hurdle winners, and that horses must have been placed over three miles or further.

"A misting machine to cool down horses has been used in eventing since the Atlanta Olympics, when standing your horse in one was a compulsory part of a three-day event."

The ground is currently good to soft with good patches on the National course and at the moment Tulloch's intention is only to water to wash in some recently applied fertiliser.

Elsewhere, Noel Meade's Champion Chase fifth Realt Dubh is the eye-catching entry among the nine horses entered for the Grade Two Webster Cup Chase at Navan on Saturday.

favourite

The son of Beneficial was making his seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham and is a likely favourite in this two-and-a-half-mile contest. Last season, the gelding won the Arkle at Leopardstown before finishing third to Captain Chris in the Cheltenham equivalent and then landing the Powers Gold Cup.

Colm Murphy's Zaarito is a likely rival after finishing second to Ted Walsh's Aintree Grand National candidate Seabass at Naas last time. Edward O'Grady's Tranquil Sea could also take his chance while the Gordon Elliott-trained Roi Du Mee is another entry.

Elliott's Dirar is likely to be in action at the Punchestown Festival next month following his victory over hurdles at Downpatrick on Sunday. The seven-year-old was ending a losing streak going back to the Ebor on the Flat at York in August 2010.

Elliott was keen to give him a confidence booster at Downpatrick, which came just nine days after he finished seventh to Alderwood in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.

"He's fine, not a bother on him. There aren't many opportunities for him, which is why we had to run him again on Sunday," Elliott said. "You probably won't see him now until Punchestown."

On the Flat, Cork native David O'Meara is looking to Penitent and Smarty Socks to get his season off to a flying start in the William Hill Lincoln at Doncaster on Saturday.

This time last season O'Meara was very much a new kid on the block, but his stables in North Yorkshire continue to expand and he is approaching the first major race of the campaign with two live outsiders in the Lincoln.

Penitent won the race in 2010 when trained by William Haggas, but was sent to O'Meara after being bought for 40,000 guineas by Middleham Park Racing, while Smarty Socks is a mainstay of the yard.

Last year's winner Sweet Lightning was taken out of the race at the latest forfeit stage by trainer Michael Dods as he has yet to recover from the injury that kept him out for the rest of last season.

Godolphin will have their first runners in the race with Man Of Action and Start Right. Roger Varian's Eton Forever, winner of the consolation Spring Mile last year, is the 6/1 ante-post favourite. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent