04/02/2008 11:00PM

Cloudy Lane favored at short odds in Grand National


Cloudy Lane could start as the lowest-priced favorite for Saturday's $1.6 million Grand National Handicap Chase at Aintree since the legendary Red Rum in 1975.

Pegged at 5-1 on Thursday as 40 entries were taken for the 4 1/2-mile chase over 30 of the toughest fences known to mankind, the 8-year-old Cloudy Lane has won three straight handicap chases between three miles and 3 1/4 miles by a total of 17 1/2 lengths. Three-time Grand National winner Red Rum was sent off as the 7-2 choice in 1975 when he finished second for the second time.

Trained by Donald McCain, the son of Red Rum's trainer, Ginger McCain, Cloudy Lane will be ridden by Jason Maguire. He was weighted at just 151 pounds in early February but is now considered to be nearly 20 pounds better than that. Grand National rules, however, call for horses to carry weights according to their ratings at the time of original entry two months ago.

The David Pipe-trained Comply or Die was just 2 1/2 lengths behind Cloudy Lane on Dec. 22 at Haydock and will benefit from a four-pound weight shift in his favor. The 2005 Grand National winner, Hedgehunter, was second in 2006 and ninth last year and is a good bet to complete the course despite his highweight assignment of 168 pounds.

Mr Pointment, at 165 pounds, will have his backers, as he won over the Grand National course going 3 1/4 miles in November and is trained by Paul Nicholls, the man who scored a famous one-two in last month's Cheltenham Gold Cup with Denman and Kauto Star.

Bewleys Berry led to the Grand National's 18th fence last year before falling at Becher's Brook the second time around. Last year's 10th-place finisher, L'Ami, is the French-trained hope of Francois Doumen.

Butler's Cabin has won going 4 1/8 miles at Cheltenham for the ace tandem of trainer Jonjo O'Neill and rider Tony McCoy, but the selection is the Tom Taafe-trained Slim Pickings. Third, beaten just two lengths for all the money last year by Silver Birch, Slim Pickings will carry 157 pounds and be ridden by Barry Geraghty, who won the 2003 Grand National aboard Monty's Pass.