Walsh keeps faith in Hedgehunter

RUBY WALSH hopes Hedgehunter can defy the weight of history by winning the John Smith’s Grand National for a second consecutive season.

Willie Mullins’ 10-year-old stole the show at Aintree last April with a flawless 14-length success from Royal Auclair to earn Walsh his second National success after he rode Papillon to glory in 2000.

Hedgehunter must carry 11st 12lb to win the National this time around and is currently 4-1 favourite with Coral after finishing a superb second behind War Of Attrition in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.

And while Walsh acknowledges Mullins’ star must put in the greatest weight-carrying performance at Aintree since Red Rum, who won back-to-back Nationals under 12st in 1974, the jockey insists Hedgehunter has the potential to carve his own niche into the annals of the greatest steeplechase in the world.

He said: “I’ve been thinking about the National on and off ever since Hedgehunter ran a cracker in the Gold Cup.

“I know he’s got the weight and not since Red Rum has a horse won with top weight, but some horse has to do it someday and hopefully it will be Hedgehunter.”

Meanwhile, Niall ‘Slippers’ Madden believes Numbersixvalverde will handle the rough-and-tumble of the Aintree feature with consummate ease.

Madden takes the plum ride aboard Martin Brassil’s 10-year-old and is relishing the prospect of tackling the fences on April 8.

The 20-year-old Irish rider reports Numbersixvalverde to be in fine form and is adamant the gelding, as low as 10-1 to win the National, will be unfazed by the huge field in the four-and-a-half-mile marathon.

“I think he’s going to do one more serious bit of work but things have gone great since his last run and I know Martin is very happy with him,” said Madden.

“I think Liverpool will suit him. He’s had plenty of experience in those big-field handicaps in the past and will enjoy the hurly-burly in the race at Aintree.”

Paddy Brennan will put the finishing touches to Eurotrek’s preparations when schooling his big-race mount this morning.

Brennan has been the subject of attention this week after first accepting the ride on Ginger McCain’s new purchase Inca Trail, before deciding to ride Eurotrek for Paul Nicholls.

And Nicholls believes the 10-year-old is not without a chance in the Aintree marathon.

“If you forget his last run in desperate ground which was disappointing, on his two wins before that he would have to have a squeak,” said Nicholls.

As well as Eurotrek, Nicholls will be saddling six other runners - his largest ever contingent in the race.

“Joe Tizzard rides Cornish Rebel after riding him in the Gold Cup and he gets on very well with him,” added the Ditcheat handler.

“He will have no headgear though, I think it worked in the Gold Cup as he travelled strongly but he just took a few liberties at his fences.

“Christian Williams will ride Royal Auclair after coming second in the National on him last year.

“He is in fine form and Christian was delighted with him in the Gold Cup (when ninth). He’s not really a Gold Cup horse anymore and we know that the further he goes the better he goes.

“Silver Birch has been disappointing this season but he has had problems with his breathing. He will have an operation in the summer but in the meantime he will run in a tongue strap. He will be ridden by Sam Thomas.

“Heros Collonges will be ridden by JP McNamara - he rode him in the race last year - Jamie Moore will ride Le Duc and Le Roi Miguel will be ridden by Liam Heard,” Nicholls told At The Races.

Connections of Sir Rembrandt are keeping their fingers crossed for rain during the build-up to the race.

Robert Alner’s admirable 10-year-old thrives with a bit of cut in the ground and found the going much too quick in the Gold Cup earlier this month.

However, the gelding still stayed on in good style to take seventh place - 13 lengths behind War Of Attrition - to set him up nicely for the National.

“It looks like the ground will be in our favour, which would be excellent news,” said owner Alan Hordle.

“I understand he is in great form after his Cheltenham run, which I was delighted with.

“He been such an unlucky horse over the years and he deserves to win a huge race like this.”

Sir Rembrandt, who finished runner-up to Best Mate in the 2004 Gold Cup and third behind Kicking King a year later, is a general 16-1 chance.

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