Hedgehunter handed welter National burden

HEDGEHUNTER, last year’s John Smith’s Grand National hero, will share joint top weight of 11st 12lb following the news that 96 horses stand their ground at the second forfeit stage for next month’s renewal of the Aintree marathon.

The weights have been raised 2lb after the withdrawal of Monkerhostin, one of 26 horses who were taken out along with A Glass In Thyne, One Knight, and the Martin Pipe quartet, Comply Or Die, Joaaci, Iris Bleu and Zeta’s River.

Willie Mullins’ Hedgehunter carried 11st 1lb when beating Royal Auclair by 14 lengths last year, but both will be saddled with top weight this time round.

And the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up is fortunate that the British Horseracing Board’s senior handicapper Phil Smith did not have that form when he framed the National weights.

Smith said: “I have Hedgehunter rated 10lb higher than he was when I did the weights, while Sir Rembrandt is up 9lb and Innox on an 8lb higher mark.

“I am very happy that it looks a really good quality race, it looks really likely that all the runners (maximum 40) will be in the handicap proper, which was the case for the first time last year, and that is always very satisfying.”

Martin Brassil has revealed his Grand National hopeful Numbersixvalverde is in fine form ahead of the Aintree marathon.

“I ran him in the Paddy Power at Christmas when he was brought down and then he finished in front of GVA Ireland at Leopardstown, who won the Midlands Grand National on Saturday,” the trainer told At The Races.

“After that he’s been over hurdles because there weren’t really any suitable conditions chases for him.

“He would have been meeting horses at level weights that he had no chance of beating so there was no point taking them on.

“We’ll just make something nice and small for him to jump at home, something that he will enjoy himself over. There’s no point building a great big fence that could scare him.

“Niall Madden will probably ride him unless Ruby Walsh became available but that is unlikely. ‘Slippers’ is a very good pilot though and he is a real horseman.

“He’s finished all his serious preparation now and we’ll just keep him ticking over so that he’s nice and fresh for Liverpool.

“He has the right credentials for the race but now I am just like everyone else in that I am hoping for a bit of luck, all you can ask is that you keep out of trouble.

“After that he has proven his stamina and he is a good sound jumper and we are hopeful going there but he has to enjoy it if he is to have a chance.”

Four-times Grand National winning trainer Ginger McCain is hoping a touch of magic will see him bow out with an unique fifth success in the world’s most famous steeplechase.

McCain sent out the legendary Red Rum to win the race three times in the 1970s, and followed that feat by saddling Amberleigh House to land the 2004 renewal.

Amberleigh House completed his preparations with a spin over hurdles at Bangor on Monday, and was beaten 49 lengths into 13th place.

But McCain said: “He needed a run and enjoyed himself, that is the main thing, he has come out of the race in good form and I am happy with him.

“Aintree always comes up with a bit of magic, and maybe the magic this year will be that Amberleigh House will be the first 14-year-old to win the National, certainly if he gets some good fast ground, he won’t be disgraced. Graham Lee definitely rides him.”

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