Hedgehunter heads huge National entry

LAST YEAR’S winner Hedgehunter heads a healthy entry of 148 for the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on April 8.

Willie Mullins’ 10-year-old romped to a 14-length victory over Royal Auclair in the four-and-a-half-mile showpiece and is due to continue his build-up at Aintree in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday week.

Clan Royal, runner-up in 2004 and leading when carried out by a loose horse at Becher’s Brook last year, could bid to make it third time lucky for trainer Jonjo O’Neill and owner JP McManus.

As well as Clan Royal, McManus has another 12 to choose from with Innox, cross-country specialist Spot Thedifference and Ground Ball among his prominent entries.

Forest Gunner (fifth), Nil Desperandum (sixth), Innox (seventh), Heros Collonges (eighth), Just In Debt (ninth) and Amberleigh House (winner in 2004 and 10th 12 months later) are all engaged again meaning nine of the first 10 horses home last year could reoppose.

Hedgehunter is one of a record 38-strong entry from Ireland, with Mullins also having Euro Leader and Livingstonebramble in the race, while Ted Walsh, who won with Papillon in 2000, has put in Jack High and Rince Ri.

Other possible contenders include the Michael Hourigan-trained Hi Cloy, Noel Meade’s Sir Oj, 2005 Irish Grand National winner Numbersixvalverde and last week’s Thyestes Chase scorer Dun Doire.

Paul Nicholls has a powerful 10-strong team entered as he continues his quest for his first British trainers’ championship.

His squad includes Cornish Rebel, beaten a short head in the Scottish version, Silver Birch, who was ante-post favourite for last year’s race before being ruled out with slight heat in a leg, and 2005 second Royal Auclair.

Assessing his prospects of landing the £700,000 Aintree spectacular prior to the publication of the weights on February 14, Nicholls said: “I’ve entered 10 in the Grand National and in their own way they all have a chance.

“I really think the race will suit Cornish Rebel though. He will go for the Gold Cup first and as long as he is fit and well he will go for the National regardless of the result, but I would need to discuss it with the owners.

“Silver Birch came out of his hurdle race very well and I just need some rain so we can get a run over fences into him after the weights come out. I would like to run him in the Country Gentlemen’s Chase at Wincanton on February 18.

“If there is cut in the ground Eurotrek would run a very big race. The Red Square Gold Cup at Haydock is his aim.

“Royal Auclair ran well in the race last year so we know he acts round there.

“L’Aventure came out of the Welsh National very well but I don’t think she enjoyed herself there last year so we might give it a miss.

“Heros Collonges ran a nice race in the Welsh National and jumped well at Aintree last year but just ran a little free, if we ride him with a bit more restraint he could run into a place.

“Le Roi Miguel would be doubtful at this stage as he is a two-and-a-half-mile horse.”

Lou Du Moulin Mas, Inca Trail and Le Duc are his other entries.

Nicholls’ main title rival, Martin Pipe, has his usual massive entry with 22 in the great race, including last season’s fourth It Takes Time, Joaaci, Therealbandit, Puntal and 2004 third Lord Atterbury.

Garvivonnian, successful over the big fences last November in the Becher Chase, also figures among the entries.

Philip Hobbs has put Monkerhostin, who was second in the Stan James King George VI Chase and currently vying for favouritism in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, in the April 8 event.

The Minehead handler has five other potential chances in One Knight, Lacdoudal, Double Honour, Made In Japan and Tamango.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has five this time headed by Ollie Magern while Nicky Henderson has the same size team to select from.

Ferdy Murphy has multiple entries topped by Scottish Grand National winner Joes Edge, while Aintree legend Ginger McCain could field both Amberleigh House and Ebony Light as he bids for an unprecedented fifth National victory before his planned retirement.

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