Strong Irish challenge for Grand National

Ireland are odds-on to claim their first John Smith’s Grand National in six years following the first entry stage for the Aintree showpiece.

Irish-trained horses have landed the near-four-and-a-half-mile contest on no less than six occasions since Bobbyjo struck for the Carberry family back in 1999, but have not struck gold since Gordon Elliott’s Silver Birch claimed Aintree glory in 2007.

That could all change this year, however, with Ladbrokes offering just 4-6 the most valuable prize in National Hunt racing does go to Ireland on April 6.

Current ante-post favourites are the Willie Mullins-trained, Graham Wylie-owned Prince De Beauchene and On His Own, while Ted Walsh’s Seabass, third in last year’s renewal, is also among the 32 Irish contenders.

Walsh, who won the race in 2000 with Papillon, has also put in Leopardstown winner Colbert Station.

Elliott has six entries this year include the high-class Jessies Dream, who has not been seen since finishing second in the 2011 RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

The last two winners of the Irish National – Organisedconfusion (2011) and Lion Na Bearnai (2012) – are also engaged.

Hayley O’Connor of Ladbrokes said: “The Irish appear to hold an even stronger hand than usual for the Aintree showpiece. It will be six years since Silver Birch took the big prize back to Ireland but we think the chances this year are better than ever.”

Most of last year’s principals feature among a total of 84 entries.

Winner Neptune Collonges has been retired, but runner-up Sunnyhillboy, who was denied by a nose, and the fourth home Cappa Bleu are all again possible for the £975,000 showpiece.

Former Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander has also been entered, although his participation is thought unlikely.

A tweet from his owners Imperial Racing read: “Please RT Imperial Commander Grand National – He is entered but his main and probably only target is the Gold Cup!”.

Paul Nicholls, trainer of Neptune Collonges, has four chances to make it two National wins, headed by Tidal Bay, last seen winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Nicholls also has What A Friend and Harry The Viking, who are part-owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, as well as Join Together.

For the first time, the world’s greatest steeplechase will take place over the new distance of four miles, three furlongs and about 110 yards, with the start moved closer to the first fence.

As well as Sunnyhillboy, Jonjo O’Neill could also call on dual Ryanair Chase winner Albertas Run, Cheltenham Festival winner Alfie Sherrin, Lost Glory and Mister Hyde.

Donald McCain emulated his late father Ginger when successful with Ballabriggs in 2011 and that horse leads his team along with Across The Bay, Aintree regular Cloudy Lane, Fabalu and Weird Al.

Weights for the big race are published at a ceremony in London on February 12.

John Smith’s Grand National, Ladbrokes bet: 16-1 On His Own, Prince De Beauchene, 20-1 Tidal Bay, Colbert Station, Seabass, Sunnyhillboy, Teaforthree, Join Together, Katenko, 25-1 Bar

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