Commander tops 49 left in Aintree National

Imperial Commander heads a list of 49 horses left in the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday following the five-day stage.

The 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero could try to make up for missing another crack at last month’s blue riband event with a minor infection.

His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has won the world’s greatest steeplechase twice with Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002), has also left in Major Malarkey and Viking Blond.

The big guns at the head of the market have all stood their ground, headed by ante-post favourite On His Own.

His trainer Willie Mullins is also represented by Quel Esprit and Quiscover Fontaine as the champion Irish trainer looks to add to his success with Hedgehunter in 2005.

That horse’s owner Trevor Hemmings also has Ballabriggs, the winner in 2011, who tries again. His trainer Donald McCain also has Weird Al, Across The Bay and Cloudy Lane, who is not certain to get a run.

The second, third and fourth home 12 months ago, Sunnyhillboy, Seabass and Cappa Bleu, are set to renew rivalry while other horses with proven Aintree form are 2011 runner-up Oscar Time, 2010 fourth Big Fella Thanks and triple Topham winner Always Waining.

Colbert Station, Teaforthree, Join Together and Chicago Grey are among the other fancied horses remaining in the line-up.

Further spice is added with Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson having shares in both What A Friend and Harry The Viking, both trained by Paul Nicholls.

The eight horses to come out were Prince de Beauchene, Bob Lingo, Tofino Bay, Lion Na Bearnai, Bostons Angel, Beshabar, Wyck Hill and Magnanimity.

Lion Na Bearnai is out as he has picked up an infection that has been affecting Thomas Gibney's string.

The County Meath trainer had been facing a race against time to get last year’s Irish National scorer ready for Aintree before the bug struck.

“There’s a bit of a bug in the yard at the moment and he has it,” said Gibney.

“He caught in last week and it hadn’t gone according to plan before that. I couldn’t afford to miss anymore time with him and everyday had to go right for the last three weeks to get there and didn’t happen.”

Gibney had also hoped to run Orpheus Valley in the John Smith’s Topham Chase, but he too has gone down with the same problem.

“I also had a horse in the Topham on Friday and he scoped dirty this morning so he won’t be going either,” said the trainer.

Meanwhile Sprinter Sacre, Cue Card and Flemenstar feature among a fascinating list of nine possible runners for the John Smith’s Melling Chase at Aintree on Friday.

The incredible Sprinter Sacre extended his unbeaten record over fences to eight with a scintillating display in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Trainer Nicky Henderson is now keen to test the water at two and a half miles on Merseyside.

The Colin Tizzard-trained Cue Card is already proven at the distance and lines up following a most impressive performance in Cheltenham’s Ryanair Chase.

Irish hope Flemenstar adds further intrigue to the Grade One contest.

Peter Casey’s pride and joy has been narrowly beaten in the Lexus Chase and the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown over three miles on his last two starts, but had previously looked brilliant in beating Sir Des Champs in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase over two and a half miles.

Henderson also has 2012 Champion Chase hero Finian’s Rainbow in the mix, but he has looked a shadow of his former self in two starts on deep winter ground this season.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has entered Edgardo Sol and Ghizao, while the field at this stage is completed by For Non Stop, Wishfull Thinking and Mad Moose.

* Star Irish stallion Beneficial has died at the age of 23.

The leading sire of Graded and Listed jumps winners collapsed on Saturday due to the infirmities of old age.

His big-race winners include Benefficient, who was victorious in the Jewson Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, three-times Grade One chase scorer Realt Dubh, 2009 RSA Chase hero Cooldine and smart staying hurdler Monksland.

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