Lord Windermere among Grand National entries

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere and last year’s Aintree winner Pineau De Re star among 98 entries for the Crabbie’s Grand National on April 11.

Lord Windermere among Grand National entries

The Jim Culloty-trained Lord Windermere could bid to become the first horse since L’Escargot and only the third horse ever to win the Gold Cup and Grand National.

L’Escargot won the Cheltenham showpiece in 1970 and 1971 and then denied Red Rum a hat-trick of wins at Aintree in 1975. Golden Miller won both races in 1934.

Culloty, who won the National as a jockey aboard Bindaree in 2002, has also entered Spring Heeled, winner of the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival last March.

Dr Richard Newland’s Pineau De Re has failed to sparkle in two starts over hurdles this season, but remains a major contender for top honours on Merseyside.

Alvarado was fourth in last year’s renewal and although he has not been seen since, trainer Fergal O’Brien is looking forward to another crack at the world’s most famous steeplechase.

O’Brien said: “Alvarado put his heart and soul into the National last year and he was a bit tired when he came back, so we gave him a long break.

“He has had no real problems – just a couple of niggly things – and the weather has conspired against us, which is why he hasn’t run yet.

“Aintree is plan A and we will work back from that. There is a veterans’ chase at Doncaster in the middle of February or there is another race at Warwick a week later. The plan would be to have one run around that time and then go straight to Aintree.

“I think he can do better than he did last year. I don’t think he would have won as the winner won very well, but he did not settle for a long time during the race and, consequently, Paul (Moloney) had to have him a long way back.”

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has seven entries, the most of any handler, headlined by the Grade One-placed pair of Rocky Creek and Sam Winner along with leading ante-post fancy Unioniste.

Willie Mullins saddled Hedgehunter to victory in 2005 and accounts for four of the 25 Irish-trained entries, with his possibles including 2013 National Hunt Chase winner Back In Focus and Boston Bob.

Other major hopes include last year’s runner-up Balthazar King, Hennessy Gold Cup winner Many Clouds and Irish Grand National victor Shutthefrontdoor.

The 14-year-old Aintree specialist Oscar Time is also on the list.

John Baker, regional director of The Jockey Club North West, said: “We are delighted with the 98 entries received for the 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National.

“It is another bumper entry with many great stories lying in wait. A Betfred Gold Cup winner and this season’s Hennessy winner, plus last year’s Grand National hero and this season’s Becher Chase winner are all engaged and so it goes on.

“We all now eagerly await Phil Smith’s verdict on February 17 when the weights are revealed.”

Maurice Phelan is looking forward to bringing 2012 Betfred Eider winner Portrait King back to Newcastle for this year’s renewal after 49 entries were received.

Seen by some as a trial for the Grand National, last year’s winner Wyck Hill is also among the list for the gruelling four-mile-one-furlong test.

Portrait King had been troubled by several injuries since his big win but has returned to form this season, winning at Punchestown last month before filling the runner-up spot last weekend.

“It’s the intention to take him to Newcastle next,” said Phelan.

“It’s great to have him back, his last race was very good and he’s come out of it well.

“I hope the ground is soft, it usually is and it certainly suits him after his problems.

“He had a bit of a leg and fractured his pelvis twice and they were all separate incidents so he’s had his share of problems.

“We’ve got him back, though, and Denis O’Regan told us after Sunday that he’d love to ride him in the Eider again.”

Among the entries are Welsh National runner-up Benvolio, Haydock winner Scotswell, Trustan Times, Shotgun Paddy, Just A Par, Gas Line Boy and Saturday’s controversial West Wales National runner-up Gorgehous Lliege. The sponsors make Shotgun Paddy favourite at 8-1, ahead of The Job Is Right at 10-1.

Meanwhile Merdon Castle appears destined for All-Weather Championships Finals Day at Lingfield on Good Friday after getting back on the winning trail in good style at Chelmsford City.

Trainer David Elsworth considered his three-year-old good enough to contest the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer following a couple of encouraging first couple of runs.

After running a perfectly creditable race to fill the runner-up spot on his first start since at Kempton last month, Merdon Castle was a 7-2 chance for the totepool Conditions Stakes, a Fast-Track Qualifier for the big meeting in early April, and got the job done well.

Liam Keniry’s mount did not get off to the best of starts, but stuck to his guns in the last of five furlongs to beat Apache Storm by a neck and so earn himself a shot at a much bigger prize over Easter.

Keniry said: “He won nicely last year on his first run and was then second to Kool Kompany giving him 3lb.

“He was well fancied in the Windsor Castle and came back with a little bit of a problem, which is why he had some time off.

“I think the last race at Kempton just sharpened him up a bit. He was entitled to need that.

“He was a bit anxious in the stalls and I didn’t get the start I was hoping for, but it turned out fine in the end. I’d imagine that (Finals Day) is where he’ll go now.”

Gary Moore’s thoughts will be dominated by top chaser Sire De Grugy’s intended comeback at Newbury this weekend, but he will have been pleased to see Rockfast make it third time lucky in the Bet On toteplacepot Maiden Auction Stakes.

An 11-4 chance following a couple of placed efforts, the three-year-old was well on top at the end as he passed the post a length and three-quarters ahead of Cornelious.

Winning jockey Shane Kelly said: “To be fair, he’s done nothing wrong. He ran a great first time and last time, again he did nothing wrong, but in the wrong part of the race I probably just made too much use of him.

“He’s a massive horse and I’m sure he can only improve.

“The track is riding better today. It’s tighter today than it was on Sunday.”

Apprentice Milly Naseb rode her second winner from just five rides so far as the David Simcock-trained India’s Song (7-2) struck gold in the Bet On UK Racing handicap.

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