A high-class entry featuring 119 hopefuls has been revealed for the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on April 14.
Eight of the nine finishers from last season are still involved, with Martin Brassil’s winner Numbersixvalverde likely to lock horns with 2005 hero Hedgehunter, owned by Trevor Hemmings and runner-up last year.
Clan Royal, Nil Desperandum, Risk Accessor, Puntal, Joes Edge and Inca Trail could also run in their second consecutive National.
Irish horses have won the four-and-a-half-mile marathon five times in the last eight renewals and another formidable challenge can be expected with 33 horses entered from across the Irish Sea.
As well as Hedgehunter, Willie Mullins has five other candidates including Our Ben, who also carries the famous Hemmings silks.
Ted Walsh, who trained Papillon to land the National seven years ago, has put forward Jack High alongside Grade One novice chase scorer Southern Vic.
Michael O’Brien has entered Cheltenham Gold Cup third Forget The Past, while other possible Irish runners include Ned Kelly, Point Barrow, A New Story, Church Island and Dun Doire.
Owner JP McManus is keen to land his first Grand National scalp and has nine entries, headed by Aintree stalwart Clan Royal and Queen Mother Champion Chase runner-up Fota Island.
McManus could also be represented by Innox and L’Ami, trained in France by Francois Doumen.
Along with Hedgehunter and Our Ben, Hemmings is responsible for the highly-regarded Turpin Green, trained by Nicky Richards.
Robert Ogden’s two entries consist of the progressive Exotic Dancer and Iris Royal, while champion trainer Paul Nicholls has eight possibles.
Classy stayer Eurotrek, Ladalko, and 2005 Grand National runner-up Royal Auclair are all currently in the Ditcheat hat for the world’s greatest steeplechase.
Puntal, sixth last year, is one of six David Pipe hopes, while Peter Bowen’s five entries could be spearheaded by Ballycassidy.
As well as Clan Royal, Exotic Dancer and Risk Accessor, Jonjo O’Neill’s formidable quartet is completed by the smart Bold Bishop.
Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup hero State Of Play could take his chance, while two-time National winner Nigel Twiston-Davies has entered Naunton Brook, Knowhere and Ollie Magern.
Nicky Henderson has never won a National but has four engaged this time featuring Crozan and Liberthine.
Other noteworthy entries include Sir Rembrandt, Bewleys Berry, Kandjar D’Allier, Tikram, Preacher Boy, Gallant Approach and Graphic Approach.
Aintree managing director Charles Barnett said: “The entries for the John Smith’s Grand National include some real class horses, which has been the tendency over recent years.
“I am delighted to see JP McManus, one of Aintree’s greatest supporters, with such a strong hand. Once again, there is a fantastically strong Irish presence, plus several live contenders from France.”
Although the number of entries is the lowest figure since 2000, Barnett added: “We have been expecting a decrease in the entry numbers.
“With the quality of the race increasing year on year, it seems a horse needs to be rated around 130 to get the chance of a run in the John Smith’s Grand National.”
Weights for the Grand National are revealed at a media lunch in London on Tuesday, February 13.