Exotic Dancer and Hedgehunter have been allocated joint top weight of 11st 12lb for this year’s John Smith’s Grand National.
The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Exotic Dancer has won at Cheltenham three times this year and also finished second in the King George VI Chase while Willie Mullins’ Hedgehunter, winner of the race in 2005 and second last year, has gone up 2lb on his 2006 mark despite being limited to just one start this term.
Last year’s winner Numbersixvalverde has gone up 11lb for that win and Martin Brassil’s charge has been saddled with 11st 3lb this time.
Clan Royal, third in last year’s National and runner-up in 2004, has been given 10st 9lb which is 1lb higher in the ratings, as is the 2006 fourth Nil Desperandum (10st 6lb).
In addition to Numbersixvalverde and Hedgehunter, the 33-strong entry from Ireland this year also includes the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup third Forget The Past (11st 9lb), last year’s Melling Chase runner-up Fota Island (11st 9lb) and Far From Trouble (10st 10lb), the 2006 Galway Plate winner who recently returned to action with victory over hurdles at Down Royal.
Other significant Irish contenders include Point Barrow (10st 12lb), Dun Doire (10st 8lb) and Hedgehunter’s stable companion Homer Wells (10st 6lb).
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls’ eight entries include Eurotrek (11st 8lb), successful over the famous Aintree fences when victorious in the Becher Chase in November, Royal Auclair (11st 1lb), runner-up to Hedgehunter in 2005, and Ladalko (11st 2lb), winner of the valuable totesport Classic Chase at Warwick last month.
The French also have a potentially strong hand, with trainer Francois Doumen responsible for four entries – Kelami (10st 12lb), Innox (10st 8lb), L’Ami (11st 8lb) and Nitrat (9st 11lb).
Fellow French handler Francois Cottin has the high-class Louping d’Ainay (11st 9lb) engaged.
Liberthine (10st 6lb) has already tasted success over the Aintree fences as she collected the Topham Chase in 2006 and amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen hopes to be able to partner her in the April 14 feature.
Other notable contenders include the Evan Williams-trained State Of Play (11st 8lb) and Monkerhostin (11st 6lb), one of four possible contenders for Philip Hobbs.
Bewley’s Berry (10st 7lb), Longshanks (10st 7lb), Preacher Boy (10st 3lb), Sir Rembrandt (11st 4lb), Ossmoses (10st 5lb), Kandjar D’Allier (10st 8lb), Billyvoddan (11st 4lb) and Jack High (10st 3lb) are also interesting entries.