The entries for the 2009 John Smith’s Grand National have been revealed, with last year’s Gold Cup winner Denman the headline act from a total of 123.
Two previous winners of the four-and-a-half-mile marathon have been entered again, with last year’s hero Comply Or Die, trained by David Pipe, and 2007 scorer Silver Birch gunning for more glory.
War Of Attrition, the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, adds another touch of class to the race.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls continues in his pursuit to win the £900,000 (€970,000) handicap for the first time and, along with Denman, has engaged 10 others from his Ditcheat yard.
Those include recent Sky Bet Chase winner Big Fella Thanks, Nozic, Star De Mohaison, Gwanako, My Will Opera Mundi, Cornish Sett, Leading Attraction and former Becher Chase scorer Eurotrek.
Pipe has also entered Hennessy hero Madison Du Berlais among his team of seven.
The Irish have enjoyed a good recent run in the race and King Johns Castle last year emerged as their strongest challenger, finishing second.
Arthur Moore’s charge is one of a 35-strong Irish contingent this time around.
“King Johns Castle is in good form at the moment,” said Co. Kildare-based Moore.
“He made a good recovery from his problem in November and we agreed that he went back into exercise.
“He’s been doing some good work in the past few weeks and he’s taking it well so we feel that he’s justified an entry in the Grand National.
“The vets gave him a good report and he’s now back in full training, so we are hopeful that he can get to Aintree in April.
“I would imagine that he would have a couple of runs beforehand, more likely over hurdles because it’s an easier programme for him.
“He had a great run through in the 2008 National and I would be hoping for more luck in this year’s race.
“It’s a long way away at the moment but we are optimistic of getting him there.”
King Johns Castle is one of seven entries for legendary owner JP McManus, who has come close on a few occasions but has never seen his silks carried to victory.
Other strong contenders for Ireland include Welsh National hero Notre Pere, Irish National winner Hear The Echo, Becher Chase scorer Black Apalachi and last year’s third, Snowy Morning.
Notable entries also include Cloudy Lane, Imperial Commander, Exotic Dancer, Joe Lively and Air Force One.
Jockey Denis O'Regan believes Black Apalachi deserves the utmost respect following his victory over the National fences in the Becher Chase.
The 10-year-old put up a sterling performance to defeat Mr Pointment by a distance at Aintree in November, with O’Regan making much of the running aboard Dessie Hughes’ charge.
Black Apalachi fell in last year’s National and O’Regan was keen to underline the importance of testing ground for the Old Vic gelding.
He said: “It was fantastic winning the Becher and he was a great ride and jumped great.
“He got his own way in front and loved it and although he doesn’t have to be ridden in front, he stayed all the way to the line and won impressively.
“He did feel like a Grand National horse that day as he took to the fences really well. It is a bonus to win the Becher before the National and get the experience around there before the race.
“He was unlucky the season before when he fell (at the second fence in the National) and it’s great that he enjoyed himself and it was a good introduction to the National.
“(He has) stamina and he jumped really well on Becher day and you have to jump well in the National. The ground is the key – he needs soft ground.”
Although O’Regan was aboard in the Becher Chase, Hughes has plenty of jockeys to choose from for the big day, with Paddy Flood and Roger Loughran his regular riders.
O’Regan would be delighted to renew his partnership with Black Apalachi though, adding: “I was lucky to be riding the horse on Becher day and whatever will be will be.
“It’s looking like I am available for the National at the moment.”
Black Apalachi is entered in Sunday’s Jim Ryan Racecourse Services Handicap Hurdle at Punchestown and is a 20-1 chance with Paddy Power for the National.