Cloudy leads National charge

Cloudy Lane now heads the weights for the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday following the confirmation stage.

Cloudy Lane now heads the weights for the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday following the confirmation stage.

Snoopy Loopy and Nozic have both been withdrawn moving the weights up by 3lb and leaving Trevor Hemmings’ nine-year-old to shoulder 11st 10lb in the four-and-a-half mile marathon.

Trained by Donald McCain, Cloudy Lane was sent off 7-1 joint favourite last year and was sixth behind Comply Or Die.

The latter stands his ground and David Pipe’s runner will attempt to become the first horse since the legendary Red Rum (1973 and ’74), trained by McCain’s father Ginger, to land back-to-back victories.

As expected, Roll Along, King Johns Castle and Character Building were among the absentees as a total of 74 horses remain in the world’s most famous steeplechase.

However, only the top 40 in the handicap can run.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has yet to saddle a National winner but looks to have probably his best chance to date with a four-strong team – My Will, Eurotrek, Big Fella Thanks and Cornish Sett.

Ante-post favourite My Will is the choice of jockey Ruby Walsh, who is already a two-time winner with Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2005)

Walsh’s sister Jennifer, who also acts as his agent, confirmed: “Ruby is going to ride My Will. He said with the ground the way it is (good), he thinks it will suit him.”

Following the news, Ladbrokes cut My Will to 7-1 from 8-1.

Their spokesman David Williams said: “As soon as Ruby made his mind up we knew we’d have to shorten the odds. Precisely how much faith the public now put in the King of Cheltenham remains to be seen.

“We’re now waiting to hear confirmation of Tony McCoy’s plans for the National. The same thing will happen to the odds of his mount as soon as the news breaks.”

The champion jump jockey also has a National success missing from his CV and he has Irish owner JP McManus’s runners to choose from.

They include second favourite Butler’s Cabin, L’Ami and Can’t Buy Time.

Other fancied contenders include 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition, last year’s National third Snowy Morning, Becher victor Black Apalachi, 2008 Irish National victor Hear The Echo, 2006 Hennessy scorer State Of Play, 2007 National hero Silver Birch and Blue Square Gold Cup winner Rambling Minster.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has four guaranteed to make the line-up in Knowhere, Ollie Magern, Fundamentalist and Battlecry as the Naunton trainer seeks a third triumph after Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002).

Kilbeggan Blade completed his preparation for the big race by jumping a National-style fence at trainer Tom George’s yard on Monday morning.

“Everything’s going according to plan. He had his last school this morning over a National fence and thoroughly enjoyed that. He’s ready for it,” said the Stroud-based handler.

Only nine horses were not confirmed for the race this morning, not including those such as Snoopy Loopy and Nozic who had already been scratched.

Noel Meade’s Afistfullofdollars, Jimmy Mangan’s Conna Castle and Tom Taaffe’s Tumbling Dice will not make the trip over from Ireland.

Carl Llewellyn had previously suggested Gold Cup sixth Roll Along needed more time between his races and he has taken him out of the contest.

Hobbs Hill, who ran at Ascot last week, Peter Bowen’s Always Waining, Mark Bradstock’s King Harald and McCain’s Ice Tea will also not run.

Ferdy Murphy’s Hot Weld also misses out, with the West Witton handler adding: “He won’t be ready in time.”

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