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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2006, 15:43 GMT
Hedgehunter tops Aintree weights
Hedgehunter won the 2005 Grand National
Hedgehunter won the 2005 National by 14 lengths
Last year's winner Hedgehunter heads 96 entries remaining in the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree on 8 April.

A maximum of 40 horses will run, with 58 in the handicap, having been given 10 stone or more in the weights.

Hedgehunter and Royal Auclair, second and ninth respectively in last week's Cheltenham Gold Cup, head the weights with 11st 12lb.

The weights have risen 2lbs following the withdrawal of Monkerhostin, who finished sixth at Cheltenham.

A total of 26 horses were withdrawn at Tuesday's second forfeit stage, although most of the leading hopefuls remain in the contest.

Those pulled out include One Knight, Joacci, Comply or Die, Harbour Pilot and Ross River.

Hedgehunter, trained by Willie Mullins, was carrying 11st 1lb when beating Royal Auclair by 14 lengths in the 2004 National.

He is favourite for this year's big race after his impressive performance behind War of Attrition at Cheltenham.

The British Horseracing Board's senior handicapper Phil Smith did not have that form when he framed the National weights.

I have a suspicion this year's magic could be about the first 14-year-old to win
Ginger McCain on Amberleigh House
Smith said: "I have Hedgehunter rated 10lb higher than he was when I did the weights, while Sir Rembrandt is up 9lb and Innox on an 8lb higher mark."

Aintree specialist Clan Royal, who finished second to Amberleigh House in the 2004 National and was travelling well when being carried out in last year's race, is one of 10 J P McManus-owned entries still in the 2006 contest.

Others include the Racing Post Chase winner Innox, trained in France by Francois Doumen.

Ginger McCain, who trained Red Rum to a record three wins in the 1970s, has the veteran Amberleigh House entered, along with Ebony Light.

McCain, bidding for a unique fifth success, said Stephen Craine would ride Peter Marsh Chase winner Ebony Light, who would relish soft ground.

"Ebony Light wants all of four miles and if he is in the first 16 or 20 going round second time then we'll have a big shout," said McCain.

He also believes Amberleigh House has a chance of repeating his 2004 success despite being aged 14.

"There is always a magical story in the National and at Aintree and I just have a sneaking suspicion that this year's magic could be all about the first 14-year-old to win."

Hedgehunter is one of 19 horses bidding to continue Ireland's fine recent record in the race, with Irish horses winning four of the last seven runnings.

Other contenders include the 2005 Irish Grand National winner Numbersixvalverde, trained by Martin Brassil, Ted Walsh's Betfred Gold Cup hero Jack High and Garvivonnian, star of Ned Mitchell's small stable.

  • Phase one of a 30m redevelopment at Aintree racecourse has now been completed, with a new parade ring and winner's enclosure, weighing room, media centre, stables, pre-parade ring and saddling boxes.

    The second phase, which will see the construction of two new grandstands, is due to start immediately after this year's meeting for completion in March 2007.

    Latest odds: 5-1 Hedgehunter, 11-2 Clan Royal, 16-1 Innox, Royal Auclair, Numbersixvalverde, 20-1 Cornish Rebel, Dun Doire, Jack High, Lord Of Illusion, Silver Birch, Sir Rembrandt, 25-1 Bar. (William Hill 21/03/06)

    Horses withdrawn at the second forfeit stage:
    Monkerhostin, Hi Cloy, One Knight, Joacci, Comply or Die, Harbour Pilot, Ned Kelly, Euro Leader, Made in Japan, Iris Bleu, A Glass in Thyne, Tamango, Zeta's River, Ivoire de Beaulieu, Foly Pleasant, Joe Blake, John James, Boneyarrow, Ross River, Tribal Venture, Lord Maizey, Shardam, A New Story, Alcapone, Keepatem, Red Striker.

    Grand National: Latest odds
    29 Mar 06 |  Horse Racing
    Aintree course guide
    03 Apr 05 |  Horse Racing


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