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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Spotlight on Grand National
Cornelius
By Cornelius Lysaght
BBC racing correspondent

As the countdown to the 2006 John Smith's Grand National continues in earnest, attention is turning to potential winners.

Here's a look at some of the main contenders for the big race at Aintree on Saturday 8 April.

Check out some top tips on our horse racing section.

DOING THE DOUBLE

Ruby Walsh and Hedeghunter
Although sharing top-weight, last year's winner Hedgehunter is rated as having an excellent chance after finishing a gallant second in this season's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins and the mount of Ruby Walsh - who's looking for his third victory in the big race - the horse is owned by north-west businessman Trevor Hemmings.

Hemmings' interest in racing was sparked by 1971 winner Specify, owned by holiday camp magnate Fred Pontin for whom he was working as a builder at the time.

AINTREE HOODOO?

Tony McCoy and Clan Royal
As trainer Jonjo O'Neill saddles leading contender Clan Royal, he must be wondering what he needs to do to get some better Aintree luck.

Not only has Clan Royal, regular mount of Tony McCoy, respectively finished second and been pushed out by a loose horse in the last two runnings, but ex-jockey O'Neill's riding record was also lacking in good fortune.

In nine attempts, he never even completed the course; the Grand National may be the glaring omission on McCoy's CV, but in 10 attempts, he has got round twice.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Numbersixvalverde sounds more like the address of a holiday villa than a Grand National winner, but in fact it's both.

The horse was successful at 9-1 in Ireland's Grand National at Fairyhouse last Easter, and is named after a villa in Portugal belonging to owner Bernie Carroll.

And talking of names, the horse, trained by Martin Brassil, is the mount of Niall 'Slippers' Madden, son of an ex-jockey, also Niall, but known to one and all as 'Boots'.

GINGER CHEER

Graham lee rode Amberleigh House to victory in 2004
Graham Lee has the most outstanding Grand National record of any jockey in recent years after forging a highly successful relationship with 2004 winner Amberleigh House.

Irishman Lee, 30, didn't have his first ride in the race until finishing thirrd on Amberleigh House (2003); since then he's been on the winner, and finished tenth last year.

Based in the north east, as number one jockey to the large string owned by businessman Graham Wylie, Lee is amongst the very fittest riders, regularly training with Middlesbrough FC.

FRENCH LESSON

If the season has three great British steeplechases, top French Francois Doumen has mastered two of them, Kempton's King George VI Chase (five times) and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

But the Grand National has so far eluded him, though the redoubtable Djeddah was ninth, ninth again and 11th in five attempts, and Innox ran a cracker in seventh place last year.

Innox was a fine winner at Sandown in February, fine enough indeed to have Doumen dreaming of a first French-trained winner of the Grand National since Cortolovin (1867).

BETTER THAN SEX

Mick Fitzgerald is Fondmort's regular partner
Jockey Mick Fitzgerald seeks his second Grand National success, 10 years after partnering Rough Quest to a breathless victory over Encore Un Peu.

And if he pulls it off, the 35-year-old Irishman has promised to watch what he says after declaring in 1996 that his nine minutes riding in the race was "better than sex."

Fitzgerald rides Juveigneur and a victory would be fairytale stuff as the jockey broke his neck last summer.

CHRISTIAN'S CRUSADE

Christian Williams and Royal Auclair
If, as many experts suggest, the only way is up for South Wales-born jockey Christian Williams, then back him for this year's Grand National.

The highly rated 23-year-old's sole taste of the big race to date was when finishing a gritty second on regular mount Royal Auclair behind Hedgehunter in 2005.

How very different things might have been for Williams had he followed his original sporting path: rugby. He was an accomplished fly-half before pursuing life as a jockey.




SEE ALSO
Grand National runners and riders
06 Apr 06 |  Horse Racing
Aintree course guide
03 Apr 05 |  Horse Racing
Grand National top tips
06 Apr 06 |  Horse Racing


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