Racing: Nicholls has National faith in Auclair

Just as the lure of cash persuaded comedian Jack Dee to drop his hard-man image and perform a routine with a widget and dancing ladybirds in a John Smith's TV ad campaign a few years ago, it has concentrated the minds of owners and trainers with anything that can stay a bit and jump a bit. A no-nonsense record prize-fund of £700,000 for the 158th Grand National, the first under the brewery's sponsorship, has resulted in a no-nonsense record entry of 152. It will, though, be whittled down to a maximum field of 40 by the big day, 9 April.

The first seven home last year - Amberleigh House, Clan Royal, Lord Atterbury, Monty's Pass, Spot Thedifference, Smarty and Ardent Scout - take up the challenge again. Monty's Pass, of course, won in 2003 and the horse in the victory enclosure 12 months before him, Bindaree, is also among the contenders. Clan Royal and Silver Birch, winner of the Welsh National last month, head the betting but the market will not hot up until the announcement of the weights on Tuesday week.

Amberleigh House has run just three times, without success, since his day of days last year, most recently when a staying-on fifth to Silver Birch in the Becher Chase in November. But his trainer, Ginger McCain, reports the 13-year-old in good form. "He'll be out within the next fortnight, possibly at Wetherby," he said. "Everything is spot-on; in fact we're a shade further forward than expected. I watched him come up the gallops this week and he is really well."

Monty's Pass has won only a charity Flat race since his Aintree glory and yesterday finished tailed-off last over two-and-a-half miles behind Champion Chase-bound Rathgar Beau in the mud at Thurles on his seasonal fencing debut. But his rider, Barry Geraghty, was far from downhearted and the 12-year-old will revert to hurdles for his final prep run. "He ran a nice race," said the Irishman. "The trip was always going to be too short and he doesn't like soft ground."

Those trainers adopting the scattergun approach to entry strategy are Jonjo O'Neill, with 14 engaged, Martin Pipe (13), Paul Nicholls (seven) and Ferdy Murphy (six). Among owners, J P McManus holds the call with 19; Trevor Hemmings, whose lifelong ambition is to win this prize, has six; and champion owner David Johnson five.

O'Neill did not win a National as a jockey but came close as a trainer with McManus's Clan Royal last year. The 10-year-old, plus the François Doumen-trained First Gold and Le Coudray, from Christy Roche's Irish yard, are the most likely runners in the green, white, and gold colours. Clan Royal, whose stable has all but shut down because of a virus, has raced just once since his three-length defeat by Amberleigh House, and Le Coudray has not been sighted at all since falling at the second Becher's. But First Gold ran a fine trial when second in the Peter Marsh Chase on Saturday.

"They seem to be coming back into form at Jonjo's," Frank Berry, McManus's racing manager, said, "and hopefully we can find a race for Clan Royal before the National. First Gold ran a blinder at Haydock and we'll be playing it by ear with him; I'm not sure he'll have another run. Le Coudray is cantering away now and hopefully he'll have more luck this time."

Hemmings's challengers are headed by Hedgehunter, who blazed last year's trail and was still in contention when crashing at the last. Willie Mullins's charge is one of 36 entries from Ireland, home of three of the past six winners. The classiest of Johnson's contenders is the Hennessy Gold Cup winner Celestial Gold; other highly rated animals entered are the Gold Cup runner-up Sir Rembrandt, Ballycassidy, Grey Abbey, Royal Auclair - rated by Nicholls, who also trains Silver Birch, as the best of his squad - and top novice Ollie Magern (all due to contest the Gold Cup trial at Cheltenham tomorrow).

GRAND NATIONAL (Aintree, 9 April): Coral: 12-1 Clan Royal, 14-1 Silver Birch, 16-1 Grey Abbey, 20-1 Celestial Gold, Chives, Frenchman's Creek, Amberleigh House, Colonel Frank, 25-1 Bindaree, Forest Gunner, Fork Lightning, Granit D'Estruval, Joly Bey, Jurancon II, Lord Atterbury, Puntal, 33-1 others.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test