Strong Aintree hand for Mullins
Champion trainer Willie Mullins has no less than 12 possible contenders for the John Smith's Grand National on April 14.
Mullins, who saddled Hedgehunter to win the race in 2005, has a strong hand including last year's sixth and beaten favourite The Midnight Club, along with recent Thyestes Chase winner On His Own and the talented Quel Esprit, who is due to run in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown later this month.
In all there are 31 Irish-trained entries, with Alfa Beat and Becauseicouldntsee others worth mentioning. The latter only made it as far as the second fence when a leading fancy last year, but trainer Noel Glynn is looking forward to a return to Merseyside.
Glynn said: "The Grand National is the plan again for Becauseicouldntsee and I hope that we get a bit further than last year. Hopefully, he will run in the National Trial at Punchestown on Sunday and we will take it from there.
"For such a good jumper, he had two nasty falls last year including at Leopardstown over Christmas, when he would have been there or thereabouts. He hurt his hip during that race but it's all sorted now and he is moving good."
Alfa Beat, meanwhile, will prepare for the National by running in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse on February 25. Things did not go to plan for the eight-year-old at Leopardstown on Sunday after he unseated Barry Geraghty in a handicap hurdle.
Trainer Shark Hanlon said: "He definitely runs in the National - we're still on course. He was very unlucky the last day. Barry said he didn't like the ground and that he clipped heels at the top of the bend. He was 100% after the race, though, and we'll now look at running him at Fairyhouse as the weights for Liverpool will already be out."
Last year's Aintree hero Ballabriggs features among a total of 82 entries for marathon event. The 11-year-old provided trainer Donald McCain, son of the legendary Ginger McCain, with an emotional first triumph in the world's most famous steeplechase. The success was even more poignant given that Ginger, trainer of four Grand National winners including three-time scorer Red Rum, passed away later in the year. McCain also has Charlie Hall Chase winner Weird Al and Wymott engaged at this stage.
This year's Grand National will be the first renewal since entry requirements were tightened. Only horses aged seven or above can now compete and every runner must have been placed in the first four of a chase of three miles or more by March 20 and be rated 120 or above.
Joining Ballabriggs at the head of the ante-post market are the David Pipe-trained Junior and Jonjo O'Neill's Lexus Chase winner Synchronised. Calgary Bay won Saturday's Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster and is an interesting contender for Henrietta Knight, as is Malcolm Jefferson's rejuvenated Rowland Meyrick and Peter Marsh Chase winner According To Pete.