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Hughes heads Ulster bid for a shot at National glory

By Frank Brownlow

Hopes of Ulster success are high in the Crabbie's Grand National at Aintree, with in-form jockey Brian Hughes bidding to write his name in the history books.

Last year's winner Many Clouds will go off as favourite in tomorrow's £1million showpiece but O'Faolains Boy and The Druids Nephew should be in the frame at the finish, while Ballycasey has each way chances.

Armagh rider Hughes is in the form of his life and rides O'Faolains Boy, while The Druids Nephew is trained by Neil Mulholland from Glenavy.

Ballycasey was bred in Templepatrick by Wilson Dennison.

Ruby Walsh's sister Katie, who came closest of any female rider to winning the National when third on Seabass in 2012, partners Ballycasey.

"He has got a great weight and is a former Grade One winner," said Patrick Mullins, son of Willie Mullins and assistant trainer to his father.

"He returned to some kind of form when he finished fifth at Cheltenham. He jumped very well in the National last year until coming down with Balthazar King. It looks like he took to the course and he ticks a lot of the right boxes."

This is the first Grand National since the retirement of Ulster legend AP McCoy, who triumphed in the big race - at his 15th attempt - on Don't Push It in 2010.

McCoy tipped Many Clouds in Wednesday's Belfast Telegraph.

Many Clouds will have to carry top weight of 11st 10lb round the Aintree course if he is to become the first horse since the great Red Rum in 1974 to record back-to-back victories in the world's greatest steeplechase.

Ruby Walsh will partner Sir Des Champs as he seeks to win the National for a third time.

Successful on Papillon for his father, Ted, in 2000, Walsh struck on Hedgehunter for Willie Mullins in 2005 and now teams up with an old favourite.

Sir Des Champs, runner-up in the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup, returned from a near two-year lay-off when winning at Thurles in November but has since been well beaten in both the Lexus Chase and Irish Gold Cup.

The 10-year-old is one of four runners from the Mullins stable and among three owned by the Gigginstown House Stud.

Their retained jockey is Bryan Cooper and he has chosen to ride First Lieutenant as he attempts to supplement his success on Don Cossack in the Gold Cup.

Bookmakers have taken evasive action, cutting Sir Des Champs to 20-1 from 50-1.

Barry Geraghty, successful on Ulster-owned Monty's Pass in 2003, has selected Shutthefrontdoor as his ride.

Shutthefrontdoor finished fifth last year under McCoy.

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