Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere headlines 98 entries for the £1-million Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, 11th April.
Trained in Ireland by Jim Culloty, the nine-year-old could bid to become the first horse since L’Escargot and only the third ever to win the Gold Cup and Grand National. L’Escargot won the Cheltenham showpiece in 1970 and 1971, and then denied Red Rum a hat-trick of wins at Aintree in 1975. Golden Miller won both races in 1934.
The field for one of the highlights of the racing year will be whittled down to 40 come the big day. And Culloty has also entered Spring Heeled, who emerged as a potential Aintree contender when making most of the running to win the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March.
Culloty partnered the 2002 Grand National victor Bindaree and, if successful at Aintree on 11th April, he would join Algy Anthony, Tommy Carberry, Aubrey Hastings, Fulke Walwyn and Fred Winter as men who have ridden and trained Grand National winners since 1900.
Betfred, the official betting partner of the Crabbie’s Grand National Festival, make Spring Heeled their 25/1 co-favourite of 11, alongside the likes of last year’s winner Pineau De Re (Dr Richard Newland), the 2014 runner-up Balthazar King (Philip Hobbs) and Hennessy Gold Cup hero Many Clouds (Oliver Sherwood). Seven of the first eight finishers from last year are entered again.
Alvarado is also among the market leaders but has not been seen since last year’s renewal. The Fergal O’Brien-trained 10-year-old was quietly fancied after an impressive victory at Cheltenham in November 2013, and stayed on strongly from the last to snatch fourth under Paul Moloney.
O’Brien said: “Alvarado put his heart and soul into the National last year and he was a bit tired when he came back, so we gave him a long break.
“He has had no real problems -- just a couple of niggly things -- and the weather has conspired against us, which is why he hasn’t run yet.
“Aintree is plan A and we will work back from that. There is a veterans’ chase at Doncaster in the middle of February or there is another race at Warwick a week later. The plan would be to have one run around that time and then go straight to Aintree.
“I think he can do better than he did last year. I don’t think he would have won as the winner won very well, but he did not settle for a long time during the race and, consequently, Paul (Moloney) had to have him a long way back.
“Alvarado did not run between New Year’s Day and the National last year and Paul felt that if we had had a run in between, it might have taken the freshness out of him and made him settle better.
“You need loads of luck as well. We have watched the replay several times and there were two or three incidents where he could have been brought down. We had the luck last year and we need that again this year.”
Trainer Jonjo O’Neill took the spoils with Don’t Push It in 2010 and has four contenders this time, headed by Irish Grand National victor Shutthefrontdoor (25/1 with Betfred) and Hennessy Gold Cup third Merry King (25/1).
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has seven entries, the most of any handler, headlined by Rocky Creek (33/1) and Sam Winner (33/1) who have both placed in Grade One chases this season. The Somerset handler has also engaged Welsh National runner-up Benvolio (33/1) and the seven-year-old Unioniste (25/1), who carries the John Hales colours of 2012 winner Neptune Collonges.
Alan King’s sole entry is Godsmejudge (25/1), who came agonisingly close to recording back-to-back victories in the Scottish Grand National last year when just touched off by Al Co (40/1, Peter Bowen).
Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins saddled Hedgehunter to victory in 2005 and accounts for four of the 25 Irish-trained entries. His quartet features Back In Focus (25/1), who has only run once since landing the 2013 National Hunt Chase, and last year’s Grade One Melling Chase scorer Boston Bob (33/1).
Tony Martin also has four engaged, headed by recent Paddy Power Handicap Chase winner Living Next Door (33/1), while First Lieutenant (33/1) is an eyecatching entry for Mouse Morris.
Oscar Time (Robert Waley-Cohen) is a real Aintree specialist, having finished runner-up in the 2011 Grand National and fourth in 2013. He gained a deserved first win over the Grand National fences when taking the Betfred Becher Chase in December. Now a 14-year-old, he has to overcome the statistic that no horse of that age has triumphed in the history of the Grand National, although Peter Simple was 15 when successful way back in 1853. The oldest winner in the last 100 years was 13-year-old Sergeant Murphy in 1923.
Other notable contenders include Teaforthree (25/1, Rebecca Curtis), Bet365 Gold Cup victor Hadrian’s Approach (40/1, Nicky Henderson) and former Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude (33/1, Michael Scudamore).
John Baker, regional director of The Jockey Club North West, commented: “We are delighted with the 98 entries received for the 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National.
“It is another bumper entry with many great stories lying in wait. A Betfred Gold Cup winner and this season’s Hennessy winner, plus last year’s Crabbie’s Grand National hero and this season’s Becher Chase winner, are all engaged and so it goes on.
“The leading Jump trainers are well-represented, which is terrific and, as ever, there is plenty of support from Ireland.
“We all now eagerly await handicapper Phil Smith’s verdict on 17th February when the weights are revealed.”
The Crabbie’s Grand National is the only handicap of the year where Smith has absolute discretion over the weights and can deviate from normal handicap ratings.
This year will mark the 168th running of the Grand National and the second year of the sponsorship by Halewood-owned Crabbie’s alcoholic ginger beer. The Crabbie’s Grand National Festival takes place over three days - Grand Opening Day (Thursday, 9th April), Ladies’ Day (Friday, 10th April) and Grand National Day (Saturday, 11th April).