Last year’s winner Many Clouds heads a whopping 87 horses still left in the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday – run at the new time of 5.15pm.
Connections of the Oliver Sherwood-trained nine-year-old have geared his campaign around a return trip to Liverpool and he is reported to be in tip-top shape to repeat his 2015 triumph.
Should he be successful, he will become the first horse since the great Red Rum to record back-to-back victories in the world’s greatest steeplechase.
Many Clouds showed he is in no mood to give up his crown without a fight by landing an impressive victory at Kelso four weeks ago. He has to carry top weight, but is by no means overburdened.
A maximum field of 40 is allowed and the last horse currently guaranteed a run is The Romford Pele, trained by Rebecca Curtis. The Tom George-trained Saint Are, runner-up 12 months ago, has moved into those coveted places.
Middleham-based jockey Henry Brooke has been booked to ride the James Moffatt-trained Highland Lodge but he is 45th on the list and needs horses above him to come out of the race to get a run. Likewise, North Yorkshire-based jockey Brian Hughes is booked to ride former winner Pineau De Re for Dr Richard Newland but he is only 43rd on the list.
Sue Smith’s High Eldwick hope Mr Moonshine and Alan Swinbank’s Melsonby hope Big Water are 66th and 67th on the list and have no realistic chance of running.
Class is of the essence in this year’s renewal, with Silviniaco Conti attempting to transfer his excellent form over regulation fences to the unique obstacles of the Grand National.
Nicholls also has Wonderful Charm, Rocky Creek, Unioniste, Just A Par and Black Thunder as he seeks to hold on to the champion trainers’ crown.
His other entry Benvolio is highly unlikely to make the top 40.
CATTERICK: 2.00 Fearbuster (next best), 2.30 Play Nicely, 3.00 Mighty Zip, 3.30 Azrur, 4.05 Hartside, 4.35 Mrs Biggs, 5.05 Bahango.
NOTTINGHAM: 2.20 Stratum (treble), 2.50 A Momentofmadness, 3.20 Spirit Quartz, 3.50 CLEVER COOKIE (NAP), 4.25 Greenside, 4.55 Hirjan, 5.25 Match My Fire.
LINGFIELD: 2.10 Togetherwecan, 2.40 Viva Verglas, 3.10 Across The Stars, 3.40 Southern Storm, 4.15 North Creek, 4.45 Clotilde, 5.15 Surewecan.
KEMPTON: 5.45 Quebee, 6.15 Viscount Barfield, 6.45 Musical Taste, 7.15 Captain Peacock, 7.45 Prince Of Arran, 8.15 Secret Witness, 8.45 Foie Gras.