An impressive 148 Grand National entries have been received. This is the third highest number of entries in the chase’s history and just below last year’s record number of 152 entries. The Irish have a record 38-strong entry for the competition which is taking place on 8 April.

The Irish-trained Hedgehunter won the 2005 John Smith’s Grand National and is among the entries once again this year, along with Royal Auclair (2nd in 2005), It Takes Time (4th), Forest Gunner (5th), Nil Desperandum (6th), Innox (7th), Heros Collonges (8th), Just In Debt (9th) and Amberleigh House (10th) – thus nine of the first 10 horses home last year are running again this year.

Last year’s winning owner Trevor Hemmings has five entered in 2006, while other leading owners David Johnson and Sir Robert Ogden have 10 and three entries respectively. But Martin Pipe is the most dominant force with 22 entries. Pipe, triumphant with Miinnehoma in 1994, could be represented by the likes of last year’s fourth It Takes Time, the very promising Joaaci, recent Rowland Meyrick Chase winner Therealbandit, 2004 Betfred Gold Cup winner Puntal, the 2004 Grand National third Lord Atterbury and Seebald, owned by footballers Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman.

Pipe’s rival for this season’s trainers’ championship is Paul Nicholls, who has a 10-strong entry. In addition to last year’s runner-up Royal Auclair, Nicholls’s team includes Silver Birch, the 2004 totesport Becher Chase and Welsh National winner, last season’s Scottish Grand National runner-up Cornish Rebel, recent impressive Warwick scorer Eurotrek and this season’s Welsh National heroine L’Aventure.

Weights for the 2006 John Smith’s Grand National, worth £700,000, will be revealed at a media lunch in London on Tuesday, 14 February.

Charles Barnett, Managing Director at Aintree Racecourse, commented: “This is yet another fantastic entry. Class is again in abundance and once again we have tremendous support from the Irish who have such a fantastic record in recent years.”

Bridges out of intensive care

Lucy Bridges has been taken off a ventilator and moved out of the intensive care unit at Plymouth’s Deriford Hospital. The 26-year-old jockey was knocked unconscious after being kicked in the head following a fall at the Silverton Hunt point-to-point last Saturday. A hospital spokeswoman reports that her condition is “comfortable.”

Memorial stone for Best Mate

A stone plague will be laid at Exeter’s next meeting on Sunday 12 February in memory of Best Mate who died at the course in November.

The stone will be positioned just outside the rails adjacent to the spot between the final two fences where the triple Gold Cup winner collapsed.

A simple ceremony will include a short silence before course speakers will play They’ll Run Forever, the CD that celebrates Best Mate, Arkle and Cottage Rake.

Stable staff of the year 2006

The Princess Royal is to host the Stable Staff of the Year Awards. The short listed employees for the 2006 Awards will attend a reception ahead of the Awards luncheon in central London on Tuesday 21 February.

The Princess Royal has close involvement with many equine and veterinary charities and is patron of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund will present the prizes. The Awards carry prizes of £50,000 and are sponsored by Godolphin and run by the British Horseracing Board in association with the Racing Post.

One Knight might return to Wincanton

One Knight, who suffered cuts after running loose in the Cotswold Chase at Wincanton on Thursday, could be set for a return to the same venue later in the month. The gelding is currently on the easy list, recovering from the injuries he incurred after jumping a rail on the paddock bend but trainer Philip Hobbs is considering running him in the Country Gentleman’s Chase on 18 February.

Aintree worst for late running

No fewer than 14 of the 33 races staged at Aintree between January and September 2005 started three minutes or more after the scheduled time, according to analysis published in Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder magazine, making it the worst for late starts in Britain.

The 42% delay rate compares with the 29% posted by Sandown, who were next in the table with 44 of 151 races not off to time, and 27% at third-bottom Goodwood (36 of 131). Delays to races are seen as having a negative impact on betting turnover – one of the reasons for the current three-month trial under which horses are loaded in draw order in Flat races in an attempt to improve off-times.


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