There are still 100 horses in the 2004 Martell Cognac Grand National after the first forfeit stage. All of the main contenders remain in the line-up for the £600,000 chase, including big names in the ante-post market: Hedgehunter, Rince Ri, Timbera, Arctic Jack, and previous winners Bindaree and Monty’s Pass.
Another prominent name is Amberleigh House, who came third in last year’s Grand National. He is trained by Ginger McCain, who trained legendary steeplechaser Red Rum to a record three victories in the Aintree race.
A number of other horses look set for a possible return to the big race, among them last year’s finishers Gunner Welburn, Montifault, Bindaree, Royal Predica, Blowing Wind and Southern Star.
Bunny Boiler jumped his jockey out of the saddle at the first fence in the 2003 Grand National, but his trainer, Noel Meade, was insistent about his chances.
“Although the Bunny Boiler lost his form last season, the only time he ran well was when he fell at the first in the Grand National and went round on his own,” says Noel.
“He actually finished in front on his own last year but that was not much good without the jockey! He did seem to enjoy running round Aintree on his own though so it’s definitely our intention to have another go at the Martell Cognac Grand National with him.”
This year’s race, which is being run at Aintree for the 157th time on 3 April, promises to be one of the most competitive yet, with 58 out of the 100 in the handicap.
The maximum field for the race is 40, but Aintree’s managing director, Charles Barnett, says: “I am very pleased that 100 horses have stood their ground for the Martell Cognac Grand National, including all the fancied contenders. There are no real surprise withdrawals at this stage – the quality and quantity remains.”
Irish horses have been victorious in three of the last five Grand Nationals, and there are still 23 Gaelic contenders in the race, including last year’s winner Monty’s Pass.
First Gold, who heads the weights, is one of four French-trained entries. He is trained by Thierry Doumen, and could be joined at the start by stablemates Kelami and Innox.
Martell Cognac’s sponsorship of the world’s most renowned steeplechase comes to an end this year, but Aintree officials stressed that they would not be considering the question of finding a new sponsor until after this year’s race.
Charles Barnett explained: “We have had a brilliant partnership with Martell Cognac. The company has provided one of the most successful sponsorships in race history and we want to ensure that this year’s race is no exception. We will be not be focussing on future plans until after this year’s Grand National.”