Trainer Willie Mullins today reported that last year's winner Hedgehunter would again be aimed at the John Smith's Grand National and may take on some of the top staying chasers along the way in races such as Leopardstown's Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup and the totesport Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Hedgehunter was still in contention when falling at the last in the 2004 Aintree spectacular but bounced back to take the 2005 John Smith's Grand National by 14 lengths from Royal Auclair and realise a lifelong ambition for owner Trevor Hemmings.
"The two times he's been round Aintree he has jumped fantastically and we're certainly aiming for the National again," said Mullins. "I was delighted with his run this year because he'd had a horrible fall on his first visit but he seemed to have wiped that from his memory and went back and relished the jumps.
"We had an unbelievable reaction from people after his John Smith's Grand National win - I'm sure it's the same with any National but we had a great response."
Hedgehunter's Aintree preparation has included runs over hurdles in the past two seasons and that is again an option this season.
"He has put on a lot of condition and strengthened over the summer but I haven't made any plans for him so far this season," continued Mullins.
"But there would be a big possibility that he'd go over hurdles again. Timewise, the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February would also be perfect for him and I think he's entitled to run in any of the top staying chases, he jumps and stays well enough.
"He'd take his chance in the Hennessy and we'll see where we are after that, but he'd be entered for the Cheltenham Gold Cup as well."
PRIZE MONEY FOR JOHN SMITH'S GRAND NATIONAL MEETING UP AGAIN
Aintree Racecourse announced today that the total prize fund for the 2006 John Smith's Grand National meeting (Thursday 6th - Saturday 8th April) will be over £2.2million ( 3,255,800 (Euros)). This reflects a 3.8% increase on the 2005 meeting. One of the main increases has seen the John Smith's Topham Steeple Chase (run over the Grand National fences on Friday), increased to £100,000 (an increase of £20,000 or 29,200 (Euros) from 2005). This is as a result of the race now being firmly established as a Grand National trial. Prize money for the John Smith's Grand National will remain at £700,000 ( 1,022,000 (Euros)) for 2006.
Charles Barnett, Aintree's Managing Director commented: "We are delighted to have increased the total prize fund for the three day meeting once again. We have identified a number of races, including the John Smith's Topham Chase and the three mile John Smith's Sefton Novices' Hurdle which would benefit from additional prize money. The three day race programme now contains seven races with a total prize fund of over £100,000 ( 146,000 (Euros)) and all handicap hurdles have a minimum prize fund of £50,000 ( 73,000 (Euros)) or over."
Jonathan Townsend, Managing Director, John Smith's North commented: "The 2005 John Smith's Grand National was a dream start for our sponsorship - a race that had all the drama and spectacle that we have come to expect from the UK's biggest sporting event. We are already well advanced in our plans to make 2006 even better - with even more pubs and stores getting involved in the run up to the big day. With even more prize money on offer, the prospect of a record attendance and Hedgehunter going all out to win again, we are all in for an amazing day in April next year."
GRAND NATIONAL TO BE RUN AT 4.15PM
The John Smith's Grand National will once again be run as the fifth race on Saturday's card and will start at 4.15pm.
GRAND NATIONAL SALES GO FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
Following the record breaking 2005 John Smith's Grand National meeting, tickets and hospitality have once again been in great demand for the 2006 event. All Grandstand badges have now sold out for both Friday (Ladies' Day) and Saturday with a number of areas also sold out for Thursday. Tattersalls and John Smith's No Nonsense Enclosure tickets (Saturday only), are still available for purchase.
NEW FACILITIES ALL SET FOR 2006 NATIONAL
Aintree Racecourse reported today that its £30million redevelopment project is on schedule, with the first stage being completed in time for the 2006 John Smith's Grand National meeting. This will consist of a new parade ring, weighing room and winner's enclosure, as well as new stables and pre-parade ring. Groundworks for the two new Grandstands (due to be completed for the 2007 event) are also nearing completion. For 2006, a number of temporary facilities will be built upon these groundworks. This has resulted in a number of changes in corporate facilities for 2006.
The 2005 John Smith's Grand National Breeders' Awards were presented to Mr J A Keogh, Ballsbridge, Dublin, breeder of Hedgehunter and to Mrs R Crank, breeder of the first British bred to finish the 2005 John Smith's Grand National, Forest Gunner (5th).
This award was presented to David Smalley of Raceform who won the Top Tipster competition at the 2005 John Smith's Grand National meeting.
AINTREE GEARS UP FOR INAUGURAL NORTH WEST MASTERS
Aintree Racecourse is making final preparations for the inaugural North West Masters meeting this weekend on Saturday 19th (Haydock Park) and Sunday 20th November (Aintree Racecourse). As part of the race programme, Aintree will stage two races over the Grand National fences, the totepool Grand Sefton Chase and the totesport Becher Chase.
Andrew Tulloch, Clerk of the Course added: "We are delighted with the condition of the ground for the totesport Becher Chase meeting. Although we have had a few weeks of persistent rain (and 2mm over the weekend), the ground is drying out, with the going currently good to soft, soft in places. With the met office predicting a predominantly dry week, we hope to have perfect jumping ground come Sunday."
Sunday 20th November will be the final day that Aintree's historic weighing room and iconic winner's enclosure will be used in its current form. The racecourse is working to ensure that the building retains its character and charm for racegoers to enjoy in future years.
THE 2005 CARTIER RACING AWARDS
The 2005 Cartier Racing Awards, European horseracing's equivalent of the Oscars, are announced to the invited guests at the Awards' dinner which is held at the Four Seasons Hotel, Mayfair, London, UK, tomorrow evening (Wednesday, November 16).
The eight horse categories, Horse Of The Year, Top Older Horse, Top Stayer, Top Sprinter, Three-Year-Old Colt, Three-Year-Old Filly, Two-Year-Old Colt and Two-Year-Old Filly, are revealed to an international audience of leading owners, trainers, breeders and racing personalities.
The equine winners are determined by points earned in Pattern races, the opinions of a panel of leading independent racing journalists and votes from readers of Racing Post and The Daily Telegraph - a system which is carefully structured to reflect the best performances throughout the year.
The nominations for each category this year are as follows:
Horse of the Year - Azamour, Divine Proportions, Hurricane Run, Shamardal, Westerner
Top Older Horse - Alcazar, Alexander Goldrun, Azamour, Starcraft, Westerner
Top Stayer - Alcazar, Distinction, Millenary, Reefscape, Westerner
Top Sprinter - Avonbridge, Cape Of Good Hope, Goodricke, La Cucaracha, Pastoral Pursuits
The Cartier Racing Awards, now in their 15th year, are recognised as the most prestigious within the European horseracing industry.
In addition to the horse awards, the Daily Telegraph Award of Merit goes to the person who, in the opinion of the Cartier Jury, has done most for European racing and/or breeding either over his or her lifetime or within the past 12 months.
The list of past winners of the Cartier / Daily Telegraph Award of Merit shows why this award has so much prestige.
Lat year's Award went to David and Patricia Thompson of Chevely Park Stud, whose successful breeding operation has produced a steady stream of top-quality racehorses, including this year's Sun Chariot Stakes winner Peeress, and Fillies Mile victor Nannina.
The 2003 Award went to Lord Oaksey, the distinguished racing journalist, amateur rider and founder of the Injured Jockeys' Fund, while Prince Khalid Abdullah, one of the foremost owner-breeders in the world, took the award in 2002 when a special Cartier Award was also given to Tony McCoy, the most successful jump jockey of all time.
John Magnier was the recipient in 2001, with His Highness The Aga Khan, Peter Walwyn, the Head Family, Sir Peter O'Sullevan, Frankie Dettori, John Dunlop, the Marquess of Hartington, Francois Boutin, Lester Piggott and Henri Chalhoub completing the list back to 1991.
Details of the 2005 Cartier Racing Awards' winners will be made available to the media on an embargoed basis on the morning of Wednesday, November 16.