Last year’s Grand National hero Auroras Encore, ridden to glory by Galashiels jockey Ryan Mania, has been retired after fracturing a leg. The 12-year-old was a shock 66-1 winner of the Aintree feature for trainer Sue Smith last April but failed to hit the mark in three subsequent starts.
He finished ninth in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last Saturday and it later transpired he had suffered an injury in the course of the race.
After an operation on Tuesday, Auroras Encore will not race again and Smith said: “These things happen. I just want him home to have a happy retirement. He has had an operation to a repair a fracture. They got him up successfully after the surgery and he was staying overnight in the operating box. Fingers crossed – it’s still early days.
“He won a National for us. He doesn’t owe us anything. This is a racing injury and I’m afraid that it is what you have to expect from the job on occasion.”
For this year’s national – the first-ever £1million running of the famous race – 115 entries, the highest since 2009, have been attracted. The race, on 5 April, is sponsored by Crabbie’s.
Willie Mullins, successful with Hedgehunter in 2005, has eight possibles, including the Graham Wylie-owned trio of On His Own, Prince De Beauchene and Boston Bob. The other members of the County Carlow handler’s team are Leopardstown Paddy Power Chase winner Rockyaboya, Up The Beat, Vesper Bell, last season’s Irish Grand National runner-up Away We Go and Quel Esprit.
Fellow Irish trainer Martin Brassil, who struck with Numbersixvalverde in 2006, could be represented in this year’s showpiece by Double Seven, last seen completing a five-timer at Wexford in October. The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old recorded a two-length verdict over Spring Heeled in the Munster National over three miles at Limerick earlier the same month.
Only two of the first six home last year have entries this time, third-placed Teaforthree, trained by Rebecca Curtis, and the sixth, David Pipe’s Swing Bill. Last year’s triumphant trainer Smith relies on Mr Moonshine and Vintage Star.
Paul Nicholls secured his first National with Neptune Collonges in 2012 and has seven entries this year, headed by the 13-year-old Tidal Bay. The Ditcheat trainer is also responsible for Welsh Grand National runner-up Hawkes Point, There’s No Panic, Rocky Creek, Kauto Stone, Mon Parrain and Sire Collonges.
Other notable entries include Scottish Grand National scorer Godsmejudge, from the Alan King yard, and Kim Muir Challenge Cup winner Same Difference, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies.
There are not many courses in Britain and Ireland without the word heavy in their going description at present but its currently good to soft at Musselburgh ahead of the Cheltenham Festival Trials Day on Sunday.
That may ease before raceday but the meeting is not in any doubt. Clerk of the course Harriet Graham said: “We have no worries at present. The going is good to soft and, while it is damp today, it is supposed to be dry and cold tomorrow.
“Believe it or not on Sunday there should be some sunshine. It won’t be toasty warm, but it is positive nonetheless. I spoke to Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls on Monday and they both want to have runners but, obviously, it depends on the ground. They want a decent surface if they are coming up. Musselburgh is one of the best draining courses and our all-weather bend really helps. We’ve also go a lot of fresh ground to use.”
Nicholls admitted rain could scupper his plan to be well represented. His standout entry is Triumph Hurdle fancy Calipto. “I’m not sure if Calipto will run yet,” he said. “I just want to take a good look at the forecast and leave it as late as I can.”