The 166th running of the world's greatest chase, the Grand National, has attracted an entry of 84, an increase of two on the 2012 figure...
With a prize fund of £975,000, the Grand National remains the most valuable jump race in Europe and among the richest in the world.
The Aintree contest will take place over the new distance of four miles, three furlongs and about 110 yards on Saturday, April 6, with the start moved closer to the first fence. The maximum permitted field is 40 runners, with up to four reserves on standby.
Seven-time champion jump trainer Paul Nicholls landed his first Grand National in dramatic fashion last year when Neptune Collonges got the better of Sunnyhillboy by a nose in the closest finish ever seen to the great race.
Neptune Collonges was retired following his famous victory but Sunnyhillboy could bid to go one better. The 2012 third and fourth, Seabass and Cappa Bleu, are both entered again.
Trainer Evan Williams, based in the Vale of Glamorgan, has confirmed Cappa Bleu is on course for a second tilt at the Grand National.
The lightly-raced 11-year-old encountered trouble in running last year and his trainer believes the experience will have stood him in good stead ahead of this year's renewal.
Williams commented: "The Grand National has been the plan for Cappa Bleu ever since he crossed the line last year.
"He ran a very promising race last year. He got a few bumps along the way and was lucky to stand up with some loose horses and fallers around him. I thought he did incredibly well to finish as close as he did.
"He is a very unexposed horse and his inexperience probably caught him out last year, but hopefully he will benefit from that this time around.
"Everything has been very good with him since his comeback at Carlisle (second of five in November) and, given the way the weather has been, I am delighted we managed to get the run into him when we did.
"Since he ran, it has been very wet and very heavy ground doesn't suit him. When he encountered that for the first time in the Welsh National in 2011, it took me a long time to get him back after that.
"I didn't want to run him in that sort of ground again this season because I want to get him to Aintree as fresh as I possibly can.
"He holds entries this weekend but he will be entered everywhere as I am very keen to get another run or two into him before Aintree. I will give him every opportunity to run but, as I have said all season, if the ground is very heavy, he won't run."
Cappa Bleu is one of eight entries trained in Wales, along with recent Welsh National second Teaforthree (Rebecca Curtis), Always Waining, who has won the last three runnings of the Topham Chase over the Grand National fences, Gullible Gordon and Mumbles Head (all with Peter Bowen) and 2011 Scottish Grand National winner Beshabar, Saint Are and Tartak (all with Tim Vaughan).
The only horse trained in Wales to win the Grand National was Kirkland way back in 1905.
Nicholls has four chances to gain a second John Smith's Grand National this year, headed by Tidal Bay. The 12-year-old has been revitalised since joining the Somerset handler and landed the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, Ireland, over Christmas. Nicholls could also be represented by What A Friend and Harry The Viking, who are both part-owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, as well as Join Together, who was second over the famous fences in the Becher Chase in December.
Jonjo O'Neill, who went so close with Sunnyhillboy last year having trained Don't Push It to win in 2010, has five entries in 2013. In addition to Sunnyhillboy, the Gloucestershire-based handler could also be represented by the multiple Grade 1 scorer Albertas Run, Cheltenham Festival winner Alfie Sherrin, Lost Glory and Mister Hyde.
The name McCain is synonymous with the John Smith's Grand National, with the late Ginger McCain sending out the great Red Rum to three Grand National victories in the 1970s followed by Amberleigh House in 2004 and his son Donald enjoying success with Ballabriggs in 2011. Ballabriggs, sixth in 2012, is one of five entries for Donald McCain this year along with Across The Bay, Cloudy Lane, who has run three times in the Grand National and won the Fox Hunters over the big fences last season, Fabalu and Weird Al.
The progressive Wyck Hill, successful on four of his last six starts, comes from the stable of David Bridgwater. As a jockey, Bridgwater finished second in the 1996 Grand National on Encore Un Peu.
There are a total of 32 Irish-trained entries, with Ireland's champion jump trainer Willie Mullins having seven hopefuls, more than any other handler. The Mullins septet includes the leading contenders Prince De Beauchene, a winner over the Mildmay course at the 2011 Grand National meeting and On His Own, who was still travelling well in third when falling at Becher's on the second circuit of last season's Grand National. Mullins saddled Hedgehunter to land the Aintree showpiece in 2005.
Another Irish trainer to have previously sent out the winner of the Grand National is Ted Walsh, who was triumphant with Papillon in 2000. He has two strong contenders this year, including last year's third Seabass, ridden by his amateur rider daughter Katie, and Colbert Station, who entered the reckoning for the Grand National when taking a valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is the most successful current trainer in the Grand National, having enjoyed two successes with Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002). He has four entries this year, headed by the 2010 Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander, who made an excellent return to action on Saturday, January 26 following nearly two years when just touched off in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham.
David Pipe, who saddled Comply Or Die to win the Grand National in 2008, also has four to choose from including the talented performer The Package, while Venetia Williams, trainer of the shock winner Mon Mome in 2009, has three possible starters - Katenko, the winner of his last two races, Summery Justice and Pentiffic.
Weights for the 2013 Grand National will be revealed on February 12.