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Ruby Walsh bidding for Grand National glory

Augusta Kate ridden by jockey Ruby Walsh (right) during the Grand Opening Day of the Crabbie's Grand National Festival at Aintree on Thursday
Picture by PA 
PA reporter

RUBY WALSH will partner Sir Des Champs as he seeks to win the Crabbie's Grand National for a third time at Aintree on Saturday.

Successful on Papillon for his father, Ted, in 2000, Walsh struck on Hedgehunter for Willie Mullins in 2005 and now teams up with an old favourite. Sir Des Champs, runner-up in the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup, returned from a near two-year lay-off when winning at Thurles in November but has since been well beaten in both the Lexus Chase and Irish Gold Cup.

The 10-year-old is one of four runners from the Mullins stable and among three owned by the Gigginstown House Stud, who have had no luck in the National so far. Their retained jockey is Bryan Cooper and he has chosen to ride First Lieutenant as he attempts to supplement his success on Don Cossack in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup last month for Gigginstown.

Gigginstown's Eddie O'Leary said: "Bryan rides First Lieutenant, David Mullins rides Rule the World and Ruby's riding Sir Des Champs at the moment. Bryan had first choice.

"Hopefully, they are all ready to go on Saturday."

Patrick Mullins, son and assistant to his father, believes Sir Des Champs is on a fair mark: "He was second in a Gold Cup and like Ballycasey and Sir Des Champs he has a nice weight (10st 13lb) to race off," he said.

"He had a lot of time off and came back and won a Listed race well. We then stepped him up to Grade One company and maybe that was a bit too ambitious with him having a lot of time out."

Bookmakers have taken evasive action, with William Hill cutting Sir Des Champs to 20-1 from 50-1. Spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said: "Punters are banking on Ruby and Willie to deliver the goods with Sir Des Champs, but Many Clouds is still the one we want to dodge."

Mullins junior will be aboard On His Own, who was second in the 2014 Gold Cup. The amateur rider said: "I can't wait to ride in the National and I think it is every jockey's dream to ride in it as it is such a magnificent race with all that history that goes with it.

"He has been there twice and fallen twice, so hopefully it is third time lucky. He was fourth in the Lexus Chase and ran right up to form in the Bobbyjo Chase. He ran in the Gold Cup and he come out of that fine so he goes there in good form. I am grateful for the Wylies (owners, Andrea and Graham) for giving me the ride."

Ruby Walsh's sister Katie, who came closest of any female rider to win the National when finishing third on Seabass in 2012, partners Ballycasey: "He has got a great weight and is a former Grade One winner that has beaten both Don Cossack and Carlingford Lough as a novice chaser," said Mullins jnr.

"He returned to some kind of form when he finished fifth at Cheltenham. He jumped very well in the National last year until coming down with Balthazar King. It looks like he took to the course and with his back class and weight he ticks a lot of the right boxes."

Paul Townend teams up with the Mullins stable's other runner, Boston Bob: "He is a Grade One winner at Aintree and I think he is a little well in after winning the Bobbyjo Chase after the weights for the race came out," said Mullins jnr.

"He looks great and he has a nice weight so if he takes to the track he would have a chance."

Barry Geraghty, successful on Monty's Pass in 2003, has selected Shutthefrontdoor as his ride. The Jonjo O'Neill-trained nine-year-old is one of four horses - the other three being Gallant Oscar, Gilgamboa and Pendra - set to run for Geraghty's boss, owner JP McManus.

Shutthefrontdoor finished fifth in the National 12 months ago under the great Anthony McCoy. Frank Berry, racing manager to McManus, said: "Barry had first pick and he went for Shutthefrontdoor as he has the form round the course.

"He run well in it last year and hopefully he will go well again. Mark Walsh has gone for Gallant Oscar, while Pendra will be ridden by Aidan Coleman and Gilgamboa will be ridden by Robbie Power."

There were no defections following the 48-hour final declaration stage with last year's winner Many Clouds topping a maximum field of 40. As a result, the last horse in the field is The Romford Pele, trained by Rebecca Curtis. It means there is no place for 2014 winner Pineau De Re, nor Alvarado, who has finished fourth for the last two years.

Double Seven, who was third in 2014, and Cheltenham Festival winner Cause Of Causes also miss the cut. However, all eyes will be on the Oliver Sherwood-trained Many Clouds, who will have to carry top weight of 11st 10lb round the unique course if he is to become the first horse since the great Red Rum in 1974 to record back-to-back victories in the world's greatest steeplechase.

Bishops Road is the first of four reserves on standby should any of the top 40 drop out of the race by 1pm on Friday. To ensure he gets an appearance at Aintree, Kerry Lee has declared her Betfred Grand National Trial winner for the Crabbie's Topham Chase on Friday.

The second reserve is the Mick Channon-trained Knock House, while Fergal O'Brien's Perfect Candidate is number three and Maggio, trained in County Dublin by Patrick Griffin, is four.

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