04/06/2006 12:00AM

Hedgehunter seeks repeat


Hedgehunter goes in search of a second successive victory in the 4 1/2-mile, $1.22 million Grand National Steeplechase Handicap at Aintree on Saturday. Hedgehunter is emboldened by a sharp second-place finish in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month, but has been saddled with co-highweight of 168 pounds, along with last year's runner-up, Royal Auclair.

In last year's race, Hedgehunter received nine pounds from Royal Auclair while giving him a resounding 14-length beating. Royal Auclair was 13 lengths behind Hedgehunter at equal weights in the Gold Cup, so his chances of reversing the 2005 result look slim.

Trained by Willie Mullins, Hedgehunter will once again have two-time Grand National winner Ruby Walsh aboard for the grueling test over 30 of the toughest fences in steeplechasing, but the 10-year-old Hedgehunter is only the 6-1 second choice behind the 5-1 Clan Royal.

Clan Royal was the unluckiest of losers in last year's Grand National when he was carried off the course by a loose horse after being six lengths in the lead approaching Becher's Brook the second time around.

Anyone looking to beat the two favorites might consider last year's Irish Grand National winner, Numbersixvalverde, or Innox, who was seventh at Aintree last year and has won his last two. But if Clan Royal, in at 150 pounds, runs his race, he will be hard to beat.