04/10/2005 12:00AM

Hedgehunter wins Grand National by 14 lengths


Hedgehunter gave the bookies a heavy beating on Saturday as the 7-1 favorite powered his way to a 14-length victory in a drama-packed Grand National Steeplechase Handicap at Aintree.

In giving jockey Ruby Walsh his second victory in the $1.3 million, 4 1/2-mile marathon, the Willie Mullins-trained Hedgehunter gouged the bookies badly, as a good portion of the $475 million bet on the race was placed on the winner. But while Hedgehunter's rather handy score over the 40-1 shot and second highweight Royal Auclair made up for his fall at the final fence last year when he was a close third, his victory may have been the result of a freakish incident at Becher's Brook the second time around.

Last year's runner-up Clan Royal was cruising in front at the stage by five lengths when a loose horse cut in front of him as he and jockey Tony McCoy were preparing to take the famous obstacle. Clan Royal had to veer wildly to his left and was carried out of the race by the troublemaker. The bookies could heave a sigh of relief at Clan Royal's exit, for should he have won, they would have suffered even greater losses than they did with Hedgehunter winning.

Hedgehunter's victory was all the more remarkable in that his rider had briefly lost an iron one fence prior to Becher's the second time around, at which point he was left in the lead by Clan Royal's mishap. The 66-1 Simply Gifted was third with the 18-1 It Takes Time fourth while the 8-1 Forest Gunner, whose rider Carrie Ford was attempting to become the first female rider to win the Grand National, was fifth after having lost his place following a mistake at the 12th of the 30 fences.