04/12/2007 12:00AM

Simon has Grand National shot


The last two winners of the the Grand National Steeplechase, Numbersixvalverde and Hedgehunter, meet again in Saturday's $1.38 million renewal at Aintree, but the 4 1/2-mile test over 30 of the world's most demanding fences is a wide-open, 40-runner affair in which the favorite, Joe's Edge, could go off as high as 9-1.

Numbersixvalverde held off the 2005 winner, Hedgehunter, last year, but both have been off form of late. Joe's Edge - at 142 pounds carrying 24 fewer than Hedgehunter and 15 fewer than Numbersixvalverde - earned the favorite's role by winning a 3 1/8-mile Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham in March. He was, however, beaten 35 lengths when he ran 10th behind Eurotrek in the 3 1/4-mile Becher Handicap Chase in November. Eurotrek must carry second highweight of 162 pounds on Saturday.

At 148 pounds, last April's Irish Grand National winner, Point Barrow, is the 10-1 second favorite.

The selection here, however, is the 16-1 Simon. He is coming off a 10-length win in the three-mile Racing Post Chase at Kempton on Feb. 24. The distance may pose a question for him, but he is improving and in relatively light at 151 pounds.

French invader L'Ami, second to Kauto Star in Newbury's three-mile Aon Chase on Feb. 10 is a danger with Tony McCoy ABOARD despite his 162-pound assignment. Fanciers of female runners have the 25-1 Liberthine, an 8-year-old mare who won a 2 5/8-mile handicap over these fences last April.

Longshot players should consider the 50-1 Zabenz.