Lionel Messi and new signing Luis Suarez are set to star as David Beckham-owned Inter Miami kick off Major League Soccer’s biggest season yet.

More eyes are on the United States and Canada’s top division than ever before as the league’s 29th season gets under way in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.

It is MLS’ earliest ever start to a campaign and begins with a standalone fixture as Miami play host to Real Salt Lake at newly renamed, and freshly upgraded, Chase Stadium.

Not only is the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner fit for Wednesday’s opener but Suarez is expected to make his competitive debut following his winter switch to Florida from Brazilian side Gremio.

Messi will be involved having overcome the inflamed adductor issue that saw him miss a high-profile pre-season friendly in Hong Kong, sparking fury from expectant ticket-holders.

“They’re playing and they’re ready to play,” Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said of Messi and the former Liverpool striker.

“If they’re required to play 90 minutes, we’re going to look at it always depending on the need of the team.”

Suarez is the latest former Barcelona star to rock up in Miami, where he has joined Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.

“It’s good, very positive,” left-back Alba said on the eve of the MLS opener. “When we got here we found a coach, players and staff who are spectacular. Like a family. They treat us very well.

“For Luis, besides the fact we’re friends, he is going to bring us a lot in attack and is a great player.

“(The younger players) always listen when we talk and we are here to give them advice. We all get along well.

“In all teams you have veterans and young players, building a positive environment for the benefit of the team.”

Messi, Busquets and Alba have already won their first trophy in Miami’s eye-catching pink kit, having roared to victory in the inaugural Leagues Cup last year.

The competition provided a memorable start to their life in North America and Alba is eyeing more silverware this term.

“We have a lot of big players but that doesn’t mean anything, you have to show what you can do,” the former Spain international said. “It is going to be hard.

“Hopefully we can win all the titles. I understand the fans’ enthusiasm and the expectations they have for the team, but we have to show it on the field and we think we’re on a good path.”

The newest franchise in the Republic Bank Caribbean Premier League (CPL) has been launched. The Antigua & Barbuda Falcons were officially unveiled during a gala opening ceremony hosted by the franchise owners – WORLDWIDE Sports Management Group. Parimatch, the number one global gaming platform will proudly serve as the main sponsor of the team.

The event was held on Tuesday evening at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, which will be the home of Antigua & Barbuda Falcons when they compete in the 2024 edition of the Republic Bank CPL – the Biggest Party in Sport.

Krishna (Kris) Persaud, Founder and President of WORLDWIDE Sports Management Group was thrilled as he showcased the new team’s name and the colorful and dynamic logo for the first time to excited guests. Mr. Persaud also expressed delight in having the team officially on board for the regional event, which attracts sold-out audiences for matches.

“We are brand new; we are here, we are ready … let’s get ready to play! The Antigua & Barbuda Falcons will bring a unique energy and vitality to the Republic Bank CPL. We are ready to fly high and conquer what is before us. We want to establish a winner’s culture within the team and also a culture of winning and success off the field – among every individual associated with this franchise and the amazing fans we will have at our special home base at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in lovely Antigua," Persaud said.

“What you are witnessing today as we unveil the Antigua & Barbuda Falcons, is something truly special and I want to thank the Government of Antigua & Barbuda, who have worked closely with us to bring the Antigua & Barbuda Falcons to life. Antigua is our home … this country has a rich cricket history, and the Antigua & Barbuda Falcons will create more great history on these shores. It is now time for the Falcons to fly high," he added.

Details on the overall structure of the Antigua & Barbuda Falcons and the coaching and management staff for the team will be announced at a later date.

The 2024 Republic Bank CPL will take place from August 28 to October 6 with games taking place in Antigua for the first time in 10 years. The final will once again take place in Guyana at The National Stadium in Providence.  The tournament will also plans to have matches in Barbados, Guyana, St Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago. Once again, the window for the CPL will not clash with West Indies fixtures, so the best Caribbean talent will be on show at the Biggest Party in Sport.

Jeff Miller, CEO and General Manager of the Franchise was delighted at its return.

“Welcome back Antigua & Barbuda! This is where the ‘party’ in cricket started, and we are delighted to be back for this exciting event. We plan to have a full house for every match with our Antigua & Barbuda Falcons on show. This is what we have been waiting for. It will be amazing to see the Sir Vivian Richard Stadium packed and our lovely super fans enjoying the action and the atmosphere, as well as seeing great cricket on the field, the non-stop party in the stands and all the festivities that come with cricket in the West Indies," he said.

Having found a good blend of local and overseas-based players, young Reggae Boyz Head coach John Wall will now be hoping his team can execute efficiently throughout their Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Championship campaign.

Wall and his 21-member team, which includes 10 overseas-based players, are scheduled to arrive in St Kitts and Nevis on Wednesday where they are expected to fine tune preparations for their Group F assignment against Martinique, Grenada and Bermuda.

The Swedish tactician named his final squad following two warm-up fixtures against their Trinidad and Tobago counterparts, and one against their senior club outfit in the twin island republic. They first lost 2-3 to Trinidad and Tobago, but won the second contest 3-1, with a goalless stalemate against the club team.

Despite those results, Wall in a recent interview, expressed pleasure with his team's display for the most part.

“Three games, three different outcomes, but mainly it (the camp) was just to build a solid foundation in our style of play, how the environment is, what we value and what it takes to play in the national setting. So, it gave me a lot of answers as to where the players are at present, and what needs to be assessed as we move forward towards St Kitts, so hopefully the process can continue ahead of the tournament,” Wall said.

With Jamaica failing to qualify for the Under-20 Men’s World Cup since Argentina 2001, the hope is that Wall’s side will better the country’s quarterfinals run from Honduras in 2022, to accomplish the qualifying feat.

The young Reggae Boyz will open against Martinique on Saturday, followed by a clash with Grenada on February 26, before closing against Bermuda two days later.

“For me it’s about controlling the controllable at this point in terms of what we can do,” Wall, who is assisted by former Reggae Boyz defender Rudolph Austin, declared.

“My hope and aspiration (for the tournament) lie in the work that we put down and not the talent that we assess, so we have to do the work consistently because ultimately what I care about is making sure that Jamaica prevails,” he added.

Only the group winners will progress to the next phase of the Concacaf Under-20 tournament to join the top teams –United States, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic –ranked in that order.

Squad -Akeem Bernard (Phoenix Academy), Joshua Grant (Real Salt Lake), Taywane Lynch (Mount Pleasant FA), Romain Blake (Chicago Fire), Michael Forbes (Cavalier), Adrian Reid Jr (Cavalier), Ronaldo Barrett (Cavalier), Ahir Dixon (Woodstock Academy), George Grant Jr (Middlesbrough FC), Kyron Horsley McKay (Millwall FC), Alexander Bicknell (Leixoes SC), Malachi Welch (Leyton Orient), Christopher Ainsworth (Cavalier), Brian Burkett (Dunbeholden FC), Dunsting Cohen (Vere United FC), Denzel McKenzie (Phoenix Academy), Robino Gordon (Phoenix Academy), Fabian Reynolds (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Ashton Gordon (Atlanta United), Nick Simmonds (Richmond Kickers), Tyrese Gowe (Dunbeholden FC)

Left-arm spinner Gudakesh Motie and wicketkeeper/batsman Tevin Imlach have joined the Guyana Harpy Eagles for the third round of the West Indies Four-Day Championship, with spinners Steven Sankar and Richie Looknauth making way.

Imlach will also take over the role of captaincy from Kevlon Anderson. The Guyana Cricket Board made the announcement on Tuesday, adding that Anderson will now serve as vice-captain, a role previously held by opener Matthew Nandu.

Harpy Eagles, defending champions of the tournament, take on West Indies Academy from February 21 at the Coolidge Cricket Ground in Antigua.

The return of the West Indies pair Motie and Imlach is a significant boost to the Harpy Eagles, who have had an inauspicious start to their title defence.

After three days of their opening round match against Trinidad and Tobago Red Force were rained out at the Conaree Sports Club in St. Kitts, forcing a draw, the Harpy Eagles suffered a massive 273-run defeat at the hands of the Leeward Islands Hurricanes in round two at Warner Park, St. Kitts.

Guyana Harpy Eagles squad: Kevlon Anderson (captain), Matthew Nandu (vice-captain), Veerasammy Permaul, Antony Adams, Kevin Sinclair, Isai Thorne, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Raymond Perez, Ronaldo Alimohamed, Gudakesh Motie, Kemol Savory (wicketkeeper), Tevin Imlach and Neiland Cadogan.

Officials at Aintree believe they are better prepared to deal with any protests that may occur at this season’s Randox Grand National, after last year’s race was delayed by around 15 minutes.

More than 100 protesters from animal rights group Animal Rising were arrested after some managed to get onto the course.

The Jockey Club, which owns Aintree, was able to put more stringent plans in place by the time of the Derby at Epsom in June, when it secured an injunction which made it illegal for anyone to attempt to get on the track.

Aintree clerk of the course Sulekha Varma said: “We’re lucky that we’ve got a very good relationship with the police and we will take guidance from them.

“We learned a lot last year, and we saw that at Epsom, so we are going into this year with a different outlook.”

Dickon White, Aintree and North West regional director of the Jockey Club, said: “We’ve had nothing at all (threat of protests).

“We’re still reviewing last year’s incidents, as we would through the normal planning process with Merseyside Police and our security advisers. But there’s nothing at this stage which tells us there is going to be anything different to previous years. At this stage we’re not planning to do anything different.”

Nicholas Wrigley, outgoing chairman at Aintree, felt the incident emphasised just what place the race still holds in the public consciousness.

“What last year showed was how important the Grand National is, not just to racing but to the general public. It triggered a National debate which went on for days,” he said.

“It showed what the future is and what the future may hold for jumps racing. What was clear was the one thing that was at the front of everything was the safety of the horse.

“It’s why we’ve spent so long discussing everything, making everything safer for the horse because that is vital for the future of the race.

“What Sulekha and Dickon and the team have done is so important going forwards and we need all the people to support the changes and what Lucinda (Russell) and Peter (Scudamore) said in the aftermath of last year’s race which they won (with Corach Rmabler) was very helpful.

“We need people to focus on the horse rather than looking back in time at what has gone before so we’ll be asking people to get behind the changes.”

Those changes involve a new start time of 4pm, moving the first fence nearer to the starting tape and perhaps more significantly reducing the field to 34 from 40 runners.

“The changes were made on the back of the review, which happens every year, and my thought is always how do we keep the race moving forwards,” said Varma.

“The biggest change is the reduction to 34 runners and that is down to the way the race is run. Since the changes to the fences 10 years ago as it has altered the speed of the race.

“We couldn’t move the start so we’ve moved the first fence 60 yards closer and that worked in the Becher and Grand Sefton. The change in race time is also helpful as it stops some of the build up of pressure.”

As the news of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s pending retirement continues to soak in, Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) president Christopher Samuda is among those already expressing gratitude to the decorated athlete, whose life and legacy on the track, has been an inspiration to many across the global sporting landscape.

In fact, Samuda hinted at his association's plans to celebrate the legacy of Jamaican sprint icon, who will hang up her spikes after the Olympic Games in Paris, later this year.

Since she won Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008, Fraser-Pryce has enjoyed one of the most dominating careers in track and field history, as she tallied eight Olympic medals, including three gold, 16 medals at the World Athletics Championships, which includes 10 world titles, and ranks as the third fastest woman in history with 10.60 seconds in the 100m.

But she is not quite done yet, as she will certainly be aiming to add to those accolades and, by extension, fittingly end her illustrious career on a high.

“Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will retire from the track, but it will always be her stomping ground, given the lessons she taught and her legacy will remain. What an athlete. She is a culture of absolute discipline, courage and resilience. An Olympian and World Champion whose enduring commitment to country is inspiring,” Samuda told SportsMax.TV.

“She is a global sporting ambassador whose credentials are well known and are accepted by many countries. The Jamaica Olympic Association will honour those attributes which resided in ‘Pocket Rocket’, and which are now gaining ineffable expression in ‘Mommy Rocket’,” he added.

On that note, Samuda, while reflecting on her many accomplishments, highlighted that Fraser-Pryce is only human, who has given her all to the demands of balancing sport with family life.

“More importantly, she's a daughter, a mother, a wife, and a colleague. An Olympian, a human being endowed with a humanity that embodies goodwill, and a smile that comes from the heart. She embodies a spirit and personhood that makes her not just a gold medalist, but more importantly a standard bearer,” Samuda shared.

“What an explosion she has been on life's track which will forever bear her indelible footprints,” he noted.

The 37-year-old Fraser-Pryce in a recent interview, explained that her decision to retire after this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris stems from her wanting to dedicate more time to her family.

“My son needs me. My husband and I have been together since before I won in 2008. He has sacrificed for me and it’s because of that support that I’m able to do the things that I have been doing for all these years. I think I now owe it to them to do something else,” Fraser-Pryce said.

The vivacious athlete’s win in Beijing made her first Jamaican woman to win an Olympic 100m gold, and her follow-up victory in 2012 made her only the third woman to win back-to-back Olympic titles. She joined other greats Wyoma Tyus and Gail Devers of the USA to accomplish the feat.

Fraser-Pryce’s 2009 World 100m title in Berlin, saw her become the first woman to hold Olympic and World titles simultaneously, a feat she accomplished twice with victories in London in 2012 and Moscow in 2013.

Trainer Willie Mullins – Capodanno (11st 4lb), I Am Maximus (11st 2lb), Janidil (11st 2lb), Asterion Forlonge (11st 1lb), Stattler (11st 1lb), Classic Getaway (11st), James Du Berlais (10st 9lb), Bronn (10st 8lb), Mr Incredible (10st 7lb), Adamantly Chosen (10st 5lb), Meetingofthewaters (10st 4lb), Glengouly (10st 3lb) and Ontheropes (10st).

“Once we get a look at the weights in more detail then we’ll be firming up plans for the National. There are some very interesting looking ratings there and we’d love to have horses with real chances for the race.

“It would be an honour to have another winner of the Grand National on our CV (with Hedgehunter), but we’ve already been very lucky to have won it once and been placed a couple of times. It’s a world-renowned race and always a great day out for anyone with a runner in it – it’s the day that Liverpool is on the world map.

“The Grand National is certainly an option for Capodanno, and Mr Incredible (unseated at 24th fence last year and not run since) is one who could come back this year. I’m very happy with his work at home.

“If Meetingofthewaters got in he’d be very interesting.”

Sam Waley-Cohen, owner’s son and Grand National-winning jockey – Noble Yeats (11st 8lb)

“Emmet Mullins is rightly called out as a genius and I think if anyone can do it (train Noble Yeats to win a second Grand National) then Emmet can.

“The plan is still to run him at Cheltenham (in the Stayers’ Hurdle) and then at Aintree. He’s obviously got a liking for the course at Aintree and he’s in good form. Everyone likes a nice weight but we’ll see if he can do it again.

“In many ways (his Grand National win in 2022) still feels like yesterday and feels fresh in the memory. It was such a great day. It’s just great to see him running with such enthusiasm and showing what he can do.

“We always get excited weeks before the Grand National so it’s such a privilege to have a horse like him. It’s so hard to have a horse in these races so I’d say we’re already excited and by the time the day arrives everyone will be nearly boiling over!

“It’ll just be a great family day. My kids will come up and my parents will be there. It’ll be great.”

Trainer Jonjo O’Neill – Monbeg Genius (10st 4lb)

“I worked him this morning and he went lovely. We’re all set for Kelso (Premier Chase, March 2). It’s a nice prep race and the right timing.

“He’s had a few mishaps, nothing serious, and he missed the Welsh Grand National and the Warwick race (Classic Chase), but he’s in grand form now.

“He’s a good jumper normally and he stays well but whether he has enough class for the Grand National, it’s a classier race now, that would be a bit of a doubt if it came down to the last half-mile.”

Trainer Gary Moore – Nassalam (11st 4lb)

“I’d have liked him to be given a bit less (weight), but it could be worse. I did send in an email stating my facts, that while he did win very, very well nothing has come out of the race (the Welsh Grand National) and won since and he’d want to be winning that race if you were even thinking of entering him in the National.

“He overachieved and they underachieved – that’s my thinking. But I guess you need to be that high to get in!

“I’ve never had a Grand National runner before and I’m actually looking forward to training a horse for it. It’s another thing and I’m looking forward to it.

“He had a little break and now we’re starting to try to bring him along slowly. He probably won’t need the ground to be really heavy over four and a half miles.”

Trainer John McConnell – Mahler Mission (11st 1lb)

“I knew he got up to 158 after the Coral Gold Cup so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It’s fine isn’t it? It’s a nice weight.

“He’d be my first National runner. It’s very exciting to be going there with a horse and maybe a horse with a chance as well.

“He had a break after that run and he’s back now in full training. There is a possibility that we could give him a hurdle run maybe, but he’s fine and at the minute he’s very well.

“He definitely wouldn’t be going to Cheltenham though. He doesn’t need to be having a hard race before the National.

“Obviously you need an awful lot of luck and you need to be 110 per cent for it, but he certainly ticks a lot of the boxes.”

British Horseracing Authority handicapper Martin Greenwood is anticipating just a single-figure home representation in this year’s Randox Grand National at Aintree.

A total of 56 of the 87 handicapped entries are trained in Ireland, with the new safety limit of 34 meaning the current minimum rating at the initial weights stage is 149 – with just seven UK runners making that cut as things stand.

Although Greenwood expects the bottom rating to be slightly lower come the day, he does not anticipate a strong British squad numerically. Last year there were 13 British-trained starters, with Lucinda Russell’s Corach Rambler coming home in front for Scotland.

Greenwood said: “If the top 34 stood their ground, there would be seven UK runners. I reckon the cut-off will be about 144, even with a slightly small field. There’s every chance the will be single figures from the UK this year.

“I just get the horses and handicap them, the politics of the sport are nothing to do with me, I just get the horses and give them figures.

“I think the quality is there. Noble Yeats will definitely run, all being well, so the top-weight will be no lower than 165 and who knows with Hewick, they are such a game team. He could run a stormer in the Gold Cup and they might think it is ‘off we go’.”

In previous years the handicapper has taken advantage of what has been termed ‘the Aintree factor’ in allowing some tweaking of the weights, compressing the ratings in the hope of encouraging the best horses to take part.

This year’s top-weight Hewick is off his true mark of 169 following his King George VI Chase success, with Greenwood believing that to be an accurate assessment and a good starting point for the handicap.

Greenwood, who took over handicapping responsibilities from Phil Smith in 2019, said: “There’s no compression at all this year which is the first time, certainly since I’ve been doing the race.

“Hewick was on 169 after the King George and Ireland have rated him the same. I thought the King George flattered him to some extent. We all know his story, it’s a great one but they went flat out at Kempton and it is probably the one race in the calendar year in that division that doesn’t fit in if you like, given the nature of the track.

“We all know he’s a blinking good horse, but 169 is his actual UK rating. I just didn’t think there was any need to tinker.”

Corach Rambler is rated 13lb higher this time around, but Greenwood is far from certain he has got to the bottom of Russell’s charge.

He explained: “Corach Rambler is 159 this year which is the rating Tiger Roll won his second National off for a bit of historical precedence.

“He won off 146 last year but whatever he won by didn’t tell the whole story. He’s an incredible horse, he keeps a lot in the tank, he idles, we all know that and that makes him a handicapper’s nightmare.

“I think he’s going to run a big race and he’s joint-favourite. He ran pretty well on the maths last time in a small field at Haydock (when third in the Betfair Chase in November), he’s got a lot going for him, he’ll be well ridden by Mr (Derek) Fox who knows him very well and that is why he’s joint-favourite.

“(Runner-up) Vanillier ran off 147 last year and this year is 151. You could argue he did everything too late last year but part of that is because Corach Rambler was idling.

“In my eyes nothing would have beaten Corach Rambler last year but Vanillier did shape really well and has been hiding his light under a bushel this year like many do, but I think we know enough about him.”

One horse who does have a sizeable discrepancy in his official rating versus his National weight is the Mouse Morris-trained Foxy Jacks, winner of a cross-country event at Cheltenham in November.

His mark is 147 but he is off 11st in the National, which puts him at a perch of 157, although Greenwood offered his explanation.

He said: “I just have to treat this as any other race, and that is not me being blase. The one horse who sticks out on UK v Ireland ratings is Foxy Jacks but that is because the Irish don’t take into account cross country races so he’s 147 in Ireland and he ran off 149 at Cheltenham in November when he beat Latenightpass. That is why there is 10lb gap.”

Last year’s runner-up Vanillier is the ante-post favourite with most bookmakers following the publication of the weights for this year’s Randox Grand National.

Gavin Cromwell’s grey was rated 147 when finishing best of the rest behind Corach Rambler at Aintree last April and will this year compete from a mark of 151, which does at least guaranteed him a starting berth in what will be a reduced field of 34 runners for the first time.

Reflecting on last year’s performance, Cromwell said: “We were obviously thrilled to be second in the Grand National, but when you’re coming home well like that you do think about what could have been.

“But it was a great moment. We had lots of luck last year. He went round on the inside and got all the luck – you need luck in every National.

“It’s every trainer’s dream to win the Grand National and we’ll certainly give it a good shot again this year anyway.”

Assuming top-weight Hewick takes his chance, Vanillier will carry 10st 8lb on his return to Merseyside.

The nine-year-old has been well beaten in three starts so far this season, finishing fifth behind star two miler El Fabiolo in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork, fifth over hurdles at Punchestown and 15th on his most recent outing in a handicap chase at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.

However, it is clear Cromwell has had one race in mind all along.

He added: “I’d have to be happy enough with that (rating). It’s a lovely racing weight and having been second last year it’s got to be expected.

“He’s been trained for this race really and it’s a case of him coming in the spring – he is a spring horse.

“He’s going to have to improve plenty but he does have the experience of last year.”

When told that Vanillier is the 12-1 favourite with the Grand National’s official betting partner, William Hill, Cromwell laughed: “I won’t be worrying about that, but I hope they’re right!”

The County Meath handler has three other potential National contenders in Letsbeclearaboutit (10st 10lb), Limerick Lace (10st 4lb) and Malina Girl (10st 2lb).

He added: “Letsbeclearaboutit is a possible for the race. He needs one more run to qualify. He’s likely to go to Cheltenham and hopefully that’ll qualify him, but the plan is certainly to go to Aintree.

“Limerick Lace will probably go to Cheltenham. We’ll see how that goes as to whether we go to Aintree. Malina Girl, she’s a fair way down the list but I would like to run her if we can.”

Corach Rambler (11st 2lb) is one of several horses just behind Vanillier in the betting with William Hill at 14-1, while Panda Boy has been cut to 16-1 after being allotted 10st 3lb.

Gordon Elliott’s pair of Delta Work (11st) and Galvin (10st 12lb) have also been trimmed to 25-1 from 33-1 and 40-1 respectively, while Mr Incredible (10st 7lb) has been pushed out to 40-1 from 25-1.

Gordon Elliott has nominated Galvin as one of his leading hopes as he goes in search of a record-equalling fourth victory in the Randox Grand National at Aintree.

The master of Cullentra had not even trained a winner in Ireland when he first struck National gold with Silver Birch in 2007 and he has, of course, since trained the hugely-popular Tiger Roll to land back-to-back runnings of the world most famous steeplechase in 2018 and 2019.

None of Elliott’s five runners in the 2023 Grand National managed to complete the course, but with 23 horses currently entered and qualified for this year’s renewal – including eight in the top 34 guaranteed a start – he is looking forward to having another crack at the Aintree showpiece on April 13.

Elliott, who is looking to join Ginger McCain, Fred Rimell and 19th Century trainer George Dockery as a four-time winner of the race, said: “It’s the greatest race in the world, if you’re not in you can’t win and we’ll probably end up running eight or 10 horses.

“We’ve got a great bunch of horses. It’s still a great thrill for us. We’d love to win it again and if we did it would be very special. Tiger Roll winning it for a second time was unbelievable.”

With an allotted weight of 11st 9lb, Conflated is the highest-rated of Elliott’s 2024 squad, while Coko Beach (11st 4lb), Ash Tree Meadow (11st 2lb) and Delta Work (11st) are all above the 11st mark.

Galvin (10st 12lb) unseated Davy Russell at the first fence 12 months ago, but will be carrying nearly a stone less this time around.

“I think Galvin looks well in – he’s below 11st,” Elliott added.

“He went at the first last year, but he’s only been trained with two races in mind this season, the cross-country race at Cheltenham and the English Grand National. I like him with 10st 12lb.

“There’s every chance Conflated could run and Coko Beach will go for the cross country at Cheltenham and then for the National, that’s the plan. Coko Beach would have a great chance if it was soft.

“Ash Tree Meadow is probably not that well handicapped, I don’t know about him.

“Delta Work is a horse we’re forgetting about, he’s been around a couple of times, he’s not getting any younger but he’s coming down in the weights. He has loads of experience.”

Chemical Energy is an interesting contender, having been bought back by Elliott for €215,000 at the recent dispersal sale of owners Andy and Gemma Brown.

The eight-year-old, who will now carry the colours of Noel and Valerie Moran’s Bective Stud, is 38th in the order of entry with a weight of 10st 5lb.

Elliott said: “We’ve been waiting for nice ground for Chemical Energy. The Grand National has been the plan all year. If the ground was nice he could have a massive chance.”

Considering some of his other potential runners, he went on: “Farouk D’Alene (10st 11lb) might go to the Irish National and Salvador Ziggy (10st 11lb) will go for the National Hunt Chase and could go for the Grand National afterwards.

“All’s good with Fury Road (10st 9lb), he’ll definitely run, and Minella Crooner (10st 6lb) and Run Wild Fred (10st 6lb) will both run if they get in.

“We’ll have to wait and see with Favori de Champdou (10st 4lb) as he might go for the Irish National, but The Goffer (10st 4lb) will definitely run if he gets in.”

Elliott’s other entries are Embittered (10st 3lb), Gevrey (10st 3lb), Fakir D’Alene (10st), Diol Ker (9st 13lb), Riaan (9st 13lb), Samcro (9st 13lb), Dunboyne (9st 11lb), Tullybeg (9st 11lb), Frontal Assault (9st 9lb) and Where It All Began (9st 6lb).

Lucinda Russell expressed her satisfaction after her reigning Grand National hero Corach Rambler was allotted 11st 2lb for the defence of his title at Aintree in April.

The 10-year-old provided his Scottish trainer with her second success in the great race last season when triumphing by two and a quarter lengths under Derek Fox, adding his name to the roll of honour alongside 2017 winner One For Arthur.

He carried a burden of 10st 5lb on that occasion when running off 146, but inevitably the victory has triggered a rise in his rating and he now carries a mark of 159.

Russell had expected the hike as the horse is also a contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and will turn his attentions to Aintree after his visit to the Cotswolds in March.

“It’s more than he carried last year, but I was hoping he’d get around 11st, so 11st 2lb is ideal. I just really hope Shark (Hanlon) runs Hewick (top-weight),” she said.

“His prep is going fine, at the moment he looks super.

“It seems a bit of an odd thing to run him in the Gold Cup and we have entered him in the Ultima (at Cheltenham) too, but he’d be carrying a lot of weight in that.

“He’s a stayer, he loves it round Cheltenham and we’ll take our chance.

“Winning the National is incredibly addictive. When you win it the first time it’s fabulous, when you win it the second time you want three and you think ‘we can do it again!’. It’s obsessive!”

Corach Rambler is ridden at home by Russell’s partner and assistant trainer, the eight-time champion jump jockey Peter Scudamore.

He said of the horse, who was last seen finishing fifth in the Betfair Chase: “We’re very, very happy with him. We just take it each day at a time. He seems to be enjoying his work – I thought he ran a good race at Haydock.

“He clearly enjoys Aintree. He seems to come together this time of year, too.”

Corach Rambler won the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham last March before going on to win the National the following month and Scudamore is confident that his chances of repeating last year’s Aintree feat will not be hindered by his Gold Cup exertions.

He said: “I remember Rough Quest did it (ran in both). Miinnehoma did it. The Gold Cup is a furlong further than the Ultima so I don’t see it being an issue.

“The timing is right. I don’t think if he runs in the Gold Cup that he’d be having a harder race than he did in the Ultima (last year). We had a pattern to work from last year and we’ve tried to stick to it. I think sometimes it’s easier to run well in a conditions race than it is in a top handicap off a high weight.”

Lucinda Russell expressed her satisfaction after her reigning Grand National hero Corach Rambler was allotted 11st 2lb for the defence of his title at Aintree in April.

The 10-year-old provided his Scottish trainer with her second success in the great race last season when triumphing by two and a quarter lengths under Derek Fox, adding his name to the roll of honour alongside 2017 winner One For Arthur.

He carried a burden of 10st 5lb on that occasion when running off 146, but inevitably the victory has triggered a rise in his rating and he now carries a mark of 159.

Russell had expected the hike as the horse is also a contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and will turn his attentions to Aintree after his visit to the Cotswolds in March.

“It’s more than he carried last year, but I was hoping he’d get around 11st, so 11st 2lb is ideal. I just really hope Shark (Hanlon) runs Hewick (top-weight),” she said.

“His prep is going fine, at the moment he looks super.

“It seems a bit of an odd thing to run him in the Gold Cup and we have entered him in the Ultima (at Cheltenham) too, but he’d be carrying a lot of weight in that.

“He’s a stayer, he loves it round Cheltenham and we’ll take our chance.

“Winning the National is incredibly addictive. When you win it the first time it’s fabulous, when you win it the second time you want three and you think ‘we can do it again!’. It’s obsessive!”

Corach Rambler is ridden at home by Russell’s partner and assistant trainer, the eight-time champion jump jockey Peter Scudamore.

He said of the horse, who was last seen finishing fifth in the Betfair Chase: “We’re very, very happy with him. We just take it each day at a time. He seems to be enjoying his work – I thought he ran a good race at Haydock.

“He clearly enjoys Aintree. He seems to come together this time of year, too.”

Corach Rambler won the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham last March before going on to win the National the following month and Scudamore is confident that his chances of repeating last year’s Aintree feat will not be hindered by his Gold Cup exertions.

He said: “I remember Rough Quest did it (ran in both). Miinnehoma did it. The Gold Cup is a furlong further than the Ultima so I don’t see it being an issue.

“The timing is right. I don’t think if he runs in the Gold Cup that he’d be having a harder race than he did in the Ultima (last year). We had a pattern to work from last year and we’ve tried to stick to it. I think sometimes it’s easier to run well in a conditions race than it is in a top handicap off a high weight.”

Shark Hanlon concedes King George hero Hewick is a worthy top-weight for this year’s Randox Grand National at Aintree.

The last-gasp Kempton winner has been handed 11st 12lb for the April 13 spectacular, putting him at the top of the 87 contenders for the extended four-and-a-quarter-mile contest.

A Cheltenham Gold Cup date awaits next month first, however, with Hanlon dreaming of a big-race hat-trick in the crown jewels of the staying chase calendar.

He said: “I knew he’d have top-weight. You have to expect that. He probably deserves top-weight.

“I think the trip will suit him. He’s going for the Gold Cup first and please God he comes out of the Gold Cup safe and if he does he’ll definitely head there (to Aintree).

“It’s a mighty day. It’s one of those days you look forward to all year. The National, the Gold Cup and the King George at Kempton – they’re the three big days in England aren’t they, so it’s great to have a runner there.”

While Hewick – who is one of 56 Irish-trained possibles – has proven himself at Grade One level and numbers the American Grand National on his CV, he is no stranger to major handicaps, with the €850 purchase having prevailed off 11st 7lb in the 2022 Galway Plate after also landing the bet365 Gold Cup off 3lb less.

Hanlon feels conditions rather than weights are key for his contender, with the revised safety limit of 34 meaning there is just 20lb between Hewick and those who would be at the bottom of the field, with Latenightpass, Minella Crooner and Run Wild Fred all sitting on 10st 6lb.

He added: “The most important thing is that he gets good ground. With fewer runners in the race this year, there won’t be quite as much weight between us and the horses at the bottom. In previous years the difference could be a fair bit more and we’d be giving more away.

“He won the Galway Plate off nearly top-weight, he won the bet365 (Oaksey Chase at Sandown Park) off a big weight. It’s not that he’s not used to carrying top-weight and he carries it very well.

“All is great with him and he couldn’t be better. I’m very, very happy with him.”

Last year’s winner Corach Rambler is off 11st 2lb this time for Lucinda Russell, having triumphed carrying 10st 5lb, with the second-placed Vanillier allotted 10st 8lb – just 2lb more than in 2023 – as he tries to turn the tables.

Conflated, one of a battalion of Gordon Elliott-trained entries, is second in the handicap on 11st 9lb while 2022 winner Noble Yeats is 1lb lower, with Emmet Mullins plotting a Stayers’ Hurdle spin at Cheltenham before another Aintree challenge.

Cotswold Chase winner Capodanno is the highest-weighted of Willie Mullins’ team on 11st 4lb – the same weight as Gary Moore’s Welsh National winner, Nassalam.

The John McConnell-trained Mahler Mission has been among the leading contenders for some time and has been given 11st 1lb, with other key names including Henry de Bromead’s pair of 2021 Gold Cup winner Minella Indo (11st 2lb) and Aint That A Shame (10st 9lb), who was a gamble in the race last year but trailed home well beaten.

Six fewer runners will go to post this year as part of safety changes made by Aintree, with the reduction in field size leaving some fancied names already needing a number of runners to drop out.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Monbeg Genius is one of six entries currently sitting on 10st 4lb with a number in the low 40s, which would have been sufficient in many other years to make the final field, while Panda Boy – one of four 14-1 co-second-favourites with William Hill, is rated 1lb below but at a number in the 50s.

Dual Derby winner Auguste Rodin has a ticket to Dubai booked for the Sheema Classic as a mixed turf and dirt campaign beckons.

The Deep Impact colt is out of multiple Group One winner Rhododendron and lived up to his exceptional pedigree when taking both the Derby and Irish Derby last term.

He capped his domestic season by winning another Group One title in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, after which he set sail for Santa Anita and defeated a competitive field to land the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

After that performance there was some discussion as to whether he would retire to stud or stay in training, with connections sportingly choosing the latter option.

A winter break followed and the four-year-old is due to return in the Sheema Classic, run over a mile and a half at the Dubai World Cup fixture in Meydan in late March.

Auguste Rodin did a piece of work on the all-weather track at Dundalk ahead of the journey, after which he has a turf campaign pencilled in before connections expect to discuss running him on a dirt surface.

O’Brien – who runs Luxembourg and Tower Of London in Saudi Arabia on Saturday – said: “That’s the plan for him, the Sheema Classic, then we were thinking of going back for the Tattersalls Gold Cup and then maybe to Ascot for the Prince of Wales’s.

“We’ll have a look at racing him on the dirt after that, it’s very possible with these types of horses that you can push the boundaries a bit and explore a little bit and see what happens.

“He was at Dundalk on Friday, he went a mile and a quarter with three other horses and went very well.

“He came back then and started preparing for Dubai, that’s the plan.”

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