GRAND National hero Red Marauder was back in the limelight this week as he paraded at trainer Norman Mason's stables at an event sponsored by Martell to launch the build-up to next year's Aintree spectacular.

Mason, who also owns the 11-year-old gelding, said the horse may well defend his crown next April despite niggling injury problems.

He said: "Red Marauder's health is our first priority, but we're nursing him along slowly and if all is well in the spring he might well return to Aintree."

He also paid tribute to the role played by jockey Richard Guest, who is assistant trainer at Brancepeth Manor Farm.

"Much of the credit must go to Richard because he is responsible for the day-to-day running of the yard and without him none of this would have happened," said Mason.

Guest is well aware of Red Marauder's long-standing leg injury and is determined not to rush the horse.

He said: "He's in light work at present and we shall just have to see how he goes along between now and February."

Aintree managing director Charles Barnett announced that the total prize money fund for the 2002 Martell Grand National meeting would be £1.64m.

All 21 races at the three-day fixture, starting on April 4, will for the first time carry the Martell prefix.