There’s plenty to whet the appetite before the Irish Grand National, with the €100,000 Grade Two Devenish Chase spicing things up nicely at Fairyhouse before the big one.
Only six go to post, with Gordon Elliott’s Cheltenham Festival winner The Storyteller leading the way, but the form horse looks to be Snow Falcon, trained by Noel Meade, as the Meath trainers duke it out on home soil.
2.05 FARMHOUSE FOODS NOVICE HANDICAP HURDLE 2m
Favourites have struggled, with just two obliging in the last 10 renewals – there have been three 25/1 winners in that time – so caution is advised in a 22-runner minefield.
Only two horses carrying more than 11st have prevailed in the last 10 years so the wise option may be to scan away from the bigger hitters.
Pairc Na Ngael (10-11) is an interesting contender in the JP McManus silks for Charles Byrnes and a market check is advised for Mark Walsh’s mount on his handicap debut.
The selection is Quantatmental (10-13), however, as Gavin Cromwell’s four-year-old won at his ease over course and distance in February before a fine effort when fifth in a decent handicap hurdle at Ascot.
Verdict: Quantatmental can make the frame under Jonathan Moore.
2.40 GRADE TWO RATHBARRY & GLENVIEW STUDS JUVENILE HURDLE 4YO 2m
Nine go to post but this looks like it can be whittled down to three, with Elliott’s Coeur Sublime the one to beat going on the form book.
Coeur Sublime looked a winner at the last in the Triumph Hurdle only for Pentland Hills to assert dominance on the run-in and with that form well and truly franked at Aintree earlier this month, Davy Russell’s mount will take some catching.
Joseph O’Brien’s Gardens Of Babylon was four lengths back in third at Cheltenham and should mount a significant challenge under Mark Walsh, while Padraig Roche’s Way Back Home may be best of the rest.
An improvement on his Grade Three victory at this course two months ago could see him make the frame for the Kildare trainer, but Coeur Sublime should land the odds.
Verdict: This looks like an ideal opportunity for Coeur Sublime (Nap).
3.15 FAIRYHOUSE STEEL HANDICAP HURDLE 2m6f
Only two favourites have prevailed in the last 10 renewals, but Eight And Bob will endeavour to buck that trend for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
The six-year-old has improved at a rate of knots – climbing 45lbs since last September – and looked better than ever when comfortably scoring here back in February.
The worry, however, is that the handicapper may have his number by now and Mormon is preferred at the prices for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.
Having improved steadily to get off the mark at the third time of asking, Mormon ran a blinder when second in a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown in February and is open to any amount of improvement.
Verdict: Mormon can reward punters in a notoriously tricky affair.
3.50 GRADE TWO KEELINGS IRISH STRAWBERRY HURDLE 2m4f
Mullins has won this five times in the last 10 years and Wicklow Brave is his sole challenger having just been touched off in the Coral Cup.
The form of his Limestone Lad Hurdle second to subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’Allen has worked out a treat and good ground is a major plus for the 10-year-old.
The market is generally a good guide with no horse bigger than 7/1 landing the odds in the past decade and Petit Mouchoir is likely to be one of the market leaders as the highest rated of the seven runners.
It may pay to side with an improving sort, however, and Off You Go ticks a lot of boxes. Winner of the Ladbrokes Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, the surface hasn’t been scratched on the potential of Byrnes’ six-year-old.
The form of his second to Tiger Roll in the Grade Two Boyne Hurdle on his last run has been given the highest endorsement by the dual National winner and he can continue his upward curve under Mark Walsh.
Verdict: Off You Go can get the better of Wicklow Brave.
4.20 GRADE TWO DEVENISH CHASE 2m4f
With last year’s winner Un De Sceaux taken out yesterday, this lacks any real star quality, with few bringing strong recent form to the table.
A notable exception is Meade’s Snow Falcon. Not seen since dishing out a beating to the likes of Shattered Love, Monalee and The Storyteller in a Grade Two at Down Royal in November, the nine-year-old will have ground to his liking in the hands of Sean Flanagan.
The Storyteller – a fortuitous Grade One winner as a novice – hasn’t progressed for Elliott and comes here on the back of a poor showing when pulled up in the Raynair Chase.
The same can be said of stablemate Doctor Phoenix – which looked a likely winner 12 months ago before falling at the last – and an in-form Snow Falcon looks the most solid option, with De Bromhead’s Ordinary World expected to give him most to think about.
Verdict: Snow Falcon can get the job done and land another Grade Two.
5.00 BOYLESPORTS IRISH GRAND NATIONAL
from Our Duke’s success two years ago, you have to stretch back to Commanche Court’s win in 2000 for the last horse to carry more than 11st or more to victory in the Boylesports Irish Grand National (5.0).
Lumping around big weight over a stamina-sapping 3m5f trip is much easier said than done and it highlights the scale of the task facing those at the head of the handicap in today’s Fairyhouse showpiece.
None more so than top-weight Tout Est Permis (11-7), which has climbed 29lbs since switching to Noel Meade from Mouse Morris following victories in the Troytown and a Grade Two triumph at Thurles.
There’s no doubting the class of Sean Flanagan’s mount but that’s a hefty burden to overcome for a young horse in the early stages of his career while the same can be said for many of the other market principles.
American Grand National winner Jury Duty (11-6) – one of Gordon Elliott’s dozen runners – comes here having failed to make it around in the English National, much like inconsistent stablemate Dounikos (11-6).
Pairofbrowneyes (11-5) could go off favourite in this race for the second year running as Willie Mullins looks to break his duck in the €500,000 contest but the ten-year-old looks poorly handicapped off a rating of 155 following his Leinster National success.
Any Second Now (11-0) comes here on the back of a Cheltenham Festival success – which belatedly broke his duck over fences – but Ted Walsh’s charge has been a frustrating horse to follow and others are preferred given his place at the head of the market.
The statistics aren’t in the favour of six-year-olds either, with Organisedconfusion (2011) the first winner at that age since Rhyme ‘n’ Reason in 1985, and that adds even more difficulty for the likes of Tout Est Permis and Burrows Saint.
Burrows Saint (10-8) is having just his fourth chase start – he won a Grade Three at Limerick over 3m on his last start – and Ruby Walsh will need to utilise all of his big-race experience to ensure Mullins’ charge can cope with the hustle and bustle of a 30-runner cavalry charge.
The Closutton maestro has seven challengers, with last year’s runner-up Isleofhopendreams (10-7) not without an each-way chance as his conqueror chases his place in National history.
General Principle (10-8) returns to the scene of his greatest victory as Elliott’s ten-year-old attempts to become the first back-to-back winner since Brown Lad (1975/’76) and follow in the footsteps of recent dual Aintree National winner Tiger Roll.
His owner Michael O’Leary – who has won three of the last four runnings of Ireland’s most valuable jumping prize – has a whopping 12 contenders and it’s always hard to ascertain the chances of some of his runners due to their uninspiring form figures.
One of particular interest, however, is bottom-weight Arkwrisht (9-13) and based on his run in this race 12 months ago, Joseph O’Brien’s charge is a massive price as he hovers near the bottom of the betting, with odds of 50/1 flying around in many places.
The nine-year-old was bang there at the last fence only for Bellshill to drift violently left and ruin his challenge before coming home sixth in bottomless conditions.
O’Brien has always thought that there was a big race in him and today could be the day as he runs off 2lb lower than last year with Andrew Ring in the saddle and he could spring a massive surprise.
Of the other runners, Snugsborough Benny (10-9) is another that catches the eye and what a fairytale story it would be should he prevail for small Laois trainer Liam Cusack and Denis O’Regan.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility either, as O’Regan’s mount has proved himself more than capable over staying distances and landed the Blazers Handicap Chase at the Galway Festival last summer before getting the better of the smart Call It Magic at this track two months ago.
Paddy Power Chase winner Auvergnat (10-7) – one of five runners for JP McManus – is also of interest for Limerick handler Enda Bolger. The English challenge is two-fold with Jonjo O’Neill – who brought the spoils back across the Irish Sea five years ago with Shutthefrontdoor – saddling Minella Rocco (10-12).
The 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup second has not shown anything like that type of form in recent seasons and faces a stiff challenge, while the same can be said of Tom Lacey’s Kimberlite Candy.
This should be totally dominated by the home team and Arkwrisht is taken to make the frame at big odds and possibly add another milestone in O’Brien’s remarkable career.
5.40 FRED KENNY LIFETIME SERVICE TO RACING HANDICAP CHASE 3m150yds
Three years ago Rogue Angel was winning the Irish National on this card, but off a rating of 135, the 11-year-old can be competitive for Elliott and Jack Kennedy.
Carrying top-weight will be a difficult task, however, and there are plenty of young guns taking aim, with Sizing Rome of particular interest for Jim Dreaper and Keith Donoghue.
A fine winner over a trip short of his optimum at Thurles (2m4f) last month, this stamina test should be even more to his liking with ground conditions to suit.
Verdict: Sizing Rome is a tentative selection in an open affair.
6.10 CAWLEY FURNITURE INH FLAT RACE 2m
McManus forked out €380,000 for Andy Dufresne and he looked to be worth every cent when scorching to success on his racecourse debut at Down Royal in January.
Elliott’s five-year-old had been mooted as a Cheltenham candidate, but connections sidestepped the Festival, although this is still a tough test with Champion Bumper fifth Mt Leinster bringing solid form to the table for Mullins with son Patrick aboard.
The Very Man is another to note having beaten subsequent winner Neptune on his racecourse debut at Navan in December and Elliott’s second string will make this a good test, although the classy Andy Dufresne should oblige.
Verdict: Andy Dufresne can escape with victory in the lucky last.
Cheltenham Racing TOP TIPS FROM OUR EXPERTS
5.0 1. Burrows Saint, 2. Bellow Mome, 3. Auvergnat, 4. Any Second Now
2.05 Elm Grove
2.40 Gardens Of Babylon
3.15 Spades Are Trumps
3.50 Off You Go
4.20 Snow Falcon
5.00 Shattered Love
5.40 Sizing Rome
6.10 Andy Dufresne
2.05 The Mouse Doctor
2.40 Gardens Of Babylon
3.50 Wicklow Brave
4.20 Ordinary World
5.00 Snugsborough Benny
5.40 Mon Lino
6.10 Andy Dufresne