Noel Meade feels soft ground is key to the chances of ante-post favourite Thedevilscoachman in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.
The JP McManus-owned seven-year-old has won three of his six starts over fences to date, supplementing four victories from six outings over hurdles.
His only defeat in four chase appearances so far this season came in December’s Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse when falling at the final fence, since when he has registered back-to-back Grade Three victories at Naas and Limerick.
He carries a 2lb penalty for the latter success a fortnight ago and Meade is hopeful he can make his presence felt if conditions are suitable and he can overcome a perceived lack of experience.
“Everything is good at the moment, we’re just hoping the ground doesn’t dry up too much,” he said.
“Everything has gone good since he won in Limerick. He’s still only a novice and he has to overcome that. He hasn’t had that many runs over fences, but we’re hopeful.
“He certainly stays three miles well. You don’t really know about three-mile-five until you have a go so we’ll see, but hopefully he will stay.”
Thedevilscoachman is one of three runners for Meade, who won the 2002 Irish Grand National with The Bunny Boiler.
Lieutenant Command and Farceur Du Large are both outsiders for Gigginstown House Stud, but Meade believes it would be dangerous to dismiss them, adding: “They’re definitely not out of it.
“Lieutenant Command wants good ground and the better the ground, the better the chance he’ll have. Again the trip is a bit of an unknown with him, but he’s a fine horse and if we get good ground he’ll certainly give a good account of himself.
“Farceur Du Large was running a good race in the Paddy Power Chase in Leopardstown over Christmas and then made a mistake which put him out of it.
“He unshipped Bryan (Cooper) at the first the last day and it’s hard to get that of your head, but he’s still a horse who could run well if things go his way.”
Sam Curling’s Angels Dawn and the Gavin Cromwell-trained Stumptown renew rivalry after being separated by only a neck when first and second in the Kim Muir at last month’s Cheltenham Festival.
Curling said: “She came out of Cheltenham well and we’ve been happy with her since, so all is good.
“They’re giving a bit of rain tonight, so you’d hope the ground will be soft and there’s plenty in our favour hopefully.
“For a small yard like ours, it’s great to have a runner in an Irish Grand National with a chance and we’re looking forward to it.”
The powerhouse stables of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott are well represented, with Mullins saddling I Am Maximus, Tenzing and Dolcita, while Chemical Energy and The Goffer are two of eight for Elliott.
I Am Maximus finished fourth in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham and he was subsequently bought by JP McManus, whose racing manager Frank Berry said: “He ran well at Cheltenham. He’s still a maiden (over fences) but it’s a good race for novices and Willie is very happy with him. We’re hoping to see a good run in what is a very competitive race.”
Other leading hopes include Martin Brassil’s Panda Boy, Henry de Bromhead’s Amirite and Barry Connell’s Espanito Bello, while Joseph O’Brien has a couple of chances in Fire Attack and Busselton.
He said: “Fire Attack would love soft ground whereas Busselton is seen to best effect on slightly better ground, but he’s been a very consistent horse.
“Fire Attack has had a couple of falls. He’s actually a good jumper, but he’s made a couple of silly mistakes and fell in the Kerry National.
“He’s been a little bit unlucky, but he’s threatened to win a big race and I think he will when things fall his way.”