Fairyhouse is the next stop-off for the National Hunt Express, with its Easter extravaganza featuring the Irish Grand National.
The three-day meeting is one of the highlights of the Irish Jump racing calendar, and regularly attracts classy sorts for the valuable and prestigious cards. Easter often falls closer to the Cheltenham Festival, but the gap of a month this year will undoubtedly help in raising the level of talent on display. Yorkhill is one of Ireland’s leading lights, and is expected to compete in the opening day feature; the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase.
The Willie Mullins trained JLT winner is likely to face Gigginstown’s Road To Respect, who also won impressively at the Cheltenham Festival. It could prove a testing race for Yorkhill, especially with his tendency to leap to his left. Though a comfortable winner at the track in December, those jumping quirks were glaringly obvious. There’s no pilot better than Ruby Walsh, but he’s sure to be sweating over this one.
One of the highlights on Sunday will be the Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final, with British interest thanks to Fergal O’Brien and his talented mare Colin’s Sister. The drying ground may be a slight concern for this gorgeous looking six-year-old, who is yet to taste defeat over hurdles. I can’t wait to see her jump a fence, but in the meantime, she faces a battalion of talent from the Mullins yard, including Cheltenham winner Let’s Dance. Sporting the silks of Rich and Susannah Ricci, the five-year-old is undefeated in four starts this winter, and will prove hard to beat.
The Irish Grand National is the feature on Easter Monday, with leading novice Our Duke currently heading the markets. I’m a huge fan, though Jess Harrington’s youngster is likely to have plenty of weight on his back. Rogue Angel took the race last year for Gigginstown, and the team are likely to be mob-handed once again, with Cheltenham winner Tiger Roll sure to prove popular with punters. Jonjo O’Neill has a great record in the race, and looks likely to send Another Hero into battle. The eight-year-old is without doubt suitably named for the task.
The Grade 2 Stawberry Hurdle could well prove one of the highlights of the meeting, with Jezki and Shaneshill, set to take on Gordon Elliott’s new sensation, Sutton Place. The state of the ground is sure to play a part in the leading contenders participation, but this has the looks of a cracking renewal. Jezki looked a non-stayer at Prestbury Park, and this 2m4f trip should prove more to his liking.
Flemenstar stole the show on the final day of the meeting 12 months ago. The wonderful old chaser, landed the Grade 2 Normans Grove Chase. We can also expect classy sorts to contend the EBF Novice Hurdle Final, which last year attracted the talented pair of Coney Island and Road To Respect, both now strutting their stuff to great effect over fences.
The ongoing battle for the trainers’ crown, adds an extra dimension to the Fairyhouse meeting. Though both Mullins and Elliott will look to hold back numerous stars for Punchestown, there’s sure to be plenty of bullets fired at valuable targets over the coming days, with the Closutton outfit still almost €400,000 adrift. Expect valuable handicaps to be crammed with Mullins and Elliott contenders, as both go all-out for the title.