Jump racing’s ‘National’ season is now upon us and it’s the Irish that get things started on Easter Monday at Fairyhouse.
Run over a trip of 3m5f, the winner of the Boylesports Irish Grand National will scoop prize-money of €152,000. The ground is currently classed as yielding, but with an unsettled forecast the chances are that conditions will be testing by Monday.
As with many marathon races certain trends appear strong and give hope to the punter in hunting down the likely winner. Weight has proved a crucial factor with only two horses in the last 20 years carrying more than 11 stone to victory. Bobbyjo was one of those, and 12 months later he was winning the Grand National at Aintree. The classy Commanche Court was the other, and he was talented enough to place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
In the last 12 renewals only one winner has carried more than 10st 8lbs. Of course this weight carrying trend is great for punters if half the field can be instantly eliminated from their thoughts, however, last year’s renewal saw only two horses carrying 11 stone or more, leaving a stonking 26 potential winners.
The age of those victorious also gives further hope in narrowing down the field. The race has been won by seven and eight-year-olds on seven occasions in the past decade. That stat supports the recent trend that winners tend to be unexposed, indeed a novice cannot be overlooked with 18 successful since the mid-70s, including the last two; Thunder And Roses and Shutthefrontdoor.
That leads us rather neatly to Jonjo O’Neill, the most successful trainer in recent years with a pair of victories from the last nine renewals. He looks to have targeted this year’s race with the promising novice chaser, the seven-year-old Another Hero. Having said that relative inexperience should not prove an issue, this fella only has two chase outings to his name. Shutthefrontdoor had four runs over fences before coming here and winning in 2014. I think it’s a tall order to win this off the back of just two chases, and I’m against him.
The current market leader is Noel Meade’s young mare Bonny Kate. Mares have won two of the last six Irish Nationals, and this six-year-old has won three of her five chase starts. She won at the track back in November and took the Grand National Trial at Punchestown in fine style. She appears to be improving at a fair rate of knots, and has the right sort of profile for this.
Jim Dreaper is fast becoming ‘Mr National’ with his reputation for staying chasers. Notre Pere took the Welsh version back in 2008 and Goonyella has been flying the flag in recent years with a victory in the Midlands National and a runner-up spot in the Scottish National.
Dreaper’s Sizing Coal came third in last year’s Irish National and this year he has another live contender in Venetien De Mai. He’s another progressive youngster and won the Leinster National at Naas last time. He was very strong at the finish that day, and this step up in trip is likely to suit. He’s won or been placed in eight of his nine outings under rules and looks a strong contender.
It’s hard to ignore Gigginstown in any Irish staying chase. Thunder And Roses won for connections last year and they once again have plenty of live hopes for Monday’s race. Sandra Hughes could again run last year’s winner along with the progressive Sub Lieutenant. The latter put in a personal best last time at Naas, and has been mixing it with the best novice chasers in Ireland during the winter. He’s run two solid races at Fairyhouse already this season and looks another with the right sort of profile.
Finally I need to mention one of the elder statesmen, in a race where I’ve been banging on about novices and unexposed types. Gordon Elliott has a great record with staying chasers, and the well- being of his yard was advertised at Cheltenham last week. He sends a handful to Fairyhouse for this and all should come under careful consideration. One that catches the eye at a decent price is the old warrior Bless The Wings.
Though he is now an 11-year-old, he has had a relatively easy campaign over the winter running for the main part in cross-country events. He came close to winning at the Cheltenham Festival, and looks to be running as good as ever. He won over course and distance back in November, and we shouldn’t forget that Elliott’s Aintree’s National winner Silver Birch had run a number of cross-country events in the lead up to his famous victory.
Finding the winner of Monday’s renewal is just as tough as ever, but I’ll be siding with a couple of Irish trainers that know a thing or two about producing useful staying chasers. Jim Dreaper’s Venetien De Mai gets the nod along with a bit each-way of Gordon Elliott’s Bless The Wings.
The best of luck to those having a punt.