BoyleSports Irish Grand National Handicap Chase 3m5f Fairyhouse Monday – Last week’s selection, Blaklion, ran a smashing race to finish fourth in the Grand National and if only, pilot Fehilly, had been able to hold onto him for a bit longer, he may well have gone very close. However the race was won by an exceptional stayer who could well figure in Cheltenham’s showpiece next year, and it was great to see all forty runners return unscathed in what was the 170th renewal of the great race.
Fairyhouse stages merely the 145th renewal of the Irish equivalent on Monday, and let’s hope for a similar happy outcome there.
With a maximum field of thirty the Irish edition looks an easier puzzle to solve than Aintree, but with only one favourite, (8/1), a 50/1, and three 33/1 shots winning in the last decade, it has proved anything but. However, it is a contest with some particularly strong trends, not least the significance of weight. Only two animals, the Gold Cup placed Commanche Court, (2000) and Aintree Hero Bobbyjo (1998) have managed to carry more than 11st to victory in the past twenty years. Age has also been significant with only two 6yo’s making it to the winners enclosure since 1973, and 11yo’s are nearly as infrequent visitors, with Jenny Pitman’s Mudahim twenty years ago, the last to succeed. The most successful age group have been the 7 and 8yo’s with surprisingly, for such a competitive race, plenty of Novices,(21 in the last fifty years) coming home in front. A recent outing, and a win going right handed, have also been important.
Mouse Morris has been the most successful handler with two wins in the past decade, but a surprising absentee from the roll of honour is Willie Mullins. Dad, Paddy, won the race four times, but Willie has failed to hit the back of the net, and indeed has drawn a blank from twenty runners in the last ten years.
Eddie Harty has never won the race either but looks to have a strong candidate with his 8yo Minella Foru. This son of Kings Theatre out of a Topanoora mare was always going to be a staying chaser, and so it proved when stepped up to three miles in the 2015 running of The Paddy Power Chase, he stayed on strongly to beat the useful Ucello Conti. Sidelined for over a year he made a satisfactory reappearance in a Grade2 Hurdle at Naas in January. Fairly handicapped, and in the Green and Gold colours of JP McManus, he is worth considering.
Following his three Cheltenham Festival wins and four further victories at Aintree, man of the moment, Robbie Power, will be hoping for further success when he climbs aboard the Jessica Harrington trained Our Duke on Monday. The 7yo Novice has only had the three races over fences, winning the first two and coming second last time. He comfortably won a 2 1/2m Navan Novices in December, and took a big step forward nineteen days later when winning a Leopardstown Grade1 over three miles. Last time he was putting in all his best work at the finish when beaten by Disko over an inadequate 21 1/2f again at Grade1 level. Well found in the markets, he looks a danger to all particularly if there is “soft” or “yielding” in the going description.
Ever since winning a 3m6f handicap at last years Punchestown Festival off a mark of 138, Harry Fry has had the Irish Grand National in mind for his talented 9yo, Fletchers Flyer. He did his prospects no harm when finishing a good third in an Ascot Grade2 conditions event over three miles eight weeks ago, and will relish the step back up in trip on Monday. He looks well treated on a mark of 145 and has to be on the shortlist.
Could the Crafty Butcher be the one to at last fill that gaping hole in the C.V. Of the Master of Closutton? He has never won beyond three miles, but the way he finished in the hugely competitive, 24 1/2f, twenty eight runner Paddy Power Chase at Christmas strongly suggests that this 10yo could be well suited by a step up in trip, and racing off a mark of 135, could put an even broader than usual smile, on the visage of Willie Mullins come Monday evening.
Despite being given too much to do in Cheltenham’s 3m2f Kim Muir, and meeting trouble at the second last, the Patrick Kelly trained Mall Dini ran a great race to finish 5th only 3L behind the winner. Surprisingly, this hero of last years three miles Pertemps Final at the Festival, has yet to score over fences, but his run in the Kim Muir was certainly a move in the right direction. Well suited by good ground, and only 1lb higher than his Hurdles mark, this 7yo has his best years in front of him, and it will come as no surprise if he breaks his steeplechasing duck on Monday.
Selection : Mall Dini
E.W. : Fletchers Flyer (if abs The Crafty Butcher)