It’s Easter Monday and that means it’s Irish Grand National day, or as we should probably start calling it the Gordon Elliott/Gigginstown Grand National, with each running eight and thirteen respectively.
I’m a big fan of Gordon Elliott and have no issue with Gigginstown, they do a lot of good for the sport, and I can’t blame them for running such big numbers in the race. The Irish National is a big prize, both in terms of status and financially, and if you have the horses who qualify why wouldn’t you run them.
But what it does show is that the powers in Irish racing are in too few hands. I’m not sure what can be done to make it more open and to widen opportunity, that’s something the authorities will have to address, but we have to see some sort of change otherwise it will really become a monopoly of the few. There was always the criticism that the flat was becoming a closed monopoly but I think we’re close to being in a position now where Irish National Hunt is danger of becoming even worse.
Anyway away from the politics and on to the actual race.
We have 28 runners going to post (at the moment) with a couple of late withdrawals, and with this year’s Irish National coming just nine days after the Aintree equivalent there are a few we can probably immediately rule out. Rogue Angel and Roi Des Francs ran well from the front for a long way at Aintree, possibly being punished for setting too strong a pace, and i’ll be amazed if that hasn’t left a mark on either.
Of the others that ran at Aintree, Raz De Meree, Thunder And Roses and Measureofmydreams didn’t get far enough for the race to have had that much of an impact so wouldn’t be without a chance if able to recapture some sort of form. Whilst two of our own outside selections for Aintree make a quick return here. Wounded Warrior never got into the race at any point but did run the best part of four miles, so I’d be wary of supporting him again even if Noel Meade has always thought of him as a National type and there is some underlying class lurking in there. Stellar Notion, on the other hand, I am more willing to try again; he didn’t get that far after initially racing prominently and I think he just didn’t enjoy the experience and pulled himself up, so the race might not have left that much of a mark on him and his handicap form this season still looks good enough to run a big race if getting the trip.
With the bulk numbers running for Elliott and Gigginstown, I think there are a few in the field we can immediately dismiss; Clarcam. The Game Changer, Lord Scoundrel, Dedigout and First Lieutenant, are either badly handicapped, haven’t shown the requisite form required or just aren’t good enough to challenge.
Of the remaining Gigginstown contenders, General Principle looks to be first choice with Bryan Cooper on board; he looks progressive after winning his last two starts and still has potential to improve further from a nice enough mark, but most of his form has been of softer ground, which is a negative here. Tiger Roll will appreciate the stamina test and conditions, as he did when winning the four miler at Cheltenham, but I just fear he could be too high in the weights and his jumping could let him down as it has done the past. The most interesting of the Gigginstown horses, in my view, is Alpha Des Obeaux. He has undoubted class and was a big fancy for the RSA at Cheltenham, but tactically I think he got it wrong in that race and he bled badly (as he has done on his last two starts), which wouldn’t fill one with confidence as there is the danger it will happen again. However, if he can avoid a bleed he could be very well handicapped and could enjoy a test like this.
Tiger Roll and Alpha Des Obeaux aren’t the only novices running in the race, with a number of others lining-up here. Arbre De Vie is yet to win over fences and would be hard to fancy after just three runs in chases, Haymount ran a nice race to finish third in the four miler at Cheltenham and could be interesting off his mark and Oscar Knight could also be worth a look having snuck in at the bottom. The most interesting novices look to be Fletchers Flyer and Our Duke. Fletchers Flyer has the most experience for a novice and has been aimed at the race having won at Punchestown last April and Our Duke looks potentially classy, with some of the best novice chase form around and looks very interesting having skipped Cheltenham and a good chance to win the RSA to run here.
Of the remaining contenders, we’re mainly down to battle hardened campaigners who should have no issues with races of this type, it’s just a case of if they’re good enough or have a few pounds in hand.
Noble Endeavour has already bagged a big handicap prize this season and ran a cracker last time out at Cheltenham, I just fear he has too much weight to win here, although he should go close. Abolitionist has ran well in some big handicaps this season without winning and I expect a repeat of that, so couldn’t support for win purposes. Shutthefrontdoor is a former winner of this, returns off just 2lbs higher and skipped Aintree for this, so you couldn’t completely rule him out, it’s just the lack of recent form that is off-putting. Sambremont has always been thought capable of bagging a big handicap prize and sneaks in off a light-weight here, but his recent form wouldn’t support that theory. Bless The Wings was beaten a short head last year, has followed the same route and has a nice racing weight, but he might have missed his chance to bag a big prize like this. Whilst Bonny Kate was a well supported favourite for this last year and comes here off a similar mark this time around; she has some decent placed efforts this season and wouldn’t be without chance of placing, but if she wasn’t good enough last year I don’t think she will be this year.
The last two contenders in the line-up have taken very different routes to Fairyhouse. Foxrock, who was previously a graded performer without quite being top-class, has been campaigned in hunter chases this season with the long-term aim of a National in mind. Few in the line-up would have had such an easy campaign as Foxrock and he could have the class to go close in a prize like this, however, I just fear the quicker pace here could come as a bit of shock to him after running under very different conditions of late. The last contender in the National is Minella Foru, who has been laid out after landing the Paddy Power in December 2015. Connections have targeted this from a long-way off and he could potentially be very well-in, but with just the one run over hurdles since landing that prize there is the danger that this plot could just fall short.
As is usual, it’s a tough race to call. Minella Foru could be another famous JP plot and connections seem to be positive about his chances, but he’d need to be seriously good to win having not run in a chase in around 16 months. The undoubted class angle in the race is Our Duke and it must be taken as a big positive that he comes here after skipping a serious chance in the RSA at Cheltenham, however, he might just be a bit short in the betting for my liking.
Running with the novice angle that sees the first three in the betting made up of novices, our selection for the Irish National comes from outside of these and with big risks attached. ALPHA DES OBEAUX looked to be a big contender in the novice division, after such strong form behind Thistlecrack last season and a good start to chasing he looked to have the class to compete with the best in the division. He has disappointed at times this season and has bled badly on his last two starts, bringing the danger that it is always open to happening again. However, I am willing to take the chance that he can have a ‘bleed free’ run and finally show his class off what looks like a nice handicap mark.
All of the contenders at the top of the market will have a good chance here, and I would be more open to chancing those down towards the bottom of the weights. However, as an each way chance at a bigger price, I am going to chance my arm with Stellar Notion again. I stand by the view that his handicap form this season is very strong and he potentially has further improvement in him. There has to be question marks over trip and the impact of the Aintree National, but he didn’t get far enough to really put me off and at a big price, i’ll take a chance here.
ALPHA DES OBEAUX – 1PT E/W @ 25/1 (¼ ODDS 1,2,3,4,5 BOYLESPORTS)
STELLAR NOTION – ½ PT E/W @ 50/1 (⅕ ODDS 1,2,3,4,5,6 SKYBET)