Still all to play for as Elliott and Mullins eye key Fairyhouse prizes
David Jennings on a hard-fought battle heading into its final weeks
Neither Gordon Elliott or Willie Mullins can win the Irish trainers' title at Fairyhouse but both can lose it. Three days, two Grade 1s and Ireland's most valuable jumps race means that the Easter eggs on offer at the Meath track have never tasted so good.
There is a whopping €1.39 million worth of prize-money up for grabs over 23 races and, while the €500,000 BoyleSports Irish Grand National is the undisputed highlight of the festival, there are four races worth €100,000 and five more worth €40,000 or more so there is plenty to play for.
Sponsors BoyleSports make Elliott a 2-1 shot to train the winner of the Irish Grand National for the first time, while Mullins is 4-1 to do likewise. If either achieve the feat, it would certainly put them in the driving seat.
Elliott goes into the three-day festival at Fairyhouse with a commanding €362,230 lead over Mullins but, given the defending champion's superb record at Punchestown in the last decade, the consensus is that he will need to be just as far in front heading into those five days as he is now to hold on.
The races that matter most . . .
Ryanair Gold Cup (€100,000), Sunday April 16
Elliott Sent out Realt Mor to make all in 2013 and the Gigginstown pair Ball D'Arc (7-1) and A Toi Phil (9-1), who both have solid handicap form, are his two representatives this time.
Mullins Has never won it but Yorkhill is 1-2 with Paddy Power to end his hoodoo. The JLT winner jumps markedly to his left but did win his beginners' chase at Fairyhouse.
Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares' Novice Hurdle Championship Final (€100,000), Sunday April 16
Elliott Yet to scoop this lucrative pot, and while he does not have a female as talented as Let's Dance he does have Barra (chased home Let's Dance at Cheltenham), Shattered Love (took on the boys in the Neptune) and the four-year-old Dinaria Des Obeaux, who gets weight from all her rivals.
Mullins Landed two of the last four runnings with Annie Power (2013) and Adriana Des Mottes (2014) and this would look the ideal race for Cheltenham winner Let's Dance, who is unbeaten this season. Mullins has six of the 14 entries.
Tattersalls Ireland Sales Bumper (€100,000), Sunday April 16
Elliott Three possibles, including Gigginstown pair Commandant, who fell six out on his sole point, and Dorydalis, who was a half-length winner of a Ballinaboola point in February.
Mullins Won the race in 2015 with Castello Sforza but has just the one entry this year, the Supreme Racing-owned Special Ted, an unraced son of Soldier Hollow.
Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle (€70,000), Monday April 17
Elliott Has six to choose from but the most interesting of his entries are arguably Coral Cup disappointment Tombstone and the hugely exciting Sutton Place, who has looked a star on both his starts this season and easily beat Supasundae at Naas.
Mullins Won this in five of the last eight renewals and has ten of the 19 entries on this occasion. The most intriguing of those could be the six-year-old mare Karalee, although Open Eagle, Shaneshill and Renneti would all be strong contenders too.
BoyleSports Irish Grand National (€500,000), Monday April 17
Elliott Has never won it but came very close last year with Bless The Wings, who was denied in a photo-finish. Now has 21 of the 74 possibles at the five-day stage, with Paddy Power winner Noble Endeavor his shortest-price runner at present. Sponsors Boylesports make him 2-1 to win the race.
Mullins Still bidding to break his duck and will probably be hoping that The Crafty Butcher makes the line-up. Haymount and Arbre De Vie would look his two leading contenders if the Paddy Power runner-up does not make the cut. BoyleSports make him 4-1 to win the race.
Glascarn Handicap Hurdle (€100,000), Tuesday April 18
Elliott Automated would look the pick of his five entries, although Veinard was sixth to Ballyandy in the Betfair Hurdle off a mark of 126 and has a 3lb lower mark in Ireland.
Mullins Clondaw Warrior did the business for him last year and Daneking won it in 2014. He has 15 entries for this, headed by topweight Ivan Grozny.
Fairyhouse in numbers
2 Grade 1s
362,230 euro lead for Gordon Elliott in the trainers' title race
1,390,000 in prize-money up for grabs over the three days