Title rivals throw everything at Irish Grand National – but will it be enough?
Richard Forristal on a thrilling contest with a huge amount at stake
A year ago, Gordon Elliott saddled nine runners in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National. It wasn’t enough.
Michael O’Leary’s omnipotent Gigginstown House Stud firm had 13 representatives in Fairyhouse’s €500,000 contest. It wasn’t enough.
Willie Mullins ran three. It wasn’t enough.
Ultimately, you need more than numbers. You need the right horse.
This is the 20th anniversary of Mullins’s first stab at the Fairyhouse Easter feature, a prestigious event that has been ingrained in the fabric of Irish racing for nearly a century and a half.
He has already saddled 30 runners in the race, Away We Go’s second in 2013 the closest he has come to glory.
On Monday, the Closutton colossus will send out four more in his quest to end the hoodoo, while Elliott is responsible for more than a third of the 30-strong field with 13, a new world record for one stable in a race.
Maybe that will prove a luckier number for him than it was in 2017 for O’Leary, who this time has whittled his delegation down to a paltry ten.
Fate does its own thing
The point is, for all that we have become a little preoccupied with the inordinate level of domination being exerted by the aforementioned exalted trio, they can only control the controllables. Fate does its own thing.
Mullins’s Bellshill and Pairofbrowneyes are among the market leaders, while Elliott’s Monbeg Notorious and Folsom Blue have similarly suitable profiles.
Bless The Wings, runner-up in each of the last two editions, will also be in there pitching for Elliott.
The heir apparent has been trying to land his local showpiece only since 2011, but he has already saddled 20 horses in it. By the end of the day, he will have had as many individual attempts as Mullins, and still neither man might have secured the Holy Grail.
Their battalions look pretty formidable on paper, but the narrative has been overtaken a little by events. If you consider each horse on its merits, there are plenty of contenders who don’t represent any of the behemoths.
Pat Kelly's Mall Dini, Ross O’Sullivan's Call It Magic and Paul Nolan’s Fine Theatre are no forlorn hopes, and Eoghan O’Grady’s Westerner Point is a course winner who finished eighth in the Becher Chase at Aintree in December. Then there is Forever Gold at the foot of the page.
Successful in the Porterstown Chase over course and distance in 2016, the 11-year-old was second to Presenting Percy here in December. That’s choice form.
Due to be ridden by the in-form claimer Adam Short, Forever Gold is trained just over the road in Batterstown by the popular small-scale operator Eddie Cawley.
He has never had a National runner before, so all the ingredients are there for a fairytale antidote. For him, if it's the right horse, one will be more than enough.
Seismic title impact
In 2017, we were looking at the Irish Grand National as possibly the single most crucial juncture in what was an absorbing tussle for the trainers’ crown. Elliott emerged from the domestic season’s most valuable race more than €100,000 to the good in his personal duel with Mullins, having gone into the day with a lead in excess of €300,000.
Again, it wasn’t enough in the end, but it’s still impossible to deny the potentially seismic impact the race could have on Elliott’s relentless quest to dethrone his nemesis. He is around €450,000 clear this time around, so there is the potential for a knockout blow.
Stars on retrieval missions
To think we have got this far without mention of Un De Sceaux, or even Getabird, who is on a retrieval mission in the Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Novice Hurdle after disappointing at Cheltenham.
Un De Sceaux also suffered defeat in the Cotswolds, albeit he was once again carried out on his shield in the Ryanair Chase.
He doesn’t do capitulation, but it will be fascinating to see if a horse even with a constitution as impermeable as his can bounce back so quickly after such a gruelling encounter. In normal circumstances, he probably wouldn’t be considered for the Devenish Chase, but here he is.
There is so much at stake for Mullins and Elliott that we are being treated to a rare free-for-all, something that has conspired to seriously enhance the overall quality on offer at Fairyhouse this weekend.
Both men will throw pretty much everything they’ve got at the dartboard over the next few weeks. For one of them, in terms of the championship, it will be enough.
It remains to be seen if the same is true of their respective quests for an elusive Irish Grand National victory.
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