Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Irish Grand National tips: Horse-by-horse guide to Fairyhouse

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Donn McClean fancies Willie Mullins to win the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse – check out the form expert’s horse-by-horse guide.


1. Minella Cocooner (Willie Mullins/Danny Mullins)

A Grade 1 winner as a novice hurdler two seasons ago, he was beaten when sent off as favourite in the Leinster National last time. He is a classy individual, but he has to shoulder top weight, and no horse has carried more than 11st 4lb to victory in the Irish National since Flashing Steel carried 12 stone in 1995.

2. Churchstonewarrior (Jonathan Sweeney/Michael O’Sullivan)

He was a high-class staying novice chaser last season, he finished second in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Chase and he won the Grade 2 Ten Up Chase. He hasn’t completed in either of his two chases this season, and he hasn’t raced since Christmas, but he stays well and his trainer does well with a relatively small team of horses.

3. Nick Rockett (Willie Mullins/Paul Townend)

He is the logical favourite, he has the ideal profile for the Irish Grand National. He is really lightly-raced, he won his two hurdle races last season, including a Grade 2 contest at this track, and he has looked good in all three chases this season. The fact that the weights went up by 11lb hasn’t helped him, history tells you that 11st 10lb is a big weight to carry in an Irish National, and he is short, but he is unexposed, he could have the class to pull it off, and he is the choice of Paul Townend.

4. Favori De Champdou (Gordon Elliott/Danny Gilligan)

A Grade 2 winner as a staying novice hurdler last season, he looked set for a big season this term when he won the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown in November. He has been well beaten in each of his last two races, but he could bounce back, and the switch back to a right-handed track could help in that regard. His record going right over obstacles under Rules reads 2111421. Also, Danny Gilligan is great value in these big handicaps for his 5lb claim, and he has ridden Gordon Elliott-trained horses to victory in several big handicaps already this season, including the Galway Plate, the Lartigue Hurdle, the Troytown Chase and the Martin Pipe Hurdle.

5. Senior Chief (Henry de Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore)

He fits the Irish National profile ideally, a progressive young novice who stays well, who jumps well and who has the potential to go beyond the handicap rating off which he races today. He wasn’t impressive in winning at long odds-on at Punchestown last time, but that should bring him forward for today and he will have the assistance of Rachael Blackmore.

6. Any Second Now (Ted Walsh/Mark Walsh)

Third in the Aintree Grand National in 2021 and second in the Aintree Grand National in 2022, he is 12 years old now, but he won the Grade 2 Webster Cup over two and a half miles last year as an 11-year-old. He has been well-supported in the market in recent days, and a big run from the veteran wouldn’t surprise.

7. Intense Raffles (Tom Gibney/JJ Slevin)

A winner on the flat and over hurdles in France, he has won his two chases since he joined Tom Gibney this season, both at Fairyhouse, and he has been seriously impressive in winning both. The only six-year-old in the race, he goes well on soft ground, he is proven over the Fairyhouse fences, and there is no knowing how good he could be. His trainer won the Irish National in 2012 with outsider Lion Na Bearnai.

8. Yeah Man (Gavin Cromwell/Keith Donoghue)

Still only seven, he has taken his form to a new level this season. He shaped in both runs over three miles at Ascot in the early part of the season as though he would do better with a greater test of stamina and, sure enough, he took a step forward last time when he stepped up in trip to an extended three and a half miles and won the Grand National Trial at Haydock. He is 7lb higher now, but he is progressive and his stamina is assured.

9. Diol Ker (Gordon Elliott/Kieran Buckley)

He is 10 now and no 10-year-old has won the Irish National in the last 10 years. He is down to a handicap rating of 139, 10lb lower than his peak, but he is going to have to bounce back to close to his best if he is going to be involved.

10. Dunboyne (Gordon Elliott/Sam Ewing)

Sent off as favourite for the Thyestes Chase, it looked like he was going to be at least involved in the finish as they rounded the home turn, but he ended up pulling up before the last, and it was a similar story last time in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown. There is no doubting his talent, he would have a chance at his best, and the switch back from blinkers to cheekpieces could help.

11. Hartur D’Arc (Gavin Cromwell/Sean Flanagan)

Winner of his maiden hurdle at Wexford last May when he was with Tom Gibney, he is two for two now since he joined Gavin Cromwell. He put up a career-best performance last time when he stepped up in trip and won the Leinster National over three miles and one furlong, the longest trip over which he had raced up to that point. He has another four furlongs to go today and he is 9lb higher in the handicap, but he is progressive, he is unexposed as a staying chaser, and he could take another step forward.

12. Frontal Assault (Gordon Elliott/Carl Millar)

He finished second in the Irish National in 2022, but he hasn’t won since he got off the mark over fences on his first run the following season. He is going to have to put his last three runs behind him, but he is 4lb lower in the handicap than he was in 2022, and he does go well at Fairyhouse, where his record reads 3224.

13. Where It All Began (Gordon Elliott/Jack Kennedy)

He got off the mark over fences when he stayed on powerfully to win the Grand National Trial at Punchestown on heavy ground over three miles and three furlongs. He is 12lb higher in the handicap now, but he didn’t run badly off his current mark in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham last time, and he is Jack Kennedy’s choice from seven horses trained by Gordon Elliott.

14. Cool Survivor (Gordon Elliott/Jordan Gainford)

Winner of a listed contest over three miles on heavy ground as a novice hurdler, he always shaped like a staying chaser in the making. He didn’t run badly in the Leopardstown Chase on his first run in a handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival, but he was well beaten in the Kim Muir last time, and he is going to have to bounce back from that.

15. Good Time Jonny (Tony Martin/Philip Enright)

He is a highly talented performer on his day, as he proved when he won the Pertemps Final at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, coming from a long way back in a race in which not much went right to win easily. He hasn’t won since then, and he hasn’t won at all in six attempts over fences, but he is dangerously handicapped on a chase rating of 132, 10lb lower than the hurdles mark off which he won the Pertemps Final last year.

16. Street Value (John Flavin/Darragh O’Keeffe)

He has been pulled up in his last two runs, in the Thyestes Chase and in Punchestown’s Grand National Trial, but he stayed on well to win the Porterstown Chase at Fairyhouse in December, and a return to that level of form, back over the Irish Grand National course and distance, would bring him into it.

17. Daily Present (Paul Nolan/Sean O’Keeffe)

A point-to-point winner, he stayed on well to win a handicap chase at Down Royal in January on his first run over three miles under Rules, his first run in a handicap and his first run with a tongue-tie. He was well backed for the Kim Muir on the back of that win, and he didn’t run badly there, keeping on well for fifth place. There is plenty of stamina in his pedigree, he shapes as if he could improve for the stern stamina test that the Irish National presents, and he gets to race off a chase mark that is still 6lb lower than his hurdles mark.

18. Royal Thief (Gordon Elliott/Kevin Sexton)

He is still fairly lightly raced for his age, he had a long spell on the sidelines before he returned at Punchestown in January last year, but he is 10 now and, while he is dropping back down the handicap, he will have to leave his form to date this season well behind.

19. We’llhavewan (Willie Mullins/Kieran Callaghan)

Winner of a handicap hurdle at Killarney in August, he put up the best performance of his career when he stepped up to three miles and one furlong and landed a valuable handicap hurdle at Navan in December off a mark of 124. He was sent off a short-priced favourite for the Punchestown Grand National Trial on the back of that run, and he looked a likely winner when he moved to the front on the run to the second last fence, before he was ultimately run down by Where It All Began. A 3lb hike for that run was fair, it leaves him on a chase mark of 123, which is 13lb lower than his hurdles mark. After just four runs over fences, he has the potential to be at least as good over fences as he is over hurdles, and the raising of the weights by 11lb brings him into the handicap on a lovely racing weight of 10st 1lb.

20. Where’s Frankie (Karl Thornton/Donagh Meyler)

He proved last time when he won a handicap chase at Leopardstown that he was not just a one-course horse, but his previous four wins – and 11 of his previous 17 runs – were all at Fairyhouse. We know that he loves it at the County Meath venue, but he is going to have to put up a career-best performance by some way after an 8lb hike for his Leopardstown win.

21. History Of Fashion (Pat Fahy/Richard Condon)

It is a long time since a horse rated 122 got into the Irish Grand National – you usually need a mark in the mid to high 130s these days – but History Of Fashion is safely in the race and he is only 2lb out of the handicap. He is at his best when he is faced with a thorough test of stamina – he finished second in the Porterstown earlier this season, and he finished a close-up third in the three-mile-seven-furlong handicap chase at last year’s Punchestown Festival – and his low weight is a big positive.


Verdict:

1. We’llhavewan

2. Intense Raffles

3. Yeah Man

4. Hartur D’Arc

The weights went up by 11lb at declaration stage, and that put a slightly different complexion on the race. It brought all but one of the bottom weights into the handicap proper, and it meant that the higher-weighted horses now have to carry more weight than it looked like they might have to carry. And history tells us that weight carried is important in the Irish Grand National. Only four horses – all top-class chasers ultimately – have carried more than 10st 13lb to victory in the race since Flashing Steel won it under 12 stone in 1995.

WE’LLHAVEWAN is at the right end of the handicap and remains potentially well-handicapped over fences, while Intense Raffles is proven at the track and on the ground and has the potential to go well beyond the handicap rating of 140 off which he races, and the two Gavin Cromwell-trained horses have a lot of the attributes that you look for in a potential Irish Grand National winner.

www.donnmcclean.com


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