THE National Hunt season really kicks off this weekend with a feast of action including the Cork Grand National at Mallow on Sunday.
The jumps fraternity have been crying out for rain as all these top jump horses prefer an ease in the ground.
It will also be a welcome return for racing fans who will be able get back on track after Covid restrictions were eased recently.
With society slowly getting back to some sense of normality it will also be a great boost to the track which has been attracting such positive headlines under racecourse manager Andrew Hogan who said: “We have a fabulous field for the Cork Grand National and John Ryan is attempting to win it again with Dromore Lad.
“Our sponsor Paddy Power put a lot into this day and there a real buzz for national hunt fans to be back racing again.
“All our patrons just want to go racing, enjoy themselves but also act in a compliant manner.
“To be fair, at our last meeting in October everyone was just happy to be back and there was a lovely atmosphere.
“The racing community is tightknit and to see so many old friends catching up with each was so lovely to see.
“It’s a really exciting time of the year for us as we have two big days coming up before Christmas and we will get to see some high class horses here in Cork which is great.
“As well as the Grand National on Sunday we also have a very good Grade 3 Novice Chase.
“This race has been won by some very good horses over the years and all the major yards are represented.
Crucially for us, all the rain during the week means that plenty of the big names will run.
“We were inundated with trainers from all over the country inquiring about the weather down here so most of them got their wishes with the deluge of rain midweek.
“The weather had been mild and dry for the early weeks of October, but we will probably have soft ground for Sunday.“
Elsewhere, there is high-class racing across the weekend which sees the return of Gold Cup hero Minella Indo who is set for his seasonal reappearance in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal, with trainer Henry de Bromhead revealing during the week that Jack Kennedy will retain the ride on the eight-year-old.
Kennedy came in for the ride in the Gold Cup after De Bromhead’s stable jockey Rachael Blackmore elected to ride A Plus Tard at Cheltenham, and connections of Minella Indo have decided to keep the partnership intact.
Blackmore had a sensational season capping off her magnificent Cheltenham by winning the Aintree Grand National. But the owners have rewarded Kennedy for his brilliant ride in the big one at Cheltenham.
De Bromhead said: “Jack keeps the ride. We’ve had this race as the plan for a while. He’s in great form and we’re looking forward to getting him started.”
Kennedy’s boss Gordon Elliott has three entries in the race, but the jockey revealed the opportunity to stick by the Gold Cup winner was something he could not turn down.
He said: “It’s very exciting to be getting back on Minella Indo this weekend. It looks a nice race for him to start back in and hopefully he can run well.”
Elliott, who won the race last year with The Storyteller, could rely on Galvin, who he noted as a future Grand National prospect after his Punchestown win earlier this month, with Delta Work and Ravenhill his other contenders.
Owners Gigginstown could also be represented by two-time winner Road To Respect, who scored in 2018 and 2019 for trainer Noel Meade.
The sole British runner in the seven-strong field could be Frodon, who was last seen winning the Grade 2 Oaksey Chase at Sandown in April under Bryony Frost.
The nine-year-old, who also won the King George last term, would be running in Ireland for the first time, but trainer Paul Nicholls has always supported this race and the mighty Kauto Star made a couple of trips to Northern Ireland.
Fairyhill Run, who completes the line-up for the Ladbrokes Champion Chase, also holds an entry in the Join Racing TV Chase, a Grade 2 which is set to feature the highly anticipated return of Envoi Allen, another of De Bromhead’s stable stars.
The seven-year-old’s unbeaten run ended in dramatic fashion at the festival in March when falling in the Marsh Novices’ Chase on his first start for De Bromhead after switching from Elliott.
Envoi Allen’s final run of last season also ended in disappointment when he pulled up lame in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown.
Finally, it was great to see Davy Russell back in the saddle recently and making a full recovery from a serious neck injury last season.
Russell will have plenty of big rides for Gordon Elliot who has been very busy at the sales in recent times.
Unfortunately Paul Townend is still on the easy list after a fall at Listowel last month.
The Lisgoold rider will have a galaxy of stars to look forward too in his role as stable jockey to champion trainer Willie Mullins.
Appreciate It, Ferny Hollow, Kilcruit, Energumene, Klassical Dream, and dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo are just some of the stars that Townend can look forward to riding when he returns to action.