Kevin Murphy previews the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse

Major yards are in the hunt for national glory while Easter Festival in Cork is also set to draw the crowds
Kevin Murphy previews the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse

Fighter Allen and Paul Townend (right) after winning the Tramore Racecourse Directors Steeplechase from Popong (left).

THE Irish Grand National will celebrate its 150th running on Easter Monday at Fairyhouse and all the major yards will be represented. Gigginstown House Stud are set to send a team of significant quality and quantity as beaten Aintree representatives Run Wild Fred, Death Duty and Samcro are readied for a quick reappearance.

Racing manager Eddie O'Leary expects seven or eight runners to carry the famous maroon and white silks in this year's €500,000 prize, including Farclas, who is disputing favouritism with Gaillard Du Mesnil after bypassing a tilt at the Randox Grand National. 

Plenty of interest on Leeside will surround the selection of Davy Russell who will have the pick of the Gigginstown runners while Paul Townend is likely to ride Gaillard Du Mesnil who is owned by Cork man Joe Donnelly and trained by the all-conquering Willie Mullins.

Last year's runner-up Run Wild Fred, who was sent off 8-1 for the Aintree highlight under Russell after a late gamble last Saturday, and Punchestown Grand National Trial winner Death Duty both exited at the Canal Turn on the first circuit last weekend while Samcro finished tailed off in 11th after travelling well for a long way.

O’Leary said: "Hopefully we could have seven or eight runners. We kept Farclas for this race. He had the option of heading to Aintree but this is a very special race and we'd like to have a decent chance of winning it. 

"Death Duty and Run Wild Fred came down early at Aintree so all being well they'll take their chance at Fairyhouse. They seem to have come out of it fine.

"I'm hoping that Samcro will be able to come back for this too as I think that run will bring him on. We were fancying him because a healthy Samcro shouldn't be called the names he's been called. 

"He's obviously had his health issues before. Diol Ker was very good last time when winning the Leinster National. We're praying for rain for him because he's ground-dependent.

"I'd rather run Beacon Edge in the Irish Grand National than in a Grade 1 at Punchestown but he was a little sick after Cheltenham and I don't know if he'll be back in time. 

Run Wild Fred and Davy Russell. Picture: Healy Racing.
Run Wild Fred and Davy Russell. Picture: Healy Racing.

"Hardline is in the mix and we'd like Lieutenant Command to get in.” 

There is also the three-day Easter Festival meeting at Cork racecourse over the weekend and this usually attracts a bumper crowd. 

Melon tops the list of entries for the Grade 3 Baroneracing.com Chase at Cork on Easter Sunday, which also includes former Grand National winner Minella Times and Cheltenham Festival winner The Shunter. 

Willie Mullins-trained pair Ganapathi and Cash Back would represent stern opposition, as could Gordon Elliott-conditioned Felix Desjy.

Melon is the highest-rated among the 16 entries although the ten-year-old has been just touched off in a slew of Grade 1 races over hurdles and fences.

Last year’s Aintree Grand National winner, Minella Times is an intriguing entry for Henry de Bromhead, who also has Somptueux in the mix. Minella Times had to be pulled up after unfortunately jumping into another horse, Schoolboy Hours at Aintree last Saturday.

Emmet Mullins succeeded de Bromhead as a Grand National-winning trainer and he has given an entry to the 2021 Grade 3 Cheltenham Festival-winning handicap chaser The Shunter, who like Minella Times, is owned by JP McManus.

CURTAIN

The Punchestown Festival will bring the curtain down on the national hunt season and a mouth-watering clash between Honeysuckle and Constitution Hill is still on the cards. 

Connections of Constitution Hill have been given an added incentive to take on Honeysuckle at the Punchestown Festival. Henry de Bromhead’s super mare has won 15 times from 15 starts, retaining her Champion Hurdle title at the Cheltenham Festival under Rachael Blackmore.

Earlier on the same Tuesday card at the Festival, it was Constitution Hill in the spotlight, as the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding lit up Prestbury Park with a staggering 22-length triumph in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. 

The two horses could yet cross paths in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle, a race Honeysuckle won by two and a quarter lengths last season and given a boost with the sponsors offering a bonus of £100,000 should a British-trained horse take the trophy back across the Irish Sea.

While the bonus is intended to lure British horses across to the meeting, the 10-strong field of current entries has no shortage of Irish-trained runners and Gordon Elliott could be responsible for two of them. 

Both Teahupoo and Zanahiyr are in the mix, with the former disappointing when last in the Champion Hurdle and the latter going well when falling in the Betway Aintree Hurdle. 

Elsewhere at the meeting, Meade Elliot has made entries for Aintree winner Three Stripe Life, who took the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle and could head next to the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle.

Elliot said: "We’ve made entries for all the Grade One races at Punchestown and we will be well represented throughout the week. It’s our season-ending Festival in Ireland and a fantastic five days. We’ve had a bit of luck there in the past and hopefully, we can finish the season off with a high.

"It’s where my owners want to have runners and it’s where I want to have runners. We had two winners at Cheltenham and two Grade One winners at Aintree and the horses have been running well.”

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