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With no Irish Grand National in 2020, this year’s Fairyhouse feature can’t come quick enough and while it may take place behind closed doors for the first time in its history, the job of picking the winner isn’t any easier despite the empty grandstands.
After having his first runner in the 1998 renewal, won by Bobbyjo, it took Willie Mullins 21 years to break his duck in the famous race, with Burrows Saint in 2019, and the champion trainer will be throwing plenty of darts at Monday’s prize in a bid to double up. Brahma Bull and Salsaretta will have their supporters but there is no doubt that Agusta Gold is the best chance for the Closutton handler and she’s having her first run for her new trainer as well. A regular in mares chases over the past 18 months, she’s been hugely consistent having never finished out of the frame in nine starts over fences and her most recent success came at Fairyhouse too. And given that Elimay has done her form no harm in recent months, she could be well handicapped off 146.
Latest Exhibition is sure to go off favourite after connections opted to run here rather than the Grade One Underwriting Exchange Novice Chase a day earlier. There’s no doubting that he’s the class horse of the race and his runs behind Monkfish give him a great shout, particularly his fine effort in last season’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He appears one of the likeliest winners but his tendency to make the odd mistake doesn’t help and it’s 26 years since a horse carried top weight to victory in this race.
Denise Foster holds a strong hand here and while Tiger Roll doesn’t take his chance, she is sure to have a big say in where this mega purse goes. It’s been well-documented the record of novices in this race and the Foster duo of Coko Beach and Run Wild Fred have got major chances. First and second in the Thyestes Chase in January, the pair bring excellent form into the race and while Coko Beach is now 8lbs worse off with his stable companion, his subsequent Navan success suggests that he’s still on the way up. With Jordan Gainford up as well, he can be expected to uphold that form on Monday.
The other horse of the Foster team worth a mention is Escaria Ten, which did very little wrong when finishing third behind Galvin in the National Hunt Chase and that’s a race which could work out well in the long run.
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On the topic of novices, The Big Dog comes here after proving his staying power over 3m4f at Punchestown, so he most definitely is one for the shortlist, while ante-post gamble Sempo may be a maiden over fences, like Commanche Court in 2000, but he has some eye-catching form on the lead-up to this race too. His stable companion Home By The Lee is another which must be given huge respect and judged by the way he came from off the pace to win impressively at Naas in February, he looks one which is sure to benefit from this step up in trip.
Espanito Bello is another of the novice brigade worthy of respect and having beaten Coko Beach, by 18 lengths, in a beginners chase in December, he is now 4lbs worse off with the same rival having followed him home in the Ten Up Novice Chase in February.
JP McManus is likely to have a say and his best chance appears to rest with Off You Go, which beat The Shunter at the Dublin Racing Festival. He steps up quite significantly in trip but must be given massive respect while School Boy Hours would appear to have no stamina concerns were he to get a late call up. Sitting as third reserve, he looks well capable of landing a big prize after numerous promising efforts this season, including second-placed efforts behind both Latest Exhibition and Eklat De Rire.
It’s tempting to side with Agusta Gold on her debut for Willie Mullins and she’s sure to go close but the record of novices in the Irish Grand National is significant and she’s likely to come up against a few unexposed sorts. Latest Exhibition has a lot going for him and while Espanito Bello and Sempo most definitely appear to have plenty up their sleeves, preference goes for Coko Beach.
Jordan Gainford’s seven pounds allowance will be a big help to his chances and given that the Gigginstown House Stud team have put him on the six-year-old, that suggests he’s very well fancied. The Thyestes Chase has produced numerous winners of this marathon contest and there’s every chance that Coko Beach can add his name to that illustrious roll of honour.
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