The Trainers’ Championship
This time last year, Gordon Elliott had a £350,000 lead over Willie Mullins in the Trainers’ Championship. It’s a little bit bigger on this occasion – £521,626. Probably not ideal, and obviously you’d love it to be the other way around for Willie’s sake.
But there’s huge money on offer this weekend – and, as we saw last year at Punchestown there’s massive money there as well. It’s funny how it will all come down to eight days of racing at the end of the year – three at Fairyhouse and five at Punchestown – but that’s the way it goes.
The Irish National is the big one on Easter Monday. Both Willie and Gordon will have a lot of horses running this weekend, and it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out. There’s enough prize money on offer for Willie to go close.
But it’s not all about winners in that regard. Places help too. There’s £300,000 of it up for grabs on Sunday alone. So you’re not just targeting the £59,000 on offer for a win, you’re also after the £21,000 for second, and so on. Running as many horses into the first five in those races will acquire a lot of money as a result.
Gordon and Willie could barely be separated at Cheltenham, and they haven’t let things slide since then. Gordon’s horse, in particular, are in exceptional order – I think he had 16 winners last week. At this time of year, it’s amazing that he’s still pumping out those numbers.
He’s a deserving favourite for the Trainers’ Championship, but Willie came back from quite a long way behind to win it last time out. So it’s not over yet.
Sunday 1 April 14:50 Fairyhouse – Mares Novices Hurdle
Laurina has had a relatively late campaign. She hasn’t exactly been extended, with just three runs, each of which she got through with ease. She won at Tramore, won at Fairyhouse and also won at Cheltenham. All of this is encouraging Willie to run her here, especially since there’s no Mares’ Novice at Punchestown.
Previously, Willie has had a one-two-three in this race, so most of the mares that are currently entered will run. It’s a Grade 1, so it’s ideal for these fillies at this time of year. Willie will be firing as many bullets as he can at it, and every filly that shows good form in training will get their chance come race-day.
Laurina has shown she’s head-and-shoulders above the rest of the novice mares. It’s hard to see where the rest of the field on Sunday can find the form to beat her. She looks too far ahead of them.
Sunday 1 April Fairyhouse 15:20 – Grade 2 Novices Hurdle
Bleu Berry won it last year, who went on to win the Coral Cup. Scarpetta could take his chance. Getabird was disappointing at Cheltenham, and because he petered out so early there he might be a bit fresher. It’s only a Grade 2 so it’s hard to see Next Destination going because of the penalties, but a lot of the others we’ve entered should end up going and taking their chances.
Sunday 1 April Fairyhouse 16:30 – Ryanair Gold Cup Novices Chase
There has been talk of Footpad running, but he is likely to be going to Aintree instead. To be fair, he won the Arkle in brilliant fashion and running at Fairyhouse may involve too quick a turnaround. Aintree will be perfect for him.
Saturnas will definitely run, as will Up For Review. Maybe also Invitation Only. Those three are likely to be top of the pile.
Gordon Elliott looks like he’s going to run The Storyteller, Petit Mouchoir and Shattered Love. This will be a proper Grade 1. But it always has been a good race – look at last year, when Yorkhill and Road to Respect came down the straight together. Not a race in which Willie has been overly lucky in the past, but hopefully his look will change this year.