As the national hunt season begins to wind down on the road to Aintree and Punchestown, we first take a quick stop at Fairyhouse for the Irish Grand National.
Given the nature of the race and the likelihood of the ground being somewhere between a bog and a swimming pool, it might be tempting to side with a featherweight and hope the handicap mark hands your selection the clear advantage.
Our Duke won this race last year though, off 11st 4lbs. Evidently, he was well-in that day off 153, but hindsight is a lovely thing. That was still the biggest weight by a winner since Flashing Steel won off 12 stone back in 1995 for John Mulhern.
There doesn’t appear to be anything to that level in this year’s renewal though. Let’s make a case for three runners.
Pairofbrowneyes – 7/1
This Willie Mullins runner looks the real deal at the top of the market. Coming off the back of a very impressive three-length victory over Space Cadet. He got raised nine pounds for that run, but there’s plenty to like about this nine-year-old who seems to be improving over fences.
Course form isn’t a problem, given that he was second to Ball D’arc at the Meath venue in January last year, as well as clearly enjoying the softer ground – winning on very, very heavy last time out at Gowran.
That last run saw him held-up by Paul Townend, before he cruised home a shade cosily. Not only was that impressive in and of itself, but he was hampered en-route and still looked the only winner from a bit out. There’s plenty of reasons to think he has a bit up his sleeve after that spell over hurdles didn’t go too well. He is a leading contender.
Kemboy – 16/1
Forgive me for opting for yet another Mullins runner, especially considering he’s never actually won this race that his father won on four separate occasions. He just appears to have a very strong hand, which won’t surprise you or anybody.
Only two six-year-olds have won this race since 1974 – Rhyme ‘n’ Reason in 1985 and Organisedconfusion ridden by Nina Carberry in 2011. This one looks like a tidy sort whose mark may well underestimate his potential though.
Kemboy is taking somewhat of a step into the unknown over this trip, but he travelled well into the JLT at Cheltenham and there’s every chance it was two things – an inadequate trip and nowhere near soft enough for this fella.
His two best pieces of form have come on heavy ground – just a three-length defeat to Sutton Place in a beginners’ chase as well as a brilliant jumping performance in February. Oh, both of those were at Fairyhouse, too. The money that came for him at Cheltenham may be a hint.
Arkwrisht – 25/1
They say six months is a long time in training. Well, this must be a prime example of that adage. Back in October, this son of Lavirco went off a warm 7/1 third favourite behind Total Recall and Alpha Des Obeaux in the Munster National at Limerick.
Fast forward half a year and Arkwrisht is 25/1 for the Irish National off a pound lower. Now, let’s assess what went wrong in the interim. He was cruising over three-and-a-half miles at Cork in November. He made significant headway and took up the lead, travelling superbly. He hit a fence and that was that.
He jumped exceptionally right-handed at Navan after that, but the stiff nature of the right-handed bends at Fairyhouse may dilute this impediment. He still managed to dispute the lead four out, but his race was run.
This isn’t one for the layers, I can say that much. I’d rather have this sort onside going into this race.
* All odds correct at time of posting.