Na Bearnaí back on track in search for famous double


RACING:The Irish Grand National hero Líon Na Bearnaí could return to the scene of his 2012 Easter triumph next month en route to the most famous National of all at Aintree in April.

Fairyhouse’s Bobbyjo Chase provided a perfect prep for the Aintree National winner Hedgehunter in 2005 and Líon Na Bearnaí’s trainer Tom Gibney is hoping for similar fortune when his stable star returns to action at the end of February.

Last year’s shock 33 to 1 Irish National winner hasn’t been seen since being pulled up in the Hennessy at Newbury last month, the first sign for Gibney that all was not right in his yard.

“We were making excuses for him afterwards, maybe wondering if he was out-classed, but he wasn’t right, although I didn’t realise it at the time,” the former amateur rider said yesterday.

“For the last 11 weeks none of my horses have been right. All their performances before Christmas were disappointing. We brought the vet in to do some tests and they’ve had a virus.

“I think and hope we’re getting close to having them back fit and healthy. We’ll do some scopes this week and hope for the best. But we’ve run out of time to get Líon Na Bearnaí to the Thyestes so we’re looking at the Bobbyjo. Then it will hopefully be on to Aintree,” Gibney added.

Looking for double

Even last Easter’s fairytale success for the small Co Meath yard will pale if Líon Na Bearnaí can complete a remarkable double in Aintree, and despite his disappointing run at Newbury, both Ladbrokes and William Hill rate the Irish horse at only 25 to 1 to do just that.

Those odds are half the monster 50 to 1 SP the 11-year-old landed last season’s Grade 2 Ten Up Chase on the way to his Fairyhouse victory and it is not just the Bobbyjo that has a proven pedigree in terms of throwing up future Aintree winners.

The horse Bobbyjo won the Irish National in 1998, a year before scoring in Liverpool, and beat Papillon who memorably landed the Aintree National in 2000. Numbersixvalverde also won the Irish National in 2005, a year before winning in Liverpool.

“Líon Na Bearnaí was one of the first to come down with this virus but he seems to be in good form now. If the tests this week are good we will 100 per cent be aiming at the Bobbyjo,” Gibney said.

Another proven big-race winner could be heading to Aintree as Co Wexford trainer Colm Murphy has the National in mind as a possible target for Quito De La Roque.

A dual Grade One winner in 2011, Quito De La Roque’s overall form has slid since memorably beating Sizing Europe in the JNwine Champion Chase at Down Royal but he didn’t run badly behind Tidal Bay in the Lexus over Christmas.

“He stayed at it at the one pace but they got away from him. In fairness that’s probably what he is: a galloper. That’s what he’s always been. Even in the North he out-stayed them,” Murphy said yesterday.

“He’s in at Thurles on Thursday (Kinloch Brae) and we’ll see about that. It’s either that race or the Hennessy that look like the options next,” he added.

Jezki for Supreme

In other news yesterday, Jessica Harrington indicated that JP McManus’s new purchase Jezki is likely to head straight to Cheltenham for the Supreme, a race which the unbeaten hurdler is currently ante-post favourite.

Harrington suggested immediately after Jezki’s hugely impressive Leopardstown romp over Christmas that he could return to Leopardstown for next month’s Deloitte Novice Hurdle, but she has now decided to keep him fresh for his big day in March.

“He will be a better horse on better ground. I know it’s down that he might run in the Deloitte, but I think that’s unlikely. He will probably go straight to Cheltenham,” Harrington said yesterday.

“I haven’t really talked to Frank Berry (McManus’ racing manager) yet, but the horse was always going to have a bit of a break now and we’re basically going to train him for Cheltenham and then Punchestown.”

“I’m just the trainer and I’m delighted the horse has changed hands and is staying in the yard, which for me is the most important thing,” she added.

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