Grand National prediction: Arbre de Vie could be good value for Willie Mullins
Brian O'Connor picks his top four from 30 runners in Fairyhouse
Augusta Kate trainer Willie Mullins with jockey David Mullins after winning the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse. Photograph: PA Wire
Turning the Boylesports Irish Grand National into the richest jumps race ever run in this country hasn’t attracted the absolute cream of Ireland’s steeplechasers but a lucrative Easter Monday in the sun still awaits one of the 30 runners at Fairyhouse.
For various reasons Ireland’s top 20 rated horses all skip the €500,000 highlight although plenty will bet in the belief the long-time ante-post favourite Our Duke is a potential Gold Cup hero in the making.
If that’s the case then Jessica Harrington’s strapping novice could be a blot on the handicap especially since the Gold Cup winning trainer continues to stretch the rich vein of winning form she has enjoyed since Sizing John brought the house down at Cheltenham last month.
Our Duke could eventually be in a similar league. But right now a 30-runner handicap is a big challenge to a novice having just his fourth start over fences.
There is also concern that ground quick enough to require recent watering could be faster than ideal although in-form jockey Robbie Power is confident and said: “He’s only a novice but novices do have a great record in the race”.
Harrington has just the one hope as she pursues a first Irish National but champion owner Michael O’Leary will see his Gigginstown colours carried by almost half the field as he chases three-in-a-row.
Eight of O’Leary’s 14 hopefuls are among the ten that will be saddled by Gordon Elliott for a race which he too has yet to win but which could put a definitive stamp on his battle with Willie Mullins to be champion trainer.
From the topweight Lord Scoundrel to last year’s runner up Bless The Wings at the bottom, Elliott looks to have bases covered and he has been dominant in the top handicap chases run so far this season.
Double Seven misses out but his owner JP McManus will still be triple-handed as the first reserve Oscar Knight is set to be get in. McManus also has the 2014 winner, Shutthefrontdoor, and is chasing a fourth win in the race.
Barry Geraghty has opted to ride Minella Foru who has had just one run over hurdles since his 2015 Paddy Power Chase success and his Naas start was encouraging. He might appreciate softer ground however.
Willie Mullins is another yet to win the Irish National and given the numerical strength of his rivals Elliott and O’Leary they have understandably commanded more attention on the run-up to the race.
But 50 years after his father Paddy won the first of his four Irish Nationals, there could hardly be a better time for the reigning champion trainer to break his duck and Arbre de Vie might represent each way value to do so.
That requires believing Ruby Walsh has picked wrong from Mullins’s three runners and the champion jockey’s judgement is rarely off although he did get it wrong in Sunday’s Grade One.
Haymount ran third to Tiger Roll in the four-miler at Cheltenham so stamina won’t be an issue. Arbre de Vie ran in the race but clipped heels and unseated Katie Walsh as the race hotted up.
Arbre de Vie has never won over fences – although that famously didn’t stop Rule The World at Aintree last year – but has always suggested an extreme stamina test will suit him.
At a big price Arbre de Vie could be value in an open race and transform the trainers’ championship in the process.
The rest of Fairyhouse’s Easter Monday card presents a range of opportunities for JP McManus’s team with the hugely promising Sutton Place of particular interest in the Grade Two hurdle.
Grand National prediction- 1: Arbre de Vie. 2: Our Duke 3: Abolitionist 4: Minella Foru