It's being billed as the "Race of the People" but Willie Mullins hopes he will be able to break the little-guy streak in Easter Monday's €250,000 Boylesports Irish Grand National and secure a first victory in the Fairyhouse highlight.
After victories for the Dot Love-trained 50 to 1 shot Liberty Counsel last year, and Tim Gibney's 33 to 1 Lion Na Bearnai in 2012, the new National sponsors were yesterday playing up the chances of another upset victory against racing's big guns.
Nevertheless the weights are dominated by some of the most famous names in the game with Don Cossack, owned by Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud, top of the ratings and JP McManus pitching in 11 of the 69 entries left in the feature.
In fact just two of the top 10 rated horses are not owned by either McManus or O'Leary, the exceptions being Jim Culloty's Kim Muir winner Spring Heeled and Prince De Beauchene, one of half a dozen horses trained by Willie Mullins.
The National is a rare big-race blank on the champion trainer’s CV although he came close last year when the 25 to 1 Away We Go came up half a length short of Liberty Counsel.
Mullins nominated Away We Go for another go at the prestigious marathon contest and also indicated that Touch The Eden and Suntiep, third in the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, could take their chance also .
“It certainly hasn’t been the luckiest race for us over the years,” he admitted. “Away We Go will hopefully run and Touch The Eden and Suntiep are possible. A lot will depend on the ground. If it dries up it might not suit Suntiep.”
Another big name yet to strike in the Irish National is local man Barry Geraghty whose big-race ride is uncertain as yet.
“I’ve ridden in it about 15 or 16 times and never won. I’ve probably ridden about five or six favourites and I think fifth or sixth is as good as I’ve got,” he said. “My brother Ross won on The Bunny Boiler and he’s never shy about reminding me!” said Geraghty.
The big-race sponsors immediately installed one of the McManus team, Cause Of Causes, runner-up to Spring Heeled at Cheltenham after a last-fence mistake, as their 10-1 favourite.
McManus will also have the option of running Saturday’s Aintree National third Double Seven, as well as three Jonjo O’Neill-trained possibles, as he pursues a third win in the race.
Pineau De Re
Barry Connell is another top owner with hopes of Irish National success as both Foxrock and Sraid Padraig remain in contention to run for the Dublin businessman who last year sold Saturday's Aintree National hero Pineau De Re.
However Foxrock, along with Don Cossack and Spring Heeled, also holds an entry in the Easter Sunday Grade One feature, the Powers Gold Cup.
Jim Dreaper, who has won the Irish National four times, hopes to be doubly represented by Los Amigos and Goonyella.
“It could be for luck. It means we go to Fairyhouse with a relatively fresh horse,” said Dreaper. “Both horses are intended runners and would like soft ground.”
Co Down trainer Liam Lennon is pointing his Cheltenham Foxhunters winner Tammys Hill at the race and the horse has been allotted 10st 6lbs.