Irish Grand National set to be vital in champion trainer battle

First prize of €270K could prove crucial in battle between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott

Bellshill is among Willie Mullins’s four starters in the Irish Grand National. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Bellshill is among Willie Mullins’s four starters in the Irish Grand National. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

The weather is predicted to be perishing at Easter Monday’s €500,000 Boylesports Irish Grand National in Fairyhouse but competition for Ireland’s richest jumps race will be white-hot between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.  

Neither of the sport’s dominant figures has won the Irish National before and the €270,000 first-prize could prove crucial in their battle to be crowned champion trainer at the season-ending Punchstown festival later this month.

Elliott was overhauled for the title by Mullins in the dying stages of last year’s campaign and is set to saddle 13 of the 30 National runners. Mullins has four starters, including two of the market leaders, Pairofbrowneyes and Bellshill.

The trainer’s table is based on prizemoney and a Grade One Fairyhouse double for Mullins on Easter Sunday narrowed the gap to Elliott to just over €400,000.

Elliott responded with one winner at Fairyhouse and three in Cork to bring his total of individual winners for the campaign to 198. He is rated a 4-7 favourite by Paddy Power to be champion trainer for the first time.  

Both men will attack all of Fairyhouse’s Easter Monday action in strength and Elliott will saddle 30 horses overall. Mullins has 22 declarations.

If the big Easter Monday question come 5.00pm will be the likely identity of the National winner, ground conditions are set to be the major query beforehand.

Rain forecast

Up to 20mm of rain is being forecast for Fairyhouse by mid-afternoon. Track officials are monitoring the situation although “no concerns” about racing going ahead are reported.  

The ground at Fairyhouse was “soft to heavy” on Sunday and clerk of the course Brendan Sheridan said: “Hopefully we’ll be fine but there is a lot of rain forecast even though we’re told it will come in intervals rather than one flood. We’ll monitor things.”

Fairyhouse’s manager Peter Roe said he hopes for a National attendance of up to 12,000 but conceded: “It looks like being an uncomfortable day weather-wise. We’re keeping an eye on the forecast. But on what we’re being told I have no concerns.”

Mullins had a perfect tonic for his chances of a first Irish National when landing Sunday’s Ryanair Gold Cup. The reigning champion trainer had never before won the historic contest formerly known as the Powers Gold Cup.

Mullins’s Al Boum Photo (11-2) beat Elliott’s 13-8 favourite Shattered Love in a race where all nine runners were saddled by the two trainers.

Laurina enjoyed an easy victory as a 2-11 favourite in the Irish Stallion Farms Mares Novice Hurdle under Paul Townend.

“I wanted to keep it as simple as I could. I was on the best horse and when you start complicating it things start going wrong.

“She’ll have to achieve a bit more to get to the heights of some of the mares that have been there [Mullins’s yard] but she’s doing everything right,” the jockey said.

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