Irish National €270,000 could be crucial in trainer’s title battle

Outlander looks set to carry topweight in Easter Monday highlight at Fairyhouse

Neither Gordon Elliott or Willie Mullins has ever won the Boylesports Irish Grand National before but a €270,000 first prize for Easter Monday's Fairyhouse feature could prove pivotal in their epic struggle for Ireland's trainer's championship.

The €500,000 National is Ireland’s richest jumps race and Elliott has indicated he hopes to have “10 or 12” runners in it.

They include a number of the market leaders such as Folsom Blue and the Michael O’Leary-owned Monbeg Notorious.

Mullins is unlikely to be as numerically strong but his big hope, Bellshill, is a 10-1 clear favourite in some ante-post lists. Apairofbrowneyes won on his first start for Mullins at Gowran earlier this month and is also prominent in the betting.


However having saddled a record 194th winner of this National Hunt season at the weekend – and fresh from having again beaten his great rival to Cheltenham’s leading trainer award – momentum appears to be behind Elliott.

He has finished runner-up in the Irish National for the last two years with Bless The Wings and will be desperate to stretch a lead of over half a million euro on Mullins in his attempt to be crowned champion trainer for the first time.

Title challenge

Elliott’s title challenge came up €199,455 short in last season’s memorable duel after Mullins plundered a remarkable €937,075 in prizemoney at the campaign-ending Punchestown Festival to pip his rival on the line.

“Willie’s ammunition for Punchestown is unbelievable but we’ll give it a good rattle. We’ll do our best. That’s all we can do,” Elliott said on Monday.

With over a half a million of a lead, an Elliott success in the Irish National could make his championship lead tough to overhaul, especially with over €400,000 to be split between the first, second and third at Fairyhouse.

On the other hand should Mullins emerge a Fairyhouse winner he is likely to be a hot favourite to be crowned champion trainer for a 12th time next month.

Elliott’s numerical strength will include most of a powerful Gigginstown Stud team as Michael O’Leary pursues a fourth win in the race. It is a decade since Hear The Echo first won for the Ryanair chief executive while Rogue Angel (2016) and Thunder And Roses (2015) were also successful.

O’Leary’s brother, Eddie, indicated on Monday that the multiple Grade One winner Outlander could carry topweight in the Irish National and predicted the all-powerful Gigginstown team could have “six or seven” in the race.

“There’s a very good chance Outlander will go. If he runs Rob James can claim seven and will ride him. Him, A Genie In Abottle, and Monbeg Notorious would be our main three.

“I could see us having six or seven. What’s entitled to run will run. A bunch of them won’t get in. There are a few around the edge so a lot will depend where the cut off is.

“Monbeg Notorious is one of our main ones, especially since it looks like being heavy ground for the National,” O’Leary said.

Novice status

Monbeg Notorious belied his novice status with an impressive success in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran in December. He followed that up with a Grade Two success in the Ten Up Chase at Navan last month.

A maximum of 30 runners can run in the Irish National for which declarations are made on Good Friday. The ground at Fairyhouse is currently "soft to heavy" but the good news for track manager Peter Roe is that the threat of snow later this week has eased.

“That’s gone. There are wintry showers in the forecast but with no ‘stickability.’ It will be real National Hunt weather and people will have to wrap up warm. But it looks like being dry,” Roe said.

“I’m calling the ground soft to heavy at the moment. Considering the Spring we’ve had, with no growth and snow and cold I think it’s in very good shape,” he added.

There will be no cross-channel raiders in the big race after the Kim Muir winner Missed Approach was ruled out. The JP McManus-owned Shutthefrontdoor was the last British-based winner of the race when successful in 2014.

It’s 35 years since McManus won the first of his three Irish Nationals. His Cheltenham Gold Cup third, Anibale Fly, remains in both the Fairyhouse race and the Aintree National 12 days afterwards. But no decision on where he goes has yet been made.

"Squouateur and Tom Mullins's horse (Oscar Knight) are a long way down at the minute but if they got in they'd probably run," said McManus's racing manager, Frank Berry.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column