Jack Kennedy out to make it sweet '16' in Grand National
Teenage Kerry jockey’s claim could prove significant on historic day at Fairyhouse
Jockey Jack Kennedy on Squouateur before the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle during Gold Cup Day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. Photograph: PA
The hand of history is all over the 2016 Boylesports Irish Grand National but its destiny could rest in the hands of its youngest jockey as Jack Kennedy bids to seal a meteoric rise to prominence this season on board Killer Crow at Fairyhouse.
Commemoration ceremonies for the 1916 Easter Rising are planned to include a re-enactment at Fairyhouse of the Irish National won 100 years ago by All Sorts.
However, the most prominent ‘16’ celebrations this Easter Monday could revolve around 16-year-old Kennedy, who has taken Irish racing by storm in the last six months.
The Kerry rider teams up with Killer Crow in the €275,000 highlight, one of eight runners in the race owned by the Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud, and also one of eight runners for his trainer Gordon Elliott.
Don Cossack famously gave Co Meath-based Elliott a first Cheltenham Gold Cup success with his very first runner just 10 days ago and now the man who has emerged as Willie Mullins’s biggest rival is after a first victory in Ireland’s most famous steeplechase.
Remarkably, Mullins isn’t represented, which leaves Ruby Walsh free to team up with another Elliott hope, Bless The Wings, while Gigginstown’s number one rider, Bryan Cooper, who got his GoldCup pick memorably right, is on board Sub Lieutenant for Sandra Hughes.
She has two other O’Leary hopes, including last year’s winner, Thunder And Roses, who sports first-time blinkers, and amidst the jockey shuffle for a final declared field of 29, Kennedy is set to get a first spin on Killer Crow. Patient style In the context of one of the most fiercely competitive handicaps of the year, Kennedy’s claim, described as almost unfair by one trainer during the winter, could prove very significant, and his patient style equally so.
Killer Crow has been doing most of his racing over shorter trips, including when chasing home the subsequent Cheltenham winner Empire Of Dirt in the Leopardstown Chase.
However, last winter he tackled the National course and distance and appeared to be going best of all up to the second last before fading in a race won by the Kennedy-ridden Bless The Wings.
That was on very deep winter ground though and Elliott is anxiously examining the skies for his huge team of runners, which also includes Mala Beach who has been among the ante- post favourites for some time.
“We’re firing as many darts at it as we can. The more rain that comes, the better for Mala Beach: if the rain comes, he’s got a very good chance,” he said.
“The one worry [with Killer Crow] would be whether he’ll stay the trip, but Jack Kennedy rides him and claims 3lb off him. He’ll drop him in and hunt away. If he stays the trip, he’s got a massive chance,” added Elliott, whose Kim Muir winner, Cause Of Causes, tops the weights.
Silver Birch’s 2007 Aintree National win catapulted Elliott to prominence and he would be a popular local winner, although in local and historic terms, Venitien de Mai would be a particularly redolent winner. Famous Half a century after Flyingbolt gave Tom Dreaper a 10th Irish National – and the last of a seven-in-a-row which included Arkle in 1964 – Venitien de Mai makes the short trip from Jim Dreaper’s famous Kilsallaghan yard as one of the favourites.
Dreaper himself won this race four times in five years between 1974 and 1978 and Venitien de Mai looked to step up considerably when winning at Naas last month.
His jockey Jonathan Burke, at 20, is also one of the leading young lights but if ground conditions dry a little more, then Killer Crow’s misfortune in missing the cut for a race at Cheltenham a couple of weeks ago can pay off for Kennedy.
Gwencily Berbas’s light campaign can work in his favour in the Grade Two Keelings Hurdle, while the Elliott team can also score in the Grade Two novice hurdle with Sutton Place.
This one surprised connections with his impressive Naas victory last month and looks a type rapidly on the upgrade.