Latest Exhibition’s Easter plans will not be decided until the last minute

Willie Mullins and owners have until Friday to make up their minds

A call on whether Latest Exhibition tackles Easter Monday's Boylesports Irish Grand National or opts for a Grade One alternative the day before instead looks set to be left until as late as possible.

Final declarations for the National are made on Friday, 72 hours before the most valuable jumps race of the season in Ireland.

It is also when the final field for Sunday’s Underwriting Exchange Novice Chase will be confirmed.

Latest Exhibition, a general 6-1 favourite for the €400,000 National, was left in Fairyhouse’s novice event on Tuesday, along with 11 other entries including Energumene.

Willie Mullins’s star was forced to miss the Arkle at Cheltenham when going lame just days beforehand.

As anticipated Envoi Allen skips Sunday’s race – which used to be known as the Powers Gold Cup – but Energumene’s possible participation leaves the Latest Exhibition team with a tricky decision to make.

“We’re just going to give ourselves the option. It looks to be a fine week, with a few showers towards the weekend, so I think the ground is going to be beautiful. We have to decide on Friday morning so we’ll see,” trainer Paul Nolan said on Tuesday.

A similarly late call is also likely to be made about Tiger Roll lining up at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday although the big-race sponsors have described the hugely popular veteran as their "biggest loser" in ante-post betting.

Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team has an alternative option in Aintree’s Betway Bowl a few days afterwards. However, they haven’t ruled out using a claiming jockey on the Irish National topweight.

Run Wild Fred and Coko Beach are other Gigginstown contenders for the Easter Monday highlight, which could also see a handful of hopefuls from JP McManus.

The owner, who secured the first of three Irish National wins to date all of 38 years ago with Bit Of A Skite, has a number of options including the Leopardstown Chase winner Off You Go.

He is now officially trained by Robbie Burns who has moved to Charles Byrnes’s Co Limerick yard as the latter’s six-month licence suspension continues on the back of the Viking Hoard case.

Burns, usually based in Co Westmeath, has had a limited number of winners in his career, the last of them on the flat at Wolverhampton in 2016. His last runner was in December of 2018.

Earlier this month, Burns told the Irish Field: “I know Charles a long time and am happy to help out. His son Cathal will assist me and Charles is not involved.

“We have managed to keep all the existing owners on board and hopefully we will have some good luck.”

Burns’s first runners under the arrangement will be at Clonmel on Thursday. As well as Off You Go he has another Irish National entry in Doctor Duffy.

Outlining their own possible Irish National plans, McManus's spokesman, Frank Berry, said of Off You Go: "The horse won the Leopardstown Chase before Charles went off. He's in good form and he's still in the stable there. Robbie is hopefully getting on fine with him."

The McManus trio of Scoir Mear, Ten Ten and Fitzhenry, filled the frame in the Leinster National over a fortnight ago and could all line up at Fairyhouse if making the final field of 30 runners.

Forza Milan is currently number 46 on the list of National entries and trainer James Nash is anxious he gets a shot at the race.

“It’s great to have a horse with, what you’d think, is a small chance in the National and he has a lovely racing weight. Even if they do go up six or eight pounds he’ll still have a lovely racing weight.

“We have everything crossed and he stays and has turned into a great jumper. More importantly he has only ran three times in Fairyhouse and they were probably his three best runs.

“It would be fabulous to see how he gets on in a race like the National,” he said.

Another 25-1 outsider is Jessica Harrington’s Discordantly who is currently 30 on the list of entries.

“It looks like he’s going to have 10st and I think Paddy Kennedy is going to get down to that weight to ride him.

“I feel he has a bit of improvement to come. I think there is a big day in him and if it’s not this year in the Irish National, he’s a horse that will definitely be targeted for the English National,” Harrington’s daughter, Kate, reported.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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