Michael O’Leary sends in the cavalry in bid for third consecutive Irish National
Almost half the field in the €500,000 feature will be from his Gigginstown Stud team
Michael O’Leary looks set to dominate the Irish Grand National, with almost half the field in Monday’s €500,000 showdown running in his ownership. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell/INPHO
With Michael O’Leary set to have almost half the field for Easter Monday’s €500,000 Boylesports Irish Grand National, Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh has ruled out any steps being taken to restrict the numbers of entries any one owner or trainer can make for a handicap.
The Ryanair boss has 14 of the 30 declarations for the richest jumps race ever run in Ireland, eight of them trained by Gordon Elliott, who will saddle 10 National runners in all.
Fears that a concentration of talent in relatively few hands is impacting on racing’s competitiveness have been widespread this season, but Kavanagh has again dismissed any idea of restricting owner or trainers to specific numbers of runners in handicaps.
“I can’t see any circumstance in which that makes sense. If you run an open racing programme and if owners have horses qualified for a race, then they are entitled to run them. Doing anything other than that is certainly not something I would subscribe to,” he said.
O’Leary is seeking a third Irish National in a row and his two previous winners, Rogue Angel and Thunder And Roses, are among the Gigginstown Stud team in pursuit of a record prizefund, which has almost doubled in value since last year.
The five horses O’Leary ran in last weekend’s Aintree National, including Rogue Angel and Thunder And Roses, are among seven horses in all lined up to make a quick reappearance after Good Friday’s declarations.
Brian Kavanagh points to the increased prizemoney as a major reason for an overall surge in entries for the traditional Easter highlight, and the National could prove pivotal to Elliott’s chances of dethroning Willie Mullins as champion trainer when the season ends at Punchestown later this month.
Elliott currently leads his rival by more than €350,00 and bookmakers rate a non-Gigginstown hope, Noble Endeavor, as his best chance. However, it is the novice Our Duke, representing the in-form Jessica Harrington-Robbie Power team, who tops betting lists at 5-1.
Mullins has three runners as he pursues a first victory, 50 years after his legendary father, Paddy, won the first of his four Irish Nationals.
Ruby Walsh has opted to ride Haymount, while his sister Katie, a winner on Thunder And Roses two years ago, will ride Baie Des Iles for her husband, Ross O’Sullivan. Four women in all will ride in the race, with the champion conditional-elect Rachael Blackmore, due to ride Abolitionist.
There are two cross-channel hopes, the 2014 winner Shutthefrontdoor, and Fletchers Flyer, who will be ridden by Cork jockey Noel Fehily. The three reserves for the race, including Oscar Knight, are all owned by JP McManus.
Selective watering is set to continue at Fairyhouse over the weekend.
Colin’s Sister will be the only cross-channel raider when the Easter festival opens on Sunday, although potential repercussions on the trainers’ championship tussle from the two Grade 1 races will be uppermost on many minds.
The quirky but brilliant Yorkhill may be something of a Mullins banker in the Ryanair Gold Cup – despite his habit of jumping left – while the trainer has four of the seven in the mares novice hurdle final.
Not surprisingly, Ruby Walsh has opted for the admirable Let’s Dance, who should relish the step up to two-and-a-half miles after her Cheltenham victory at two.
Paul Townend has opted for the apparent stable number two in Airlie Beach, leaving David Mullins on Augusta Kate, who could represent betting value considering she hasn’t had a chance to show her best in her last two races.
She was giving Death Duty a race at Naas in January when falling at the last, and a bad mistake at the eighth in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham finished her chance.