Our Duke justifies favouritism with superb Grand National win
Jessica Harrington’s impressive novice now 10-1 for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup
Robbie Power celebrates victory on Our Duke in the IBoylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The only blot on the horizon for the Jessica Harrington-Robbie Power team is the season finishes next week following Our Duke’s superb Boylesports Irish Grand National success at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.
Within a month of Sizing John landing the Cheltenham Gold Cup, racing’s hottest combination confirmed they have another prime ‘Blue-Riband’ contender in Our Duke who landed Ireland’s richest ever jumps race in style.
It might have been a handicap but fittingly the mammoth €270,000 first-prize went to the best horse as the 9-2 favourite routed 27 opponents on just his fourth start over fences.
At the line Our Duke had 14 lengths in hand of Bless The Wings who finished runner-up for the second year running. Abolitionist was third with the 2015 winner Thunder And Roses back in fourth.
It continued the purple patch enjoyed by both Harrington and Power since Cheltenham and their momentum going into next week bodes well for Sizing John who is set to return to action in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
Our Duke earned immediate 10-1 quotes for the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup but now armed with two prime candidates it is only 7-2 that Harrington will again land steeplechasing’s greatest prize next year.
Despite almost being unable to stop saddling winners recently – she had her first hat-trick of winners on a flat card at Cork on Saturday – Harrington seemed overwhelmed by her first ever Irish National success.
“He’s only a novice but he jumped so well, up there all the way, and Robert rode him with such confidence,” she said. “At the fourth last I saw the pack closing but he changed gear again. I had been worried about the ground but he absolutely loved it.”
That Power rode with confidence wasn’t surprising. Armed with a new job as No 1 to Sizing John’s owners, and with a superb Aintree festival under his belt, the 35-year-old jockey had Our Duke towards the front of the massive field throughout and always looked in control.
“He was a Grade One horse in a handicap and full credit to Jessie, this has been the plan since Christmas,” said Power who is originally from near Trim.
“This is my local racecourse so this means so much.”
For a second year running Bless The Wings had to settle for second and while Gordon Elliott was frustrated at missing out again, he did have the consolation of securing a potentially vital prizemoney edge over Willie Mullins in the race for the trainers’ championship.
As well as the runner-up, Elliott had the fifth and sixth, General Principle and Noble Endeavor, in front of the Mullins hope Haymount. It meant the season’s leading trainer emerged from the National over €120,000 better off than his rival.
Some bookmakers now make Elliott a 1-6 favourite to be crowned champion for the first time next week.
In the much longer term the sky looks the limit for Our Duke who made some slight errors early in the race but for a novice was impressively sure-footed. His performance left Power hugely impressed.
“He made a few novicey little mistakes but full credit to everyone. Jessie has done some job to train this horse on only his fourth start over fences. Once he got plenty of light we were going to be happy and he travelled so well. He is just a very good horse,” he said.
Harrington indicated Our Duke and Sizing John will be kept apart next season before a potentially mouth-watering Gold Cup clash.
“We’ve all got to get there first but that’s why he didn’t go to Cheltenham this year. We decided to wait to go to the Gold Cup next year,” she said. “He’s the same age as Sizing John – they’re both seven – so it’s fantastic.”
It was a much less happy National for Barry Geraghty who has a suspected broken arm after a fall from Minella Foru early in the race.