Roi Des Francs a live contender to end Mullins’ Irish National wait

Punchestown prize pot to top €2.6m as €100,000 boost announced

Roi Des Francs is a prime fancy for the four-mile National Hunt Chase on Day One of Cheltenham next week but has also been installed as one of the early favourites to secure Willie Mullins a first Boylesports Irish Grand National success less than a fortnight later.

An early Easter means Ireland’s richest handicap chase takes place just nine days after the Gold Cup, and a dozen days before the Aintree Grand National.

So the make-up of Fairyhouse’s E275,000 traditional Easter Monday highlight is unlikely to become clear until at least after next week’s National Hunt festival although the weights for the Irish National have been released and see Valseur Lido (11.10) a clear topweight.

The Gold Cup entry is one of 17 Willie Mullins trained horses among a total entry of 90 for a contest which is a rare big race blank in the champion trainer’s CV. Away We Go’s narrow defeat to Liberty Counsel in 2013 is the nearest Mullins has come to winning it to date but he filled a similar long-running gap at Christmas when Don Poli secured him a first Lexus Chase.


The big race sponsor immediately went 10-1 the field including Roi Des Francs (10.12) whose range of Cheltenham options also includes the RSA for which is a 12-1 shot behind another Gigginstown Stud owned star, No More Heroes.

Michael O’Leary’s team has won the Irish National on two occasions, with Hear The Echo in 2008, and last year with Thunder And Roses when Gigginstown were also second and fourth.

They have 23 entries this year including Sir Des Champs. The former Gold Cup runner up is on 11st alongside two other Willie Mullins trained contenders, Shaneshill and Blood Cotil.

A total of 11 cross-channel trained entries remain in the race with Beg To Differ heading a trio of potential hopefuls from Jonjo O’Neill’s yard. O’Neill has won the Irish National twice before with Butler’s Cabin in 2007 and Shutthefrontdoor two years ago.

Gordon Elliott is also chasing a first Irish National and among the initial ante-post market leaders are his entries, Cause Of Causes, Noble Endeavor and Mala Beach. Sunday's Leinster National winner, Venitian De Mai heads Jim Dreaper's potential team which could also include last year's third, Sizing Coal.

In other news, the Punchestown authorities have announced a E100,000 boost to its prizemoney pot for next month’s festival, bringing the total to over E2.6 million.

"This year's enhancements focus on the supporting races and in total, 23 of the festivals 37 races have received prize money boosts for 2016," said Punchestown's racing manager, Richie Galway.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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