Snow Falcon can keep Elliott and Mullins waiting in Irish National

Fairyhouse feature dominated by two trainers but Meade’s versatile sort a major player

Snow Falcon could take Monday’s irish grand National for Noel Meade. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Snow Falcon could take Monday’s irish grand National for Noel Meade. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

The build-up to the country’s richest jumps race will be firmly viewed in the context of this season’s trainer’s championship battle between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, although victory for Snow Falcon at Fairyhouse might be a reminder the sport isn’t a two-man show.

Pointing that out can seem necessary in the light of Mullins and Elliott saddling 15 of the 17 Irish winners at Cheltenham, not to mention domestic dominance at a level which means each is set to saddle a scarcely credible 200 winners each this season.

In terms of scale it is unprecedented and it extends to Easter Monday’s €500,000 Boylesports Irish Grand National for which Elliott has 13 of the 30 runners. Mullins has four but it’s a quartet that includes two of the market leaders, Pairofbrowneyes and Bellshill.

 Neither man has ever won the Irish National before although they can each boast an Aintree National success. In both financial and prestige terms, victory in the traditional Easter Monday highlight would be significant in its own right. But Fairyhouse’s feature is part of a bigger picture.

A €270,000 first prize, not to mention the €150,000 split between the second and third, could prove pivotal by the end of the season later this month.

Elliott’s lead might be prove impossible to overhaul if his massive team pick up the lion’s share of the National pot, maybe enough to repel the sort of final charge that saw Mullins scoop almost a million at the Punchestown festival last year.

That gave Mullins a 10th trainer’s championship in a row. There’s a danger in presuming his traditional Punchestown dominance is a given. But should he emulate his father, Paddy - a four-time Irish National winner - many suspect his championship streak will stretch to 11.

Mullins has 12 titles to his credit having also won in the 2000-01 season. At the time it represented an interruption to a run of eight championships in nine years for Noel Meade. In the midst of that Meade won an Irish National with The Bunny Boiler and he has two big-race chances this time.

Meade’s handful of runners on the Fairyhouse card pale in comparison to Elliott’s 30 overall starters and Mullins’s 22. The ex-champion’s two National hopes are owned by Patricia Hunt and although doubts surround Moulin A Vent’s jumping, Snow Falcon could be a major player.

This is a horse with the versatility and quality to finish third in an Aintree Hurdle, runner up in an Irish Cesarwitch and also get placed in the Grade One Drinmore Chase on just his second start over fences. He is also a multiple Graded winner in staying hurdles.

Willie Mullins’ Bellshill is antepost favourite for Monday’s Irish National. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Willie Mullins’ Bellshill is antepost favourite for Monday’s Irish National. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Poor jumping blighted his hurdling career but he looks to have been a transformed character in his four starts over fences. He hasn’t run since out of the money at the Dublin Racing Festival having missed Cheltenham through a knock and so comes here fresh.

"He went to Cheltenham but banged himself in the box the day before he was supposed to run,” Meade explained. “The bang might be more of a problem as he missed a couple of days but he was very fit going and he’s not a horse that takes an awful lot of work so hopefully he’ll be OK.”

Snow Falcon concedes experience to almost all of his opposition. However the inclusion of the topweight Outlander - one of ten runners for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud - means he has less than 11st to carry on testing ground and only once since 2000 has a winner had more than 11st.

Inevitably the Elliott battalion contains a number of leading hopes and even more of the usual premium on stamina means Folsom Blue and Monbeg Notorious should be major contenders. Folsom Blue in particular won the National Trial and has looked a rejuvenated character since moving to Elliott this season.

In many ways though it is Mullins’s Pairofbrowneyes who’s the most intriguing starter. Extreme distances such as this were never presented to him in the past but he was upped to almost three miles on his first start for Mullins at Gowran last month and won well.

He’s bred to stay and if he does could still be an attractive mark. It is a major question-mark for an ante-post favourite though and Snow Falcon can prove to be a value alternative.

The Mullins-Elliott theme reverberates throughout the Easter Monday card with the reigning champion saddling seven of the 13 runners for the Grade Two Keeling Hurdle.

Coquins Man appears to be the stable number one, but while Elliott’s Diamond Cauchois has ground to make up on ratings he does relish very heavy ground and comes here fresh.

The spectacular Un De Sceaux wll also have no problem in the conditions and if recovered from his Cheltenham exertions should be tough to beat in the Grade Two Chase.

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