The Grey Monk expected to run at Fairyhouse
THE GREY MONK, a late withdrawal from the Cheltenham Gold Cup because of the ground, is set to carry top weight in the Jameson Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.
Trainer Gordon Richards confirmed the high class stayer as an intended runner yesterday after the publication of the big-race weights.
Imperial Call is the highest rated of the entries but has been retired for the season which leaves the Richards pair of Unguided Missile and The Grey Monk next in the handicap on 11st 3lb and 10lb 12lb respectively. Unguided Missile will not run, which will mean The Grey Monk shouldering top weight, but it is the state of the going at Fairyhouse which will be of more concern to Richards on the lead up to the Easter showpiece.
"The Grey Monk is a definite runner in the Irish National as long as the ground is OK. My horse has to have some cut in the ground, which is why we took him out of the Gold Cup. I'm sorry to have missed Cheltenham as he is in great form.
"Carrying top weight of 12st would not be ideal but then it's never ideal for anyone. Unguided Missile is fine but I've always thought of The Grey Monk as an ideal Irish National type," Richards said from his Greystoke yard in Cumbria.
Fairyhouse manager Roy Craigie yesterday described the current state of the ground at the track as good. Craigie also said he, was pleasantly surprised by the entries for the Irish National considering it clashes in the same week with the Aintree Grand National.
The Grey Monk is one of 17 British-trained horses still in the Irish National and, providing the ground does not firm up, there should be a strong team arriving at Fairyhouse to try and take the first prize-back to Britain for only the fifth time.
Don Sancho, in 1928, was the first British-trained winner of the race, and there was a long lapse until Rhyme N Reason in 1985, Desert Orchid in 1990 and Omerta in 1991.
David Nicholson has both Percy Smollet and St Mellion Fairway still in the race, and his assistant, Alan King, said yesterday: "Depending on the ground, both are definite runners. The softer it is, the better it will be for both of them."
Mary Reveley is also thinking along the same lines about Saturday's Midlands Grand National winner Seven Towers. "The weight he has been given (9-13) sounds alright but he will only run if the ground is soft. Three miles and five furlongs is not far enough otherwise. I couldn't be more pleased with the way he has come out of Uttoxeter," Reveley said.
The unfortunate timing clash with Aintree is proving more of a headache for Irish trainers than their British colleagues. Time For A Run has been committed to the Aintree spectacular, but Arthur Moore's Feathered Gale, winner of the Irish National last season, may yet be switched back from Aintree to try and repeat that success.
Other Fairyhouse entries, Nahten Lad, Belmont King, Buckboard Bounce and Mudahim, will take the Aintree option instead, but Moore will be represented on Easter Monday either way by both Fissure Seal and Back Bar.
The 1995 Irish National winner, Flashing Steel, is an unlikely runner. His trainer John Mulhern said: "I think he has been very badly treated by the handicapper and we'll probably keep him instead for next year's Christies Foxhunters Chase. All horses have only so much mileage in them."
Ted Walsh has Papillon in the race and is set to run the novice, although he will leave him in the Power Gold Cup in case that race cuts up.
The Tuesday highlight at Fairyhouse's three-day meeting will be that Power Gold Cup, where Gold Cup third Dorans Pride is a possible runner. Trainer Michael Hourigan will make a final decision later this week but the race has attracted a lot of British interest, with the Cathcart Chase winner, Sparky Gayle and the Arkle Trophy second, Squire Silk, figuring among the entries.
Istabraq, the winning Irish banker at Cheltenham, is set to have his next run in Fairyhouse's Jameson Gold Cup. Trainer Aidan O'Brien said: "Like all of my Cheltenham runners, Istabraq has come back in great shape and we are looking at Fairyhouse and Punchestown for him."