Matt Tombs / Saturday 19th April 2014 / 10:10
The Irish Grand National is always one of the big betting heats of the spring but it's notoriously difficult to find the winner - with 5 of the last 6 winners going off at 50/1, 33/1 (3 times) and 25/1. It’s proved hard to win this with a big weight - with nothing more than 10-8 carried to victory in the last decade. That's not a statistic to be dogmatic about, but, unsurprisingly, there do tend to be plenty of runners near the foot of the weights that have been laid out for this.
After a dry week its decent spring ground, officially good to yielding. It’s been watered to stop it getting too quick and is due to ride just on the dead side of good.
Despite the success of long shots, there are a few at the head of the market that I like. Goonyella (12/1) has to be on the shortlist. He was only 6 when contesting this as a novice last season, only for his saddle to slip. He made amends at Punchestown later in the month, winning a 3½m handicap off 127. He is off 135 (10-6) this time and still looks nicely handicapped. He's done a lot of his racing on heavy ground but his breeding suggests this sort of surface should suit ideally and its not hard to imagine he's been laid out for this again - he deserves some better luck this time.
Further up the weights, I like Home Farm (11/1) who, racing off 142, has 10-13 to carry. He ran a blinder in this as a 6 year old novice last season off 137. He didn't get the clearest of runs then and, more experienced this time, might be able to be ridden a touch more positively. Arthur Moore is a master at laying one out and has a good record in the race.
Tammys Hill (12/1) won the Foxhunters at the Festival and has been allocated a mark of 135 for this. He stays and jumps, but after 15 chases under rules the handicapper has had a good opportunity to assess him and I think he has him about right.
The last 2 renewals have provided fairytale wins for the small yards. Liberty Counsel was 1 of only 7 winners last season for Dot Love, and Lion Na Bearnai was one of only 4 for Tom Gibney the year before. If there is to another similar story this time it could be Mary Hallahan’s Toon River, (50/1). Toon River’s win at Gowran is Hallahan’s only one this season, but he was pretty impressive when thumping 132 rated Abbey Lane there, staying on strongly to win over 2m4f. He’s off 132 himself here (10-3) and is interesting over a marathon trip on decent ground.
One I like is Golden Wonder (28/1). He's inexperienced for this having only had 4 runs, but he beat Kim Muir winner Spring Heeled (now rated 149) on his fencing debut and gets in here off 135, (10-6). He had a break through the winter before a pipe opener here earlier in the month when a good 3¾l 4th to Jupitor on soft ground. This quicker surface should suit better and he looks to be crying out for a step up to this sort of trip. The obvious concern is that his lack of experience catches him out.
The other interesting one is Mullaghanoe River (28/1). He’s a more experienced novice after 7 chase starts and Noel Meade has made no secret of the fact he expects significant improvement once he steps up in trip, (all 7 chase starts at around 2½m so far). He’s looked a talented but slightly lazy individual and the application of first time blinkers may really help.
He looked like he might beat Bright New Dawn (who gave 8lb) last time when tipping up 2 out and that’s good form in the context of being rated 136 (10-7) here, even before the likely improvement for the big step up in trip is factored in. He looks too big a price and gets the vote.
1pt Mullaghanoe River to win the Irish Grand National @ 28/1
On Sunday, the feature event is the Grade 1 Powers Gold Cup (novice chase.) Given the absence of an obvious star, its disappointing only 4 line up. They are all genuine contenders though and there should be no hanging around, especially if Bright New Dawn (9/2) forces the pace again. He’s a tricky horse to weigh up – I’d thought he was a bit soft but he’s looked to knuckle down in his last 2 wins and the mixture of better ground and reverting to a right handed track ought to suit ideally. He jumps well but I’m not convinced he quite has the class for this.
Ballycasey (6/4) coped well with the cut throat pace in the RSA which put Don Cossack, Le Bec and Black Thunder on the floor. His 4th there might be as good as he is, but he looked to run out of stamina rather than be outclassed and it makes sense to try him in a Grade 1 at this trip. Similarly to Bright New Dawn, he’s a good jumper who will enjoy the sound surface.
The concern is that he did look to have a hard race in the RSA, and he hasn’t been the most robust horse, so I’m not sure he’ll reproduce his best here. The 3 finishers in the RSA who have run since - winner O’Faolains Boy, 5th Sam Winner and 7th Just A Par – have all disappointed. If Ballycasey is over that hard race he has every chance - but it’s hard to argue he’s good value at 11/8.
Rebel Fitz (9/4) is the unknown quantity in that he was running last summer and hasn't taken on any of the top novice chasers. He was a classy hurdler, (rated 155 having won the Galway Plate off 145). He'd jumped really well when rattling up a five timer in Ireland last year, but didn't have a cut at his fences when unable to give the quirky but talented Third Intention 8lb at Cheltenham in the autumn. After a winter break he was an impressive winner of a minor conditions hurdle on unsuitably heavy ground, which should have put him spot on for this. He is 9 though and there is always the concern that one or two of the young horses will have improved past him now.
I reckon Mozoltov (6/1) is probably the most underrated novice chaser around. As is often the case with Willie Mullins’ staying novice chasers he has run regularly at around 2m, (3 of his 5 chase starts.) He promises to be much better served by 2m4f+, having thrashed 135 rated Folsom Blue by 35l on his first try at 2½m at Naas.
He was backed from 25/1 into 11/1 for the JLT but got knocked over by Oscar Whisky at the first. He’s had a confidence booster at Navan since and I think he’s a top class novice, who should be a much shorter price to win this. Mullins has often said this sort of ground will suit him ideally and he rates a cracking bet at the prices.
1pt Mozoltov to win the Powers Gold Cup @ 6/1