With €45,000 up for grabs, a solid field of nine have turned out for a contest that has in recent years been dominated by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. Nobody else has managed to win it since 2010 and both of Ireland’s top trainers are represented again. Read on for our tip, betting preview & runner by runner guide.
IN SUMMARY: An interesting contest in which chances can be given to many, including Lord Windermere now that the former 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner gets to take a drop in class having found the Grade 1 Lexus Chase all too much last time out. BAIE DES ISLES is preferred to them all on the back of an excellent performance at Punchestown where she put the opposition into submission some way from home. Pulling off similar tactics at this level will be tougher but she’s a mare in top form and they’re often hard to oppose. Of the remainder, Pleasant Company can fill the frame with his race-fitness no longer a major question mark.
ROI DES FRANCS – Talented novice chaser last season and went off at 10/1 in the RSA Chase at the festival in March before finding Grade 1 company too demanding. Better might have been expected this season but the Gordon Elliott trained 8-year-old is yet to win in 4 starts and was well below par in a Grand National trial at Punchestown (3m 4f, Soft) three weeks ago. May not have got home over that trip and should appreciate today’s 3f decrease in the distance, but has to concede 8lb all round and that could be a difficult task.
GEORGES CONN – 1-21 in his career to date with sole win coming in a maiden hurdle at Ballinrobe (2m 1f, Soft to Heavy) in July of 2015 but 0-15 over fences and is prone to making mistakes. Would be much better off with all of these runners were the race a handicap and should ultimately have no chance of winning.
LORD WINDERMERE – Two-time Cheltenham festival winner who landed the RSA Chase in 2013 and the Gold Cup in 2014 under a most excellent ride from Davy Russell. Hasn’t won in 7 subsequent outings, however, and missed all of last season through injury, but did shape well at Thurles (2m 6f, Yielding) on his return when a short-head second to Champagne Fever, with Roi Des Francs back in third on similar terms to today’s. His second run at Leopardstown (3m, Yielding) wasn’t so good but that was in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase and this is a much more realistic level. Worthy of consideration with cheekpieces on for the first time.
MY MURPHY – Showed career best form when defying 139 in the Thyestes at Gowran (3m 1f, Heavy) last January but pulled up in 3 of his 4 runs since and that included his repeat bid to win the race a month ago. Showed very little when behind Baie Des Iles at Punchestown and simply seems like a horse who is going through the motions at present. Has the ability to play some sort of hand if bouncing back to his best form but there have been no signs of that happening and this is a tough race in which to find the spark.
PLEASANT COMPANY – Willie Mullins trained 9-year-old who ran well on his return from a longer than ideal break in the Thyestes, finishing fourth behind Champagne West. That was his first outing since he won at the Punchestown festival in April (3m 1f, Yielding) and based on that performance, a tilt at this level does not look unrealistic. The horse travels powerfully, jumps well and remains lightly-raced over fences having only had 5 starts to date. With his fitness likely improved from that run at Gowran and today’s testing conditions being no problem whatsoever, he’s another who is making the shortlist with better being expected.
THUNDER AND ROSES – Landed the 2015 Irish Grand National at this track (3m 5f, Soft) when trained by Sandra Hughes and looked sure to go on to bigger and better things afterwards. 12 starts since have yielded just a pair of second place finishes and only ran to around his mark of 140 when 6 lengths behind Texas Jack over C&D a few weeks ago. Likely being aimed at the Irish National once again and whilst a good run is on the cards, it’s wishful to think that he will have enough to trouble a few of these in the closing stages.
WOUNDED WARRIOR – Finished behind Pleasant Company in the Thyestes a month ago but meets that rival on 4lb better terms for 4 lengths and can have claims made for him on that form. Also previously won at this Grade 2 level when walloping Rule The World in January of 2015 at Naas (3m, Soft) but hasn’t won since then and needs first time blinkers to relight the fire. Noel Meade, who won this race with Afistfullofdollars in 2008, has a good course record (23-201; 11% Strike Rate) and should get the horse to peak very soon, but whether it will be for here and now remains a question and the percentage call is to oppose once again.
BAIE DES ISLES – The youngster of the party with the mare being just a 6-year-old, although does not lack for experience having raced on 19 occasions over both hurdles and fences. Showed pieces of solid form for trainer Ross O’Sullivan and was far from disgraced in the Welsh National over at Chepstow (3m 5.5f, Soft) in December when fifth behind Gold Cup hopeful Native River. Stepped up on that in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown (3m 4f, Soft) three weeks ago, defeating Sambremont by nearly 5 lengths under a brilliant attacking ride from today’s jockey, Katie Walsh, and that run entitles her to respect. Must take another step forward in order to make it at this Grade 2 level but is evidently in the form of her life and can’t be ignored.
NOT FOR BURNING – Consistent 10-year-old mare who probably ran above her level when third over C&D last time out, finishing less than 3 lengths behind Wounded Warrior. Meets that rival on 2lb better terms and loves this track, having won here on 3 occasions in 2016, but has a lot to find against the majority of these. It should be a task that’s too difficult and she’s readily overlooked on her second foray into Graded company.