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BoyleSports Irish Grand National: Five contenders for any shortlist

By Tom Thurgood@tdthurgood
Sun 4 Apr 2021

Enjoy these BoyleSports Irish Grand National memories, from the great Arkle to Our Duke

The €400,000 BoyleSports Irish Grand National is the centepiece of the three-day Easter Festival at Fairyhouse and we have quite a race in prospect.

The build-up to this year's race was dominated by speculation about the participation of a certain Tiger Roll. The Aintree legend bypasses a famous hat-trick bid in the Randox Grand National because his owners believe his handicap rating is too high - and haven’t been shy in saying such in a prolonged public spat with the handicapper.

However, the 11-year-old now heads to the Betway Bowl in Grade 1 company at Aintree next week over the Mildmay fences rather than the Grand National obstacles over which he so famously excels.

The ante-post favourite was set to carry top-weight here and, from a mark of 163, would have needed to concede upwards of 10lbs to his rivals, many of those fancied ones being lightly-raced novices.

We now have a much more compressed handicap, with Latest Exhibition now carrying top-weight from a mark of 153. A third of the field - including short-priced fancies Coko Beach, Court Maid and Espanito Bello - will carry at least 11st 4lbs. The current bottom-weight Opposites Attract is on 10st 6lbs.

 Ruby Walsh celebrates as Burrows Saint lands the BoyleSports Irish Grand National in 2019 for Willie Mullins at Fairyhouse (Photo: Focusonracing)
Ruby Walsh celebrates as Burrows Saint lands the BoyleSports Irish Grand National in 2019 for Willie Mullins at Fairyhouse (Photo: Focusonracing)

Novices and the BoyleSports Irish Grand National

Of the 15 horses priced 20-1 or shorter on Thursday morning, nine are novices. There is something to be said with siding with more experienced and ‘battle-hardened’ runners, but given the pure weight of novice runners this year that standpoint loses sharpness.

Since 1997, this group has underperformed as whole, with seven winners from 150 attempts and performance 31% below market expectation.

However, since 2015 novices have won three of the four renewals while horses with six runs or less over fences have hit the places at 50-1, 40-1, 20-1 and 16-1. They have performed 37% above market expectation in that time.

This prestigious race has seen a significant injection in prize money in recent years and these classy yet lightly-raced novices are coming ever more to the fore.

Nina Carberry relives a fairy tale success in the big race 10 years ago aboard Organisedconfusion - trained by her uncle Arthur Moore

LATEST EXHIBITION

Age: 8 Weight: 11st 10lbs Odds: 7-1

In the absence of Tiger Roll, this Grade One winner now carries top-weight and bids to continue the renaissance of jockey Bryan Cooper and trainer Paul Nolan in what would prove a real feel-good story for the race.

He has only had 11 career starts, but the nature of this race is changing and recent winners Burrows Saint (2019) and Our Duke (2017) has less starts before their respective victories. This horse also has substantial Grade One form, having run at the top level four times and having finished no worse than second.

This new trip of 3m5f is a question mark, in the same way it is for most of these. However, he has strong or winning form at three miles - nine of the last 10 winners had this, the only exception being Organisedconfusion in 2011 - while it's long been held by his trainer that Latest Exhibition would never win by far and only just does enough. The eight-year-old is by Oscar out of a Supreme Leader mare who won over an extended 2m6f. On the current balance of probablilities, there's every hope he would stay sufficiently.

He does have to bounce back from a below-par run behing Monkfish last time, but the traier felt his horses weren't quite running to their best then and he was only beaten by a top-notcher in excellent condition at Leopardstown.

He is a fascinating runner and probably makes this race. No horse has carried such a weight to victory this century, but his class is undeniable and he is fancied to go close - even if others look more interesting here at the prices from an each-way perspective.

ESPANITO BELLO

Age: 7 Weight: 10st 7lbs Odds: 16-1

He bids to make a winning handicap debut over fences in this race – since 1997, only Our Duke has achieved the feat - and he doesn’t look thrown-in from an opening mark of 147.

But there’s no denying he has shaped with real promise in four runs over fences so far and his jumping has improved. He walloped a few on the way round second-time up at Naas but made really encouraging progress from the rear in a strong beginners’ chase, while he could be called the winner around half a mile out when running away from Coko Beach next time - albeit with several fences omitted.

I’m fairly convinced he would have beaten Coko Beach in Graded company last time but for nodding badly on landing over the final fence. He gets 3lb from Coko Beach here and, in terms of ability, he shouldn’t be four points bigger than him in the betting.

There are caveats; he cannot be wholly relied on for an error-free round, especially on handicap debut and in a big field for the first time. He also has a bit of knee action and is unproven on ground this quick.

But he’s been at his strongest at the finish in all of his chase starts and this greater stamina test is fancied to suit - and more obviously so than most of the novice contenders here. There's still some each-way mileage in him at 16-1.

AGUSTA GOLD

Age: 8 Weight: 10st 6lb Odds: 10-1

In a race where many of the leading contenders have something to prove, this very likeable mare ticks most of the boxes and must go well.

The Irish National was the plan last year before the postponement of racing and this contest has surely been the aim once again this time. She stays the trip, has a good record at Fairyhouse and has a remarkably consistent record – in 20 career runs, she has never finished worse than fourth and has finished in the first three on 18 of those occasions.

She is a good and bold jumper who likes to race prominently, and she looks unlikely to be hostage to potential misfortune in behind. She now runs for Willie Mullins for the first time, too – the trainer has a modest record overall in this event, but he had the first and second last year and generally excels with mares.

Agusta Gold looks short enough for win purposes, but she looks very likely to go well once again and has very sound place prospects.

SEMPO

Age: 7 Weight: 9st 13lb Odds: 7-1

He has been well-supported in recent days from 20-1, while Joseph O’Brien has stated that his main hope should go well if getting into a rhythm.

There’s no doubt Sempo looks the most obviously well-handicapped horse in the race with a rating of just 139 on handicap debut over fences. He was classy in bumpers and beaten less than eight lengths by Envoi Allen in the Champion Bumper, while his hurdles form also reads very well with a view to his current rating.

He has unseated twice in five starts over fences, but generally he looks a sound jumper after a novicey start at Leopardstown behind The Big Breakaway. He is also used to jumping in two-mile races, which should stand to him now up in trip. He has caught the eye with his finishing effort in recent starts at Punchestown at Navan.

The case looks clear for him, though at his current price there are questions about him on handicap debut and the 3m5f trip is something of a question mark. The furthest he has raced over is an extended 2m6f at Thurles during his hurdling career, a track that poses a relative test of speed.

Good luck if you’re on at the fancier prices, but there are more appealing wagers for each-way purposes here – even if his handicap mark does look particularly enticing.

ENJOY D’ALLEN

Age: 7 Weight: 10st 2lbs Odds: 25-1

This likeable type is worth a look at a bigger price, and Ciaran Murphy has sounded bullish about his preparation. The trainer took over the licence from Irish Grand National winner Dot Love earlier in the season and this horse was his first winner.

A good jumper, he has progressed well and looks likely to improve for this test. The way he has shaped over fences so far suggests this distance will be within his compass – even if his pedigree doesn’t – and there could be more to come now on better ground, too.

He may not have the class of some of these, but as a likely stayer at the trip that’s been given a quiet preparation – and one receiving weight from those higher in the betting – he could close the gap under these conditions and is worth looking at in markets with good place terms.

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