Amigos to prosper for Lynch
All of 18 years after an all-action drive on Toast The Spreece secured AP McCoy his first Irish jumps winner in the Galway Hurdle, the iconic champion seeks to go out on as big a high aboard Cantlow in the Irish Grand National.
For a long time, the Ballybrit handicap held the slightly incongruous distinction of being the most valuable National Hunt race in the land.
It would be fitting, then, should the incredible 19-time title holder's last great hurrah on home soil come in today's Boylesports-sponsored feature, which has finally - and appropriately - regained that mantle with a swelled €275,000 purse.
The Paul Webber-trained Cantlow hasn't won in nine outings since November 2013, and his form figures read F080066P.
However, off a mark of 136, he is 14lbs lower than when beaten 14 lengths in eighth 12 months ago, and four pounds lower than his last winning mark of 140, all of which gets him in off just 10st 6lb.
At Kempton in February, the 10-year-old was pulled up after reportedly choking badly. In an effort to address that issue, a tongue-tie is being applied now.
As such, this has all the hallmarks of a characteristically epic JP McManus-inspired gamble, the market leader trading at as low as 8/1 following his plunge from a high of 25/1.
Conveniently for Cantlow's weight, McManus also has two top-rated runners in Philip Hobbs' RSA Chase fifth If In Doubt and Tom Mullins' dual Cheltenham Festival hero Alderwood, while Gigginstown Stud are responsible for twice as many of the final field of 30.
Of the six due to sport variations of the ubiquitous maroon and white silks, Rule The World represents the 2008-winning handler Mouse Morris under rising star David Mullins.
He has yet to win over fences but he has been running well against some quality opposition, while Colm Murphy's Empire Of Dirt has the assistance of Luke Dempsey, another talented youngster worth every bit of his five-pound claim.
Katie Walsh will partner another of Gigginstown's useful novices when she gets the leg-up on Sandra Hughes' Thunder And Roses, while Nina Carberry will strive to emulate her famous 2011 victory aboard the firm's Rogue Angel for Morris.
Champagne James never got into contention in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham before plugging on for seventh.
One of two Barry Connell-owned runners, Ted Walsh's seven-year-old had previously chased home Empire Of Dirt at Naas, and is another sporting a tongue-tie for a first time here under Adrian Heskin.
The Henry De Bromhead-trained Grand Jesture was a gallant second to Aintree fancy The Druids Nephew at Cheltenham.
He is capable of having a say under the excellent Jonathan Burke, whose father Liam saddles a real contender in the shape of My Murphy.
Left second to Djakadam in the Thyestes when The Job Is Right crashed at the final fence, Robbie Power's mount wears blinkers for a first time.
Brilliantly consistent, he was third to Roi Du Mee here in the Bobbyjo Chase, though the manner in which he folded from the home bend in this race 12 months ago raises serious doubts about his ability to see out the gruelling three-mile-five-furlong trip.
The Job Is Right has since been third to Cause Of Causes in the four-miler at Cheltenham, so he should figure again for Mark Enright and Michael Hourigan, whose The Crafty Butcher has first-time blinkers on under Davy Condon.
Ruby Walsh's Willie Mullins-trained partner Perfect Gentleman was fourth in the four-miler, while Dogora has a similar chance for the champion trainer under Paul Townend after his fourth in the cross-country to Rivage D'Or, which is on duty here for Tony Martin and Shane Shortall.
Paul Fahey's Lots Of Memories and Dermot McLoughlin's Vics Canvas are two novices at different ends of the age spectrum with claims, the latter destroying the Cork Grand National field in December before finishing in front of The Job Is Right when third in the Paddy Power Chase.
With Embracing Change an 11th hour absentee following a dirty scope, Robert Tyner and Philip Enright have a cut with Daring Article off bottom weight, while Lion Na Bearnai is the only previous National winner set to line out.
A fairytale victor for Tom Gibney and Andrew Thornton in 2012, the 13-year-old has recently come back to form.
Second here to Los Amigos in bottomless ground in January, he filled the same spot behind Mine Now when switched to hurdles last month. His rating has fallen back to the 135 that he won this off, so he could run well again off 10st 5lb under reigning champion conditional Kevin Sexton.
Los Amigos is also on duty, and he is fancied to negotiate a popular triumph for local men Jim Dreaper and Andrew Lynch. The Dreaper family has a stupendous association with the Irish National, Arkle being one of 10 horses to prevail for the legendary Tom Dreaper, whose son Jim has won it four times, though not since Brown Lad in 1978.
While the Greenogue-based handler has been in resurgent form, Los Amigos' only outing since being scratched from this in 2014 due to lameness was his tenacious defeat of Lion Na Bearnai in January.
That stretched his 100pc record over fences at the Co Meath track to two, and the progressive eight-year-old has scope to improve on his sixth chase start.
Granted, Los Amigos would want all the experience he has, but he is a sound jumper that has never been out of the frame over fences.
Before his season was curtailed last term, he was second to the subsequent Gold Cup runner-up On His Own in the Thyestes and then third off a mark of 130 at Naas to Gallant Oscar, which is an intended starter at Aintree on Saturday.
That Los Amigos is unexposed means he still has the capacity to defy a mark of 138, and 10st 8lb is a reasonable burden. He will handle ground and is as likely as any to see out the marathon distance, so his claims look especially solid.
Prediction: 1st Los Amigos 2nd Cantlow 3rd My Murphy 4th The Job Is Right 5th Lion Na Bearnai