Brassil planning Aintree return for Double Seven
A decade after saddling Numbersixvalverde to Grand National glory at a time when Irish horses enjoyed a prolific association with the race, Martin Brassil is plotting another Aintree foray with Double Seven.
Third to Pineau De Re in 2014 having been heavily backed into joint-favouritism, the JP McManus-owned Double Seven missed all of last season.
He has recently returned to run twice over flights, and is among 38 Irish-based entries that have been unveiled in a bumper list of 126 for the April 9 event. It is the biggest entry for the extended four-and-a-quarter-miler since 150 were put forward in 2008.
With classy chasers Don Poli, Sir Des Champs and Valseur Lido featuring in Willie Mullins's seven-strong inventory, and Sandra Hughes's Irish Grand National hero Thunder And Roses also engaged, there is the potential for a particularly strong raiding party.
John Kiely's Carlingford Lough, which will join Sir Des Champs in bidding to secure a second victory in Saturday's Irish Gold Cup, is among McManus's nine entries, which also include Gordon Elliott's Cause Of Causes, eighth in the race last year. Elliott, who has six engaged, is the last trainer to bring the lion's share of what is now a £1m purse back this way courtesy of Silver Birch's 2007 coup.
That triumph completed a hat-trick for the raiders, a feat that had been achieved just once previously, when the legendary Vincent O'Brien won three in a row with Early Mist, Royal Tan and Quare Times up to 1955.
However, following wins for Bobbyjo, Papillon and Monty's Pass, six wins in the nine renewals between 1999 and 2007 constituted the most fertile period for Irish horses in the near 180-year history of the race.
Mullins's Hedgehunter initiated the treble, with Brassil's fantastic feat with Numbersixvalverde preceding that of Silver Birch. When Double Seven was third in 2014, the ground had turned slower than ideal, and Brassil feels that two indifferent outings lately are hard to gauge for similar reasons.
"Double Seven is grand," he said of the 10-year-old in characteristically restrained style. "He has had the two runs over hurdles but it is hard to know what to make of them because he is not a soft-ground horse.
"We are taking it one step at a time and we won't really know where we are until he runs in a race when the conditions are right for him. He wants nice ground. I'm not sure what we are going to do between now and Aintree; he could have a run over fences but we will see how he is."
Many Clouds and Pineau De Re are previous winners expected to participate again, with the reigning title-holder heading the betting at 12/1. Of the five that followed Many Clouds home in 2015, only the third, Monbeg Dude, is not entered this time.
Jonjo O'Neill's Shuttthefrontdoor, which carried AP McCoy into fifth on his final National mount, is one of four trading at 25/1, the others being Don Poli, Silviniaco Conti and The Druids Nephew, a faller five-out in 2015 when seemingly travelling well in front.