Heathfield primed to soar on Ayr raid
McManus and Martin combine with Walsh for tilt at National
After 50 years of failed ventures to Ayr, five Irish-trained horses vie to plunder a first win in the Coral Scottish Grand National at its current home.
Way back in 1869, Larry Hyland trained and rode Huntsman to victory at the big race's previous home, Bogside. This remains our sole victory in the marathon feature.
Given Irish staying chasers dominance of late, we can be optimistic about one of the quintet securing a historic victory.
In the quest to keep Paul Nicholls at arm's length, Willie Mullins would be glad of the £119,595 prize. His Gigginstown Stud-owned Measureofmydreams shades the market lead from JP McManus' Cause Of Causes. Either could win, but neither appeals. Gordon Elliott's Cause Of Causes must lump 11st 12lb in soft ground, having gone up 13lbs for his facile Kim Muir triumph.
While he is ground versatile, conceding weight over three miles and seven furlongs will take some doing, and the handicapper might have him in his grip.
Meanwhile, Measureofmydreams was third in the four-miler at Cheltenham. Bryan Cooper's mount has had just three runs over fences, and was a fortunate winner when Black Hercules fell at Navan before running well at Prestbury Park.
His inexperience is a concern, especially under 11st 3lb. Fine Rightly has 11st 8lb, and Stuart Crawford's eight-year-old may be best equipped of the higher rated trio to make an impact.
A proven mudlark, Andrew Lynch's mount was third in the Irish Gold Cup, and has dotted up twice since. Fourth in a valuable Leopardstown chase on his last handicap start in January off a rating of 147, he could well figure here off 151. Fine Rightly is a solid and progressive stayer, so he is a live each-way option at 25/1.
Gigginstown's Folsom Blue carries the romantic hopes of Michael O'Leary and Mouse Morris completing the international National hat-trick, they having also won the Kerry and Midlands regional versions.
Fourth at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday, Folsom Blue undoubtedly has a chance of placing at similar odds under claimer Andrew Ring, likewise Highland Lodge.
Jimmy Moffatt's charge won the Becher Chase in December and just missed the cut last week. He ticks a lot of boxes, as does Tony Martin's Heathfield.
Successful in a three-mile-six-furlong chase at last year's Punchestown festival off 120, the McManus-owned Heathfield will relish this searching test of stamina. On his last run over fences off 133 at Leopardstown after Christmas, he flattered to deceive, but some of Martin's team were wrong then.
They have turned a corner since, including Heathfield, which knuckled down to win over flights at Navan two weeks ago. He jumps fences better than hurdles, so the fact that he was unimpressive is not a concern.
The bottom line is that he is in very good heart, and he gets in here off 136 for 10st 7lb. At around 14/1, then, Heathfield is fancied to go close for the under-rated Mark Walsh.
Mullins might still have two winners on the card. Ivan Grozny and Clondaw Warrior both have claims in the two-mile Champion Hurdle, and it is a slight worry that Ivan Grozny will have had to cross the water again so soon after his Aintree rout.
Still, he races off a mark that is just three pounds higher, so odds of 4/1 about him following up under Aintree hero David Mullins are fair.
Later in the afternoon, the Paul Townend-ridden Arbre De Vie should take some stopping in a longer event. He came from a fair way back to run better than a finishing position of 10th suggests in the highly-competitive Coral Cup. In terms of a prep for a lesser event like this, that was an encouraging turn.
Douvan turned in another big performance at Aintree. He is an awesome specimen, but will Willie Mullins run him in the Ryanair Novices’ Chase at Punchestown?
Maybe he will let Douvan take his chance on the basis that, despite running five times this season and in four Grade Ones, he hasn’t had anything like a hard race. If he does turn up on April 28, we can all rejoice in his presence.
However, if Mullins elects not to push his luck with a horse that he feels is “as good we’ve ever had”, then something else will have to win in his absence.
Kerry Lee’s Fairyhouse Grade One winner Kylemore Lough is the bookies’ second favourite, but good ground over two miles might not suit him. In contrast, it could be ideal for Sizing John.
He isn’t a confirmed runner either, but trainer Henry de Bromhead is keeping the option open. On stepping up to two-and-a-half miles at Aintree, Sizing John was beaten further than he has ever been before when third to Arzal. The trip may not have been behind such a tame display; maybe it was the proximity of the run to his Arkle outing.
It’s hard to know, but, if Sizing John were to run on Thursday week and Douvan not, the odds of 10/1 that can now be had about him would look huge. That would be a nice docket to be holding.