Stewarts House in proper order
POWERS Irish Whiskey could hardly have hoped for a more intriguing contest to bring the curtain down on their long tenure as promoters of the Irish Grand National.
A maximum field of 30 will go to post for the annual Fairyhouse highlight in an incredibly competitive renewal this afternoon, with an array of unexposed young chasers taking on a handful of more seasoned campaigners.
Of the more battle-hardened brigade, Cheltenham hero A New Story and the admirably consistent Siegemaster warrant respect, though the latter faces another tough assignment under top weight.
Significantly, novices have accounted for four of the last five winners of the €250,000 stamina-sapping event, while those at the lower end of the weights are even more prolific.
At a massive 25/1, Arthur Moore's Stewarts House is put forward as the one best equipped to secure the lion's share of the pot. Although not a novice, Stewarts House has had just seven runs over fences in two seasons.
Moore, who has already tasted victory in the race as both a jockey and a trainer, has been typically patient with the big Overbury gelding.
In three completed starts over fences last term, Stewarts House finished first, second and third, and he has been on a steady upward curve since taking fourth behind Footy Facts on his reappearance in November.
He kept on well to be second over two and a half miles at Punchestown in January, before then beating the leading Aintree Grand National fancy Arbor Supreme at Leopardstown. Only three of the horses that completed the course behind him that day have since run. The seventh, Prudent Honour, was a gallant third in the four-miler at Cheltenham, while Nuvelli, which was two places further back, scored over flights at Navan.
Bluesea Cracker, which pulled up at Leopardstown, subsequently went on to finish less than a length behind Ballytrim, which is as low as 10/1 today.
In light of that solid form, the seven-pound penalty that Stewarts House received for winning in such impressive style is lenient. Off just 10st 2lb here, the unexposed eight-year-old has the ideal profile if he sees out the extreme distance.
Of the remainders, Telenor, Oscar Time and Hangover may have most going for them. The Paddy Power Chase winner Oscar Time has to defy a 17lb hike in the weights but comes here in good heart, while Telenor and Hangover are smart novices.
The Ladbrokes.com Hurdle that precedes the feature looks set to be an informative affair.
Aitmatov, Chicago Grey and Mourad have all impressed on occasion this season, with the improving Ninetieth Minute is another that has its chance.
Preference, though, is for Donnas Palm, which ran a blinder to finish second in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January. The six-year-old looks the most progressive horse in the race, so it will be a disappointment if he doesn't build on the promise of his Leopardstown run here.
In the Arkle Bar Novices' Handicap Chase, the Grade One winner An Cathaoir Mor takes a drop in class. Having failed to stay at Thurles last time, returning to the minimum trip ought to work in his favour now.
Psycho and Swift Counsel are sure to be hugely popular given that An Cathaoir Mor keeps their respective burdens down, but it may be worth speculating that David Casey's mount's quality will see him through. If he is as good as he looked prior to Thurles, a strongly run two miles will see him hard to beat on heavy ground.
Also of note is Tramp Stamp in the opening Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle. Lightly raced, this mare came away with plenty of credit when second to Donna's Palm at Punchestown in October, and she is fancied to take advantage of the weight she receives from her four opponents.