The Last Derby can defy odds to land spoils
The ante-post favourite Beautiful Sound continues to steal the headlines ahead of today's Ladbrokes Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, but the Gordon Elliott-trained second reserve appears no closer to making the final cut than he was on Friday.
Should the two withdrawals that he needs materialise, Beautiful Sound ought to make a bold bid to justify the market support he has received in recent weeks. Crucially, apart from his unexposed and progressive profile, he would be one of the few proven on good ground, something that not too many of the 25 horses that are guaranteed a place in the prestigious €250,000 handicap can boast.
That said, though, no favourite has won Irish jump racing's showpiece event since the mighty grey Desert Orchid obliged in 1990, with Beautiful Sound as low as 9/2, there may be value to be had elsewhere.
Dermot Weld, responsible for the 1988 hero Perris Valley, trains the fancied Prince Erik, one of three greys in this year's field.
Successful twice this term, the former fast ground Flat winner will handle the going, and he has never looked short of stamina, having won a three-mile hurdle in heavy ground in January 2010.
The concern is whether his fencing will hold up in such a fast-run race.
While Prince Erik has jumped well in recent months, he has fallen three times over fences, two of which came on quick ground. That inability to fence adequately at speed could count against him in today's three-mile-five-furlong contest.
Quantitativeeasing, one of four English-based contenders, is Tony McCoy's chosen mount.
Along with JP McManus, who has six runners in all, the perennial champion is bidding for a second triumph in five years following the 2007 victory of Butler's Cabin.
A dual novice chase winner, Quantitativeeasing ran well to be second to Divers at Cheltenham. Nonetheless, having jumped the last in front that day, it was disappointing that he didn't go on to win, and he is high enough in the ratings for what he has achieved.
Butler's Cabin's handler Jonjo O'Neill saddles two, including the top-weight Synchronised. That one already won the Welsh and Midland Nationals, but he has it to do now conceding weight on unsuitably dry ground.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins is triple-handed as he attempts to land the €141,000 winner's prize for a first time, while he also has the first reserve Pomme Tiepy. Ruby Walsh has opted for Shakervilz, though that one hasn't run for a whole year.
Some Target, fifth behind Chicago Grey in the four-miler at Cheltenham, is a little more interesting. Mullins' nephew Emmet takes the reins on the seven-year-old, which won the three-and-a-half-mile Grand National trial at Punchestown in January.
Lightly raced, he runs off 10st 1lb, and he could make the frame if he copes with the drying ground. Dessie Hughes' Deal Done might also feature prominently.
Second in the 2010 Powers Gold Cup, Deal Done finished third in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham, form franked by the runner-up Faasel taking second again at Sandown on Saturday, and the fourth, Galaxy Rock, subsequently winning. If Deal Done settles better than he did in first-time headgear at Cheltenham, he should go close.
Organisedconfusion is another that appeals. A third-place finish in the Leopardstown Chase in January preceded a win in a conditions event at Clonmel, and the six-year-old then ran admirably to be beaten just a short-head when he reverted to hurdles at Gowran Park in March.
He is creeping up the handicap -- six pounds higher than at Leopardstown -- but is progressive. Off just 9st 13lb, and with the inimitable Nina Carberry doing the steering for Arthur Moore, Organisedconfusion has a live chance.
However, with conditions as they are, good ground specialist The Last Derby is taken to provide Eoin Griffin with the spoils in this 140th renewal of the Easter highlight.
Griffin's first runner in this Grade Three, The Last Derby hasn't been out since October 31, but he has won after a break before, and Griffin's horses are running well, with Baracas winning here yesterday at 33/1.
The Last Derby's latest appearance, on unsuitably heavy ground in the Cork Grand National, saw him plug on for third over three and a half miles.
Encouragingly, the form of the race held up really well, with the fourth horse By The Hour going on to win and be third in two handicaps at Leopardstown, while the fifth, Jack The Bus, won the Troytown at Navan on his only run since.
Off a mark of 132, just 2lb higher than he ran off at Mallow and won off at Ascot last season, The Last Derby gets in today off 9st 13lb. With an in-form Tom Doyle up, he could defy odds of up to 16/1 to secure one of the game's most cherished trophies.
1 The Last Derby
2 Deal Done
3 Some Target
4 Prince Erik