Sunday 17 December 2017

Ballytrim can be the trump card for Mullins

Damien McElroy

One of the few significant prizes to have eluded him so far, champion trainer Willie Mullins is triple-handed this afternoon for the final running of the Irish Grand National under the Powers Whiskey banner.

Backed up by multiple title-holder Ruby Walsh on Equus Maximus and Ruby's in-form sister Katie aboard Pomme Tiepy, Cork teenager Paul Townend with Ballytrim's help may prove the Mullins yard's trump card.

Willie's retired father, Paddy, enjoyed Irish Grand National success on four occasions in his illustrious career and it would be a real boost ahead of his son's bid to land another John Smith's Grand National next Saturday if he too could take centre stage after the €250,000 Easter Monday showpiece.

Another maximum field of 30 runners for the traditional marathon around the Meath course clearly will require luck in running if the presumed principals in the ante-post betting are to figure at the finish.

From the outset the ever-improving Saddlers Storm has been at the head of the market, with sustained support lately for Alpha Ridge, which has yet to succeed over fences, and Ballytrim proving popular also.

The combined effects of a continuing rise up the weight scale and the testing conditions underfoot, which aren't ideal, could however put a halt to Saddlers Storm's victory march for Tony Martin's stable.

A smart performer over timber in staying events last season, Alpha Ridge has yet to convince over the larger obstacles and, despite a break from the track of two-and-a-half months, Paul Nolan's charge may not profit from a handy mark.


The new top weight Siegemaster seldom runs below expectations even if it looks as though he remains in the grip of the handicapper, so One Cool Cookie might be a better proposition today for Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, which scored with Hear The Echo two years ago.

Runner-up to Whinstone Boy in the Thyestes Chase with Siegemaster fading into third, Hangover likewise is entitled to plenty of respect in O'Leary's Westmeath county colours of maroon and white.

Dancing Tornado for JP McManus and Tony McCoy, who combined with the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Butler's Cabin to plunder the Powers Whiskey spoils in 2007, joins last year's second and third Church Island and A New Story as their Patrickswell, Co Limerick trainer Michael Hourigan tries once more to succeed.

No stranger to the Easter Monday limelight, Jim Dreaper and his main owners, the Conway family from Derry, who had the original top weight Notre Pere, are happy to rely instead on the less exposed Telenor.

The seven-year-old has had a decent break since his game effort at Navan in Grade 2 company when dead-heating with Uimhiraceathair and should go well in company with Oscar Time, the Paddy Power Chase hero for Martin Lynch's small team, which had a useful prep run over hurdles at Gowran Park since.

As three of the last six winners hailed from England, it might be unwise to completely write off the Venetia Williams pair, Officier De Reserve and Flintoff, for the Coleman brothers Aidan and Kevin as well as Double Dizzy from the Bob Buckler yard, which triumphed here last season with Niche Market.

Don't be surprised, though, if this trio fail to make a real impact as the home defence looks more formidable this afternoon and Ballytrim is napped to add the Fairyhouse spectacular to last year's Ulster National and last month's Leinster National successes for the Mullins-Townend alliance.

The champion trainer will also be very hopeful of former Cheltenham Bumper winner Cousin Vinny belatedly returning to winning ways in the opening Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle after failing to come up to expectations over fences.

Unable to make an impact at Cheltenham behind Big Buck's, Ruby Walsh's mount drops back in class and to the minimum trip this time but might struggle to cope in these muddy conditions with Head Of The Posse.

Stable companion Mourad, which missed that festival, also tries a shorter distance in the Hurdle for which Donnas Palm looks the more likely victor on the basis of both current form and the ratings.

Henry de Bromhead's surprise Arkle Cup hero An Cathaoir Mor, which was pulled up at Thurles since, resumes over the course and distance of an earlier win this season as top weight for the Arkle Bar Novice Handicap Chase.

It remains to be seen, however, whether this renowned mudlark will manage to recapture his mid-winter sparkle and at the weights this time it might be wiser to row in with facile Clonmel victor Psycho which was a decent handicap hurdler and looks as if he has plenty scope for improvement over fences.

Irish Independent

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