Kemboy to break Mullins' duck in National
It's astonishing to think that, for all the accolades Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott have to show on their remarkable training CVs, the Boylesports Irish Grand National remains elusive.
Both fire several bullets at today's Fairyhouse feature in an effort to put the record straight, with Elliott's 13 runners a record as the Meath handler bids to cement his lead at the head of the Irish trainers' championship.
While Mullins may be nine behind in the numbers game for the €500,000 showpiece, quality certainly trumps quantity, with each of the Closutton quartet in the top 10 of the betting and holding live chances for another ultra-competitive 30-runner heat.
With Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud owning one third of the field - eight of which are trained by Elliott - and 2015 winner Thunder and Roses running for Mouse Morris, it's an intriguing affair, but it can be narrowed down to less than a dozen with realistic claims.
Of the last 20 runnings, horses aged 10 or older have prevailed on only three occasions, with improving horses the order of the day. The trio of seven-year-olds Monbeg Notorious, Squouateur and Dounikos may hold the best chance of Elliott breaking his duck.
Monbeg Notorious has excelled in recent months backing up his blistering Thyestes Chase win to score in Grade Two company at Navan six weeks ago and Jack Kennedy's mount is on an upward curve.
The four-miler at Cheltenham was the preferred target for Dounikos rather than a hot RSA Chase so today's gruelling 3m5f trip should really play to his strengths although Davy Russell will likely have to wait another year to claim his first Irish National.
Squouateur is consistent but JP McManus' runner often flatters to deceive and while he looks dangerous near the bottom of the weights (9-10), no chase win in ten starts hardly inspires great confidence.
Last seen when chasing home Kim Muir runner-up Mall Dini at Cheltenham 18 days ago, that pair renew acquaintances but it's hard to see Pat Kelly's runner leaving the effects of that tough race behind him.
Also a maiden over fences after 12 runs, Mall Dini jumped superbly at the Cotswolds, but jockey Patrick Mullins later reported that the heavy going was not in his favour and, having waited all year for better conditions, connections are still left waiting and the demanding terrain at the Meath track greatly reduces his chance of victory.
Favourite Pairofbrowneyes had the form of his Leinster National win boosted when the third-placed Glencairn View easily claimed a big Navan handicap chase last week.
Paul Townend's mount has a handy weight (10-7) but he may be undone by one of his stablemates.
Our Duke became the first horse since Commanche Court (2000) to carry over 11st to victory when scorching to success last year and, while Bellshill is classy, he's not in that league and 11st4lbs is a hefty burden.
The eight-year-old's form figures outside of Cheltenham and Leopardstown read 1,2,1,1,1,1,2,1,1,1,1 and a quick scroll through his form highlights his formidable talent.
His third to Might Bite in last year's RSA Chase stands out and belying a 346-day absence to take the Bobbyjo Chase was highly impressive but given the testing conditions, the weight might catch him and preference is for the exciting novice Kemboy.
Bryan Cooper has had a largely frustrating time since losing his retained rider role with Gigginstown, but this could parachute him right back into the big time.
Organisedconfusion (2011) also took this race as a six-year-old and, while it's asking something to win such an illustrious race on just his fourth chase start, he has class and youth in his favour.
Were it not for a bad blunder in the JLT at Cheltenham, the course winner would have been a lot closer than fourth and the way he stayed up the hill bodes well for a surprise winner.
2: Monbeg Notorious