Hughes turns to blinkers in bid to revive Thunder spark
Thunder And Roses will sport blinkers for a first time in Monday's Boylesports Irish Grand National as Sandra Hughes strives to spark the title-holder back into life.
Forty horses have been put forward for Fairyhouse's €275,000 Easter showpiece, with Ted Walsh's Foxrock heading the weights on 11st 3lb from Gordon Elliott's Mala Beach (10st 12lb).
Just 30 are guaranteed a run, although following tomorrow's final declarations, there will be three reserves until Sunday morning's cut-off point.
Hughes had planned to tackle the original of the National species with Thunder And Roses next month. However, that plan was aborted after he misfired in the Becher Chase.
Beaten an average of 39 lengths in three completed starts since last year's memorable Fairyhouse triumph under Katie Walsh, Thunder And Roses' best effort in that time came when he finished 17 lengths behind Boston Bob in last month's Bobbyjo Chase.
"I was happy enough with his run in the Bobbyjo," Hughes says, "but I think he is gone a bit clever on us, so he will be wearing blinkers on Monday. He has worked in blinkers and it makes a big difference, so it should help him.
"I have been very happy with him. It looks a very competitive Irish Grand National, as always, but he is in very good form. He won't mind the ground and he won't mind the trip, so I will be hoping for a good run."
Just five horses have won the Irish Grand National more than once in its near 150-year history, the latest being Jim Dreaper's Brown Lad in 1975 and '76, and again in '78.
If Thunder And Roses is to bridge the 40-year back-to-back gap, he will have to do so off a 9lb higher mark, though his current weight of 10st 7lb is expected to rise 4lb due to the race conditions.
Of the 12 Gigginstown Stud entries for the three-mile-five-furlong contest, Hughes is also responsible for Sub Lieutenant (10st 7lb) and Wrath Of Titans (9st 3lb), but she said that a decision had yet to be made on whether they would run.
The Curragh handler's smart Acapella Bourgeois could play a leading role in Sunday's Grade Two Agnelli Motor Park Novice's Hurdle, while Guitar Pete, third in the course's Dan Moore Chase prior to being well beaten by Thistlecrack in the Cleeve Hurdle, will contest the card's Boylesports-sponsored novices' handicap chase.
"He ran well in the Dan Moore and he will appreciate a bit of better ground," Hughes said of the dual Grade One-winning hurdler, "so hopefully we won't get too much rain."
The official going at Fairyhouse was yesterday being given as good to yielding, but there is rain forecast to hit the region over the next few days.
Dreaper's Venitien De Mai (9st 13lb) is Boylesports' 8/1 ante-post favourite to reignite the Kilsallaghan family's rich Irish Grand National tradition. Vying for second favouritism at odds of 10/1 are Mala Beach and its full sister, Noel Meade's Bonny Kate.
As well as Mala Beach, Elliott's 10-strong entry includes last week's Kim Muir hero Cause Of Causes (10st 2lb), while Willie Mullins, like Elliott without a win in the prestigious handicap, has whittled his team down to Tennis Cap (10st 2lb) and McKinley (10st 1lb).
My Murphy, which will be vying to do the Thyestes Chase-National double for Liam Burke, is in off 10st 10lb.
Meanwhile, Mick Halford's 2015 Dubai Gold Cup victor Certerach will break from stall six under Tadhg O'Shea in Saturday's renewal of the two-mile Group Two.
Ballydoyle's dual Group One winner Highland Reel has been drawn in stall eight under Ryan Moore in the Sheema Classic on Saturday night's World Cup spread in Meydan, while Eddie Lynam's redoubtable Al Quoz Sprint regular Sole Power will this time break from stall seven under Chris Hayes.