Mob-handed Gordon Elliott takes aim at Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse
Gordon Elliott has assembled a formidable eight-strong team in a bid to win the Boylesports Irish Grand National for the first time at Fairyhouse on Monday.
Less than a fortnight after being reduced to tears after claiming Cheltenham Gold Cup glory with Don Cossack, Elliott aims to secure another major prize.
Heading the squad is Mala Beach, who looked the likely winner of last month's Bobbyjo Chase before coming to grief two fences from the finish.
Elliott said: "It would be unbelievable to win an Irish National. We're firing as many darts at it as we can.
"Mala Beach is in great form, I couldn't be happier with him and the more rain that comes the better.
"If the rain comes, he's got a very good chance."
The eight-year-old carries the colours of owner Chris Jones, who said: "He certainly deserves his chance.
"He was very unfortunate the last day - I think he was going to be bang there.
"He rarely runs a bad race. If you look back through his form for us, he's never really been out of the shake-up.
"He is ground dependent and I suppose that is the only concern when you're waiting for an Irish National, but we feel the trip will suit him and, barring the last day, he usually likes that track.
"Fairyhouse is local to us, so it's great to have one there with a chance.
"We live five miles down the road and I remember we always went there with picnics. It's a special day."
Elliott's squad also includes Cause Of Causes, who claimed his second Cheltenham Festival prize in the Kim Muir.
"He's in great form and was very good in Cheltenham," Elliott told Boylesports.
It's obviously a bit of a worry coming so quick, but it doesn't look like we'll get in the English National, so we have to take our chance.
"He has top weight, but if the ground doesn't get too soft, he wouldn't be there without a squeak. He's a little star.
"Bless The Wings is in great form and he's been a star. He's placed everywhere he goes.
"He's fit and he's well, Ruby Walsh rides him and he'll be dropped in and will hunt away to be placed, so we'll see what happens.
"Killer Crow is in very good form. The one worry would be whether he'll stay the trip, but Jack Kennedy rides him and claims 3lb off him. He'll drop him in and hunt away.
"If he stays the trip he's got a massive chance."
Riverside City, Definite Ruby, Unic De Bersy and Captain Von Trappe also go to post for Elliott.
The Liam Burke-trained My Murphy beat Mala Beach in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January and has intentionally been kept fresh for this.
Jockey Robbie Power said: "I'd like to see the rain come again for him. We decided this year not to run again after the Thyestes and go straight for this.
"He had a run in between last year and it probably took the edge off him but he still ran a good race and finished seventh in the Irish National.
"He's a big, strong horse and he can carry weight.
"Mala Beach looked like winning the Bobbyjo so the form has worked out well and he should have a live chance if the ground is on the slow side."
Burke's son, Jonathan, rides Jim Dreaper's Venitien De Mai for retaining owners Ann and Alan Potts.
Burke said: "He was very good at Naas in the Leinster National and obviously it was a good race to win going towards the Irish National.
"Although he is a novice, he was very impressive. Jim was third in the race last year with Sizing Coal, who was having just his fourth run over fences, and this lad has a similar profile - although he's probably a little bit classier than that one.
"I think drying ground helps him as in the depths of the winter it's hard to get the best out of him."
Bonny Kate is a major contender for Noel Meade having won her last three starts, most recently in a Grade Two at Limerick a fortnight ago.
"I suppose it's a bit of a gamble, really, but she stays so well," said Meade.
"She's been good, she's been very lucky so far. She's only had five runs over fences so far so it's a bit of an ask.
"We've had the Irish National in our minds for quite some time so we're looking forward to it."
Sandra Hughes saddles last year's winner Thunder And Roses, as well as Sub Lieutenant and Wrath Of Titans.
She said: "I'm very happy with the three of them and we're looking forward to it.
"Sub Lieutenant won his Graded race well the last day and we think he'll stay.
"Everything has to go his way, which is not ideal in a race like the Irish National, but he's in good form and if he gets the breaks he could run well.
"I'm very happy with Thunder And Roses. He seems to come to himself at this time of year.
"His form has been very in-and-out this season and we're putting the blinkers on him as he's just got a bit cute on us.
"They seem to have helped him at home, so hopefully they will on Monday.
"Wrath Of Titans is ground dependant - we wouldn't want to much rain for him.
"If the ground is good he could run a fair race."