T HE form of Willie Mullins over the past week has been nothing shy of incredible and it seemed the only horses of his that failed to win were finishing second to a stablemate.
The Closutton handler saddled a five-timer on Sunday and another four since. On Wednesday, he entered nine in the Aintree Grand National, which attracted 102 in all. He has a sporting chance of snaring the race that stops a few nations and the Irish challenge in general looks reasonably strong.
Indeed, we are responsible for exactly a third of the entries. If our horses were to be given a similar general chance to the home raiders, a fair price about an Irish-trainer winner in the race would be 2/1. Perhaps the prospects of an Irish victory are not that strong, but the 4/1 on offer with Stan James seems to underestimate them.
Mullins' entries all warrant interest, particularly The Midnight Club. The son of Flemensfirth ran a notably good trial for the race when second to Siegemaster in Gowran's Thyestes Chase last month and is an out-and-out stayer.
Considering that was his first run of the season and a bad mistake down the back straight probably deprived him of success, it was no surprise that The Midnight Club was catapulted into joint-favouritism for the National with some firms. The 25/1 still available is probably worth taking. Notably, Mullins saddled the third and sixth home too. Back in 2004, Hedgehunter bolted up in the race before going on to win the National the following season. At Aintree that day, the late and legendary Paddy Mullins, father of Willie, was heard commenting post-race: "I couldn't believe he went off 7/1. I thought he was an even-money shot."
One wonders what Paddy would think of the 4/1 available about an Irish success in 2011, particularly given our recent record in the race. After a barren spell, a trainer from this country has saddled the winner in half of the last 12 Grand Nationals.
Another of the sport's world-class assets, Dermot Weld, has a live contender in Majestic Concorde, while most of our entries could be given a reasonable chance. The weights are announced on February 15 but the 4/1 is worth taking now.
Irish-trained winner of Grand National, 1pt at 4/1 (Stan James)
KILKENNY are even more dangerous when wounded and the Cats look long at 7/4 to win the National Hurling League's Division 1. It should not be forgotten how short a price they were to beat Tipperary in last year's All-Ireland final and that result is not a fair reflection of where the two teams stand.
Unfortunately for Brian Cody's men, they must face Tipp and Galway on the road but should still make the final, at which point they will likely be odds-on favourites. The challenge of the league arguably assumes a revised complexion now that they are no longer holders of Liam McCarthy.
Kilkenny to win NHL, 2pts at 7/4 (Paddy Power)
TODAY'S fare at Leopardstown should captivate from start to finish, for all that the Hennessy is nothing like previous vintage renewals. The race of the day, unquestionably, is the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, in which Zaidpour gets a chance to restore his reputation after a long-odds-on reverse here over Christmas.
So strong is this race, Endless Intrigue -- a classy hurdler from the Dermot Weld stable -- is freely on offer at 25/1. Stable ally Hidden Universe could go right to the top, while similar comments apply to Shot From The Hip.
The one to take on for place purposes is Oscars Well, which won a Mickey Mouse Grade One at Navan on ground deemed by some to be unraceable last time. He will be around 13/8 in the place market and can be opposed.
Lay Oscars Well to place at Leopardstown, 1pt at 2.7 approx (1.7pt liability, Betfair)
YEAR TO DATE
Profit/loss to €10 stake: -€6.95
Still running: €115
Sunday Indo Sport