Thursday 22 March 2018

Reigning champion Our Duke heads weights for 2018 Irish Grand National

Robbie Power congratulates Our Duke after winning the Irish Grand National in 2017. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Power congratulates Our Duke after winning the Irish Grand National in 2017. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

While a repeat bid is highly unlikely, reigning champion Our Duke heads the weights and the 97 entries for the 2018 BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on April 2.

Jessica Harrington's brilliant eight-year-old booked his place in next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup with a fine performance at Gowran Park at the weekend when holding off smart novice Presenting Percy.

Should he also take his place in the Fairyhouse feature three weeks later, Our Duke would bid to complete back-to-back BoyleSports Irish Grand Nationals – a feat not achieved since Brown Lad, for Jim Dreaper and Tommy Carberry, in 1975 and 1976.

Our Duke, owned by the Cooper family from Laois, would also carry the welter-burden of 11-10 if Harrington hopes to repeat the heroics of 12 months ago which saw him turn the famous handicap into a procession.

Irish Gold Cup hero Edwulf is set to shoulder 11-08 with Outlander, second behind him at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival, on 11-07, with Christmas Chase winner Anibale Fly on 11-03.

With €500,000 in total in the prize pot and €270,000 first prize, the race has the potential to play a huge role in the destination of the trainers’ championship.

Neither Gordon Elliott or Willie Mullins have yet won a BoyleSports Irish Grand National but they throw plenty of darts at the board this year – Elliott with the highest entry of any trainer on 30, with Mullins entering 18.

Mullins’ progressive duo Bachasson (11-03) and Total Recall (11-00) head his battalion of entries while Elliott also has Mala Beach (11-00) and Noble Endeavour (10-12), Thyestes Chase winner Monbeg Notorious (10-10) and recent BoyleSports Grand National Trial winner at Punchestown, Folsom Blue (10-00).

Bless The Wings (09-09), the admirable veteran which has been runner-up in the race in both 2016 and 2017, is also entered for the Meath trainer.

Each of the last three winners of the race have been entered with Rogue Angel (09-03) and Thunder And Roses (09-12) joining Our Duke.

The overseas raiders are led by Harry Fry's American (11-01) while Warren Greatrex has entered Keeper Hill (10-01) and Missed Approach (09-09), and Harry Whittington is represented by Vinnie Lewis (09-08).

Current ante-post joint-favourites are Elliott's Squouateur (9-07) along with the Pat Kelly-trained Mall Dini (10-01) while Pat Fahy’s Morning Assembly (10-01), Ross O’Sullivan’s duo Baie Des Iles (10-03) and Call It Magic (9-11) and Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now (10-03) are interesting entries off lower weights.

BoyleSports Irish Grand National ante-post betting:

10/1: Mall Dini, Squouateur, 12/1 Folsom Blue, 14/1 Monbeg Notorious, 16/1 Dounikos, Acapella Bourgeois, The Storyteller, Any Second Now, Kemboy, Al Boum Photo, Total Recall, Our Duke, Invitation Only, 20/1 Bar

Facts about the Easter Festival of Racing at Fairyhouse and the Boylesports Irish Grand National

  • Sir Robert Peel was the very first winner in 1870, with 167 sovereigns in comparison to the €500,000 on offer today.
  • In 1929, the winner was a six-year-old mare Alike, owned and ridden by 5ft4in Frank Wise, who was missing three fingers and who rode with a wooden leg at Fairyhouse.
  • The most successful horse in the history of the famous race is Brown Lad, trained by Jim Dreaper, who claimed victory three times, in 1975, 1976 and 1978.
  • Tom Dreaper holds the best record in the race, winning it 10 times with 10 different horses.
  • UK raider Desert Orchid won the race in 1990 carrying 12 stone, after winning the Gold Cup the previous year.
  • Jenny Pitman was the first female trainer to win the race with Mudahim in 1997.
  • Ann Ferris, aboard Bentom Boy in 1984, was the first female jockey to win the race.
  • In 2015 the Sandra Hughes trained Thunder and Roses, ridden by Katie Walsh, became the first female trainer and female rider combination to win the Irish Grand National.
  • Over 5,000 litres of water are used to cool the horses during the Easter Festival.
  • Over 210,000 individual birch sticks will be used to construct the fences.
  • 30,000 people in through the turnstiles over three days of the Easter Festival (1,000 visitors will come from the UK) while it generates approximately €4million to local economy, and Fairyhouse business is worth over €14.5m to local economy over the year.

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