Richard Forristal: 'Angel' ready to sprout wings for Fox
Gold Cup heroes Gordon Elliott and Michael O'Leary each throw eight darts at the BoyleSports Irish Grand National in the search for glory.
Of the 29 runners in the €275,000 highlight of Fairyhouse's Easter festival, Elliott and O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud are responsible for an aggregate 14 contenders.
Their fingerprints are all over the line-up, as Elliott strives to secure his first win in the famous 146-year-old handicap and O'Leary seeks his third.
The Ryanair supremo's Sandra Hughes-trained 2015 victor Thunder And Roses sports first-time blinkers in its bid to become the first back-to-back winner for 40 years, with rising star David Mullins up top, as Bryan Cooper prefers the stable's Sub Lieutenant. Novices have a good record in this three-mile-five-furlong grueller, so that might have formed part of Cooper's decision-making.
Sub Lieutenant is unexposed and will relish ground that is likely to be close enough to soft, although he'd want all of the experience that he has gained in his six runs over fences to date.
Hughes also has lightweight Wrath Of Titans for Gigginstown. At the top of the page, Elliott gives Cause Of Causes a chance to double up following his dramatic Kim Muir success.
This won't be easy for Barry Geraghty's mount under a 12lb penalty for 11st 10lb, and Elliott also has the next highest rated runner in Mala Beach. Davy Russell's mount will appreciate the going, but he has been frustrating. A faller when moving well on his first start this term at Thurles, he then finished second at Ascot and in the Thyestes Chase, before crashing two-out with the Bobbyjo at his mercy.
Mala Beach has a big day in him, but he has shot up the ratings without winning, so he may need to get his confidence back before things click.
Liam Burke and Robbie Power combine again with their game Thyestes winner My Murphy. He is nine pounds higher here and eight pounds higher than when seventh in this a year ago. While My Murphy will enjoy getting his toe in, he has plenty on under 11st 6lb.
The Co Cork handler's son Jonathan is pencilled in for Venitien De Mai, which was last night vying for favouritism with Mala Beach and Bonny Kate. Venitien De Mai enjoyed a pretty resounding win over Grand National hopeful Goonyella in the Leinster National at Naas.
He has had just four starts over fences, so he is another that brings a minimum amount of experience to the table, but he is certainly unexposed.
Of course, both Venitien De Mai and Goonyella are trained by Jim Dreaper, the man whose family has masterminded an incredible 14 wins in the race.
It was Dreaper who saddled the most recent back-to-back hero Brown Lad in 1976, so there would be no more fitting winner of this great old jump racing institution in a landmark edition on the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
Noel Meade's Bonny Kate is another novice that has been in form. When scoring at Punchestown in January, Bonny Kate beat fellow mare Baie Des Iles. Baie Des Iles has since run well in the Bobbyjo and represents last year's winning rider Katie Walsh and her upwardly mobile husband, Ross O'Sullivan. She has a chance in conditions that she will relish, but it's not for nothing that a five-year-old hasn't won this since 1934.
All told, this corner's fancy is Gigginstown's Rogue Angel, whose trainer Mouse Morris won with Hear The Echo for O'Leary in 2008. He may not be the most provocative selection, and, after 25 runs over fences, he is a bit of an open book.
At Listowel in September, Rogue Angel was second in a two-and-a-half-mile handicap, before rallying to thwart Urano in a thrilling edition of the Kerry National three days later.
That triumph came off 133, but he paid for those exertions on his next two starts in the Munster and Cork Nationals. However, after most of four months off, he caught the eye when fourth to Colms Dream at Leopardstown on February 28.
The winner has since dotted up over hurdles and the second has been second again behind the sixth, Federici, so the form is solid. Over an inadequate trip, Rogue Angel, kept on well to the line, and he is coming here in much better form that when unseating in this 12 months ago.
A dour sort, he will appreciate any rain that falls and gets in off an unchanged mark of 137 for 10st 9lb. When you factor in the three-pound claim of an in-form Ger Fox, he becomes an even more appealing prospect. Prediction: 1 Rogue Angel; 2 Venitien De Mai; 3 Killer Crow; 4 My Murphy