She's Got Grit to reign for O'Brien
LION NA BEARNAI, Tom Gibney's 33/1 winner of the 2012 Irish Grand National, tops the page in Navan's €30,000 handicap chase tomorrow, but bottom-weight She's Got Grit appeals as the potential winner.
The valuable Grade C handicap retains its 'Foxrock' title despite switching from Leopardstown in 2012, and the third edition of the race in its new home is a tricky affair comprising 11 largely out-of-form runners. Moreover, just three of the field are aged less than 10, and none less than eight.
Terence O'Brien's She's Got Grit is one of two nine-year-olds, but the recent Fairyhouse winner jumps off the page as the most progressive option with just five starts over fences to her name from seven career outings under Rules.
Ominously, Willie Mullins' Popcorn is the only other contender with such an unexposed profile, but Ruby Walsh's 11-year-old mount hasn't run for over two years.
A late-developing point-to-point and dual hunter chase winner in 2013, She's Got Grit lived up to her name by gamely seeing off classy operators like Avondhu Lady and Victrix Gale off bottom-weight last month.
She gets in off the minimum again here despite an effective 5lb rating hike, so it would be no surprise to see her follow up under Adrian Heskin with conditions to suit. The Tony Martin-trained Gallant Oscar is another handicap fancy in the more open-looking two-and-a-half-mile hurdle.
Any amount of the 24 in this have chances, but Walsh's mount caught the eye on his bow for Martin when tiring into fourth over two miles at Down Royal last time.
The runner-up Luddsdenene has since won easily at Thurles to give the form a solid appearance, so Gallant Oscar has bundles of appeal now that he steps up to the trip over which he won at Clonmel last March.
Walsh should also collect aboard Mullins' Un De Sceaux in the conditions hurdle. Considered by some to be something of a dark horse for the Champion Hurdle, the French import has not come off the bridle in three starts to date for the Closutton-based firm. Gordon Elliott's Ladbroke Hurdle third Flaxen Flare and John Ryan's smart chaser Foildubh amount to the best opposition that he will have faced, but it's hard to see either toppling the unbeaten six-year-old.
Mad Brian and Irish Thistle, two course specialists, look set to fight out the novices' chase. The Davy Russell-ridden Irish Thistle will improve for the two-and-a-half-mile trip after staying on to chase home Ned Buntline here on his fencing bow, but Mad Brian's overall form is more solid.
Gillian O'Callaghan's eight-year-old was second in the Troytown Chase on his penultimate outing, and was bang there jumping the last fence in Grade One company at Leopardstown before tiring on the run-in behind Carlingford Lough.
If he replicates that standard of performance for Keith Donoghue now, he should score.
Noel Meade has three runners at his local track, two of which are trusted to collect. The impressive Gigginstown Stud-owned course bumper victor Wounded Warrior will be hard to beat in the longer maiden hurdle under Bryan Cooper, with JP McManus' Chancol worthy of the nap vote in the two-mile version.
Another course bumper winner, Paul Carberry's partner ran a solid race to be fourth behind Western Boy on his hurdle debut at Leopardstown over Christmas. Average improvement from that would surely see him go very close in this modest enough heat.