Thursday 22 February 2018

So Quietly Fancied on Fairyhouse's Grand stage

Quietly Fancied, here under Ruby Walsh, leads the field on his way to victory in a handicap hurdle at Clonmel last November, but it will be over the larger obstacles in Monday’s Irish Grand National that Oliver McKiernan’s charge will be hoping to score
Quietly Fancied, here under Ruby Walsh, leads the field on his way to victory in a handicap hurdle at Clonmel last November, but it will be over the larger obstacles in Monday’s Irish Grand National that Oliver McKiernan’s charge will be hoping to score
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

This morning, the 51 horses that have been left in Easter Monday's Ladbrokes Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse will finally be whittled down to a maximum field of 30.

For those of you determined to spend the weekend devouring the card rather than oval-shaped chocolate creations, it might be worth considering some of the trends that the feature event has thrown up in recent times.

Topically, excessive poundage is one of the best places to start, as an almost fundamental tenet of these prestigious handicap chases still holds true for the €250,000 marathon contest in Ratoath.

Unlike its Aintree equivalent, the weight structure of which has been artificially tampered with, the Irish Grand National remains true to the spirit of handicapping.

In short, a modest stable like that of last year's Tom Gibney-trained winner Lion Na Bearnai is as likely to win it as any of the elite, as their chance is not compromised by the altering of official ratings to attract the classiest horses.

Traditionally, successfully lumping big weights over extreme distances was an extraordinary feat, but four Aintree winners in a row – and five in eight – have carried 11st or more, tuning the norm on its head. There has been no such meddling here.

No horse has achieved glory at Fairyhouse carrying more than 11st since Commanche Court back in 2000.

In the last 32 editions, just five have done so, with two of those, Desert Orchid in 1990 and Flashing Steel in 1995, burdened with a mammoth 12st.

However, the salient point about those five triumphs is that the official going on each occasion was predominantly good.

In other words, with the ground officially heavy at Fairyhouse, Junior and Dedigout, the only two currently above the 11st, will struggle.

Should Junior be declared, that would bode well for the majority, to the extent that forming a workable shortlist at the other end of the spectrum is complicated.

In the last dozen renewals, for example, nine winners have had between 10st and 10st 8lb.

As an aside, with Junior hailing from David Pipe's yard, it is worth noting the raiders' recent potency in the National.


In all, there have been nine English winners, but seven have come in the last 28 years, and three in the last nine from just 22 runners.

Along with Junior, Jonjo O'Neill, who scored with Butler's Cabin in 2007, has Storm Survivor engaged this time, while Simon Shirley-Bevan's Rapidolyte De Ladalka is a third potential cross-channel starter.

If Junior is declared, 16 of those currently entered would fall into the 10st to 10st 8lb category.

And if you go by the stat that shows eight of the last 10 winners have carried 10st 5lbs or less, you lose just six of the 51 overall entrants.

Right now, every one of the first seven in the betting, from the 8/1 market leader Rich Revival to Carlingford Lough at 16/1, are among 27 horses that have between 9st 9lb and 10st 8lb, the bracket responsible for throwing up 11 of the last 12 winners.

With Organisedconfusion (2011) one of just two six-year-olds to win the National in the past 39 years, there are solid grounds for discounting the three of that age that fall within this collective, namely Home Farm, Toner D'Oudaires and Competitive Edge.

All three are also quite inexperienced novices, having had just three, four and seven runs over fences. Four of the last eight winners have technically been novices.

That, though, is slightly misleading, as although they were strictly novices, they didn't lack experience, with Numbersixvalverde winning on his seventh start over fences in 2005, last year's winner Lion Na Bearnai doing so on his 10th try, Butler's Cabin prevailing in 2007 on his ninth attempt and Niche Market a veteran of a dozen starts, including an early disqualification that would have denied him novice status in 2009.

A more pertinent trend is that each of the last seven winners have been second-season chasers, be they novices or not.

To that end, it doesn't bode well for the three aforementioned six-year-olds in their first campaign over fences.

Of the 27 horses weighted between 9st 9lb and 10st 8lb, just eight are second-season chasers, namely Whodoyouthink, Questions Answered, Blazing Beacon, Start Me Up, White Star Line, Imperial Shabra, Carloswayback and Quietly Fancied.

Of those, recent age trends appear to go against the 11-year-old Blazing Beacon, with just one horse older than 10 winning in over 20 years, that being Mudahim back in 1997.

If we factor in official ratings, the last six winners have been rated between 131 and 136, which rather dramatically leaves only Questions Answered standing.

He is also the right age, as eight-year-olds have accounted for three of the last seven winners, and have been the most prolific over 30 years, marginally so from seven-year-olds.

If we broaden the ratings band to between 125 and 136, which covers 12 of the last 13 winners, Start Me Up, White Star Line, Imperial Shabra, Carloswayback and Quietly Fancied all re-enter calculations along with Questions Answered.

Of those, White Star Line, Imperial Shabra, Carloswayback and Quietly Fancied will have run within the previous 50 days, as did 12 of the last 13 Irish National winners. Perhaps crucially, 12 of the last 13 had also won a race of some description over three miles or further before achieving success at Fairyhouse, something that, of the quartet above, only Quietly Fancied has done.

And if we discount the 50-day criteria and go back to the ratings band of between 125 and 136, Start Me Up comes back into play.

That said, Questions Answered deserves a mention for being placed in both a Kerry and Munster National this term. Inevitably, though, the lack of a recent run is a damning negative against him and Start Me Up.

That leaves us with Quietly Fancied. Just two of his nine-year-old age group have won the race in the last 10 years, but you'd struggle to argue that is a significant negative, and his sire Presenting also produced Niche Market.

Trained in Rathcoole by Oliver McKiernan, maybe the Redgap Partnership's soft-ground specialist will make it a lucrative afternoon for those who cross the county boundary to attend Fairyhouse on what is often referred to as the Dubs' Day Out.

To that end, odds of 33/1 about Quietly Fancied, runner-up in the Kerry National when last seen over fences in October, living up to its name might yet prove generous. Just one of the last 13 winners returned a single-figure SP, and 33/1 is the SP of the longest-priced winners in the history of the race, all five of which have come about in the last 30 years.

To invert the old lamp-post aphorism about statistics, then, if we are ever to accept that they can be used for illumination rather than support, Quietly Fancied could well be in the spotlight come Monday.

Ladbrokes Irish Grand National – Sponsors bet: 7/1 Rich Revival, 10/1 Marasonnien, Magnaminity, Romanesco, Sweeney Tunes, 12/1 Home Farm, White Star Line, Carlingford Lough, 14/1 bar.

Irish Independent

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