Take Fry's Flyer to enhance raiders' fine record
Much of the chat about the BoyleSports Irish National this afternoon has been how Gigginstown and Gordon Elliott have such an apparent stranglehold on the race - but the €500,000 heat might end up going to a raider.
Elliott accounts for a third of the 30 declared, while Michael O'Leary has 14. The numbers, however, are somewhat misleading: ten of the 12 outsiders in the wagering are Gigginstown-owned, just two of the front dozen in the market running in maroon.
For commentators, this race is clearly about as bad as it gets, with many of the Gigginstown runners liable to be ridden prominently. So too will Fletchers Flyer in all probability, and he can enhance an impressive record of British-trained steeds in the National.
The incredible Irish handicappers' performances at Cheltenham would suggest that the British-housed inmates should struggle over here. However, from the past ten renewals, three have gone across the water, and Harry Fry has clearly had his eye on this monstrous pot since Punchestown last April.
This race is becoming really classy, and is likely to become increasingly attractive to novice steeds: even though it seems questionable that horses bereft of experience ought to be considered the archetypal National winner, the pot is huge and they have more scope to have a few pounds in hand.
That will bring us shortly to the ante-post favourite but let us talk about the selection. Because of his only chase win coming in that Punchestown heat last season, Fletchers Flyer was still a novice in his homeland this term.
That was the horse's second win at Punchestown. On the first occasion, he beat Sub Lieutenant in a bumper. Interestingly, Sub Lieutenant is now rated 162 over fences, and Fletchers Flyer may have a bit to spare off 145.
In high-end handicaps, you generally get horses weighed to their best or very close. Thus, those with fewer trips to the gas station are all the more intriguing, and what was taking about his Punchestown success last year was that he was taken on early for the lead, yet jumped superbly and found plenty.
Oscar Sam deserves to be favourite and will probably win Grade Ones as a senior chaser. There are a couple of negatives, though, especially the ground - Jessica Harrington has said he needs a little soft ideally in the description, and it is hard to imagine the conditions being especially easy after the dry weather, notwithstanding any watering.
The other is his inexperience and his tendency to make a mistake or two, yet he is getting there with combat. He is a gorgeous, old-fashioned chaser, and if he can get into his groove close to the pace, he should take a bit of beating.
Gigginstown are more about quantity than quality here. It could have been a race made for Don Poli, which is unfortunately sidelined, and the chances are Bryan Cooper is on the wrong horse, but if you pick from 14 we are talking about the law of averages.
Cooper steers General Principle, which escapes a penalty despite winning twice coming here. His jumping is still a bit iffy at times, yet he could certainly be a threat off his low weight.
Tiger Roll, which did plenty wrong in Cheltenham's four-miler but still won, cannot be discounted, despite his obvious kinks, while his rider last month, Lisa O'Neill, has a lively each-way player in top weight Lord Scoundrel.
The ladies like the National, with recent wins going to Sandra Hughes, Katie Walsh, Dot Love and Nina Carberry. If Harrington or O'Neill fail, Ellmarie Holden and Rachael Blackmore could have the answer in Abolitionist, which has no ground concerns whatever and has been a revelation for Holden.
It is a race that cannot but compel and everyone can look ahead to it with relish - with the exception of those who have to commentate on it.
Ward's National verdict
1: Fletchers Flyer
2: Our Duke
3: General Principle