Donn's Articles » Irish Grand National – Horse by Horse

Irish Grand National – Horse by Horse

Latest Exhibition (Trainer: Paul Nolan – Jockey: Bryan Cooper)

A top class novice who also had Sunday’s Grade 1 two-and-a-half-mile novices’ chase as an option, he was a Grade 1 winner last season as a novice hurdler, and he has finished second to Monkfish in Grade 1 chases twice this season.  The defection of Tiger Roll and the resultant raising of the weights was not ideal, but he is a top class individual who could still run a big race under his big weight, and it is interesting that his trainer is fitting cheekpieces for the first time.

Court Maid (Tom Mullins – Sean O’Keeffe)

An impressive winner of her beginners’ chase at the Galway Festival last July, she stayed on strongly to win the Porterstown Chase over the Irish National course and distance in November.  She hasn’t run since she finished third in a handicap chase at Cheltenham’s December meeting, but the Irish National has probably been the plan for her for some time.  She is 12lb higher than she was when she won the Porterstown, but she is two for two over fences at Fairyhouse, and her rider had his first Cheltenham Festival winner last month.

Escaria Ten (Denise Foster – Adrian Heskin)

He finished a good second to talented staying novice Eklat De Rire in a Grade 3 chase at Naas in January, and he finished a close-up third behind Galvin and Next Destination in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last month.  He is a young, lightly-raced staying novice from whom there should be more to come, and he is another from whom first-time cheekpieces could elicit further improvement.  A slight concern is that his big run in the National Hunt Chase was only 20 days ago.

Brahma Bull (Willie Mullins – Brian Hayes)

He unseated his rider early in the Savills Chase at Tramore on New Year’s Day, and he was pulled up on heavy ground in the Thyestes Chase last time, but he is a talented horse on his day, as he proved when he got to within seven and a half lengths of Gold Cup hero Minella Indo at Navan in November.  He is probably at his best going this way around and, although 10 years old, he has only run eight times over fences in his career.

Coko Beach (Denise Foster – Jordan Gainford)

A dual winner over hurdles, he jumped superbly in his first-time blinkers when he got off the mark over fences in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January.  He followed up by landing the Grade 2 Ten Up Chase at Navan last time, when the winning margin may have been accentuated by the runner-up’s stumble on landing over the final fence.  A mark of 150 – 12lb higher than his Thyestes-winning mark – obviously makes things tougher, and rain would be a positive, but he is a progressive young staying chaser, and his young rider is among the best-value 7lb-claiming riders around.

Mortal (Joseph O’Brien – Shane Fitzgerald)

Winner of a handicap chase at Killarney last summer off a mark of 147, after being hampered mid-race, he probably would have been placed in the Munster National at Limerick last October had he not fallen at the final fence.  But he has been below that form in all four runs since, and he has been dropped by just 2lb by the handicapper.

Home By The Lee (Joseph O’Brien – J J Slevin)

A stable companion of Mortal – and of Sempo and Top Moon – he has won three of his five chases this season, putting up a career-best performance last time when he stayed on well to win a good two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Naas in February.  A 10lb hike makes things tougher, and he has to prove his stamina for this extreme trip, but he is only six, he has lots of scope for progression, he is proven on the ground, and he won his maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse.

Off You Go (Robbie Burns – Mark Walsh)

A dual winner of the Ladbrokes Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival, he stayed on well to win the Leopardstown Handicap Chase at this year’s Dublin Racing Festival in February.  An 8lb hike takes him up to a chase mark of 148, which is still 3lb lower than his peak over hurdles.  He has never been beyond two miles and five and a half furlongs, but his dam is a three-parts sister to the 2014 Irish National winner Shutthefrontdoor.

Salsaretta (Willie Mullins – Danny Mullins)

Four from four over fences last season, she fell at the first fence at Punchestown on her debut this season in November, and she was disappointing in a Grade 3 mares’ chase at Fairyhouse in January, for which she was sent off a warm favourite.  She was better in the Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in finishing fourth behind Colreevy, Elimay and Shattered Love, but her stamina for this extreme test is unproven.

Espanito Bello (Barry Connell – Mark Bolger)

Beaten just three parts of a length by Court Maid in a handicap hurdle at Naas on his final run last season, when he had Anibale Fly and Enjoy D’Allen behind him, he was well beaten on his first two runs over fences this season.  But he ran out an impressive winner of a beginners’ chase over two miles and three furlongs at Naas in December, when Coko Beach and Longhouse Poet filled the places behind him.  He was giving the same Coko Beach a real race in the Grade 2 Ten Up Chase at Navan last time when a stumble on landing over the final fence ended his winning chance.  He appeared to stay the three-mile trip well that day though, and there is every chance that he will stay the Irish National trip.  He is only seven and he has raced just four times over fences, so he has lots of potential for progression as a staying chaser.

Agusta Gold (Willie Mullins – Paul Townend)

A wholly likeable mare, she probably put up the best performance of her career up to that point when she was just caught by Ifyoucatchmenow in the final strides of the Grand National Trial at Punchestown in February last year.  Off the track for 11 months after that, she returned at Fairyhouse in January this year and battled on well to win the Grade 3 John & Chich Fowler Memorial Mares’ Chase.  Fourth in a handicap hurdle at Navan last time, she has since joined Willie Mullins from Mags Mullins, who did a fantastic job with her, and she has been well backed for the Irish National in recent days.  We know that she stays, and she goes well at the track, but she does have to defy a career-high mark of 146.

Snugsborough Benny (Liam Cusack – Richie Deegan)

Fourth in the Irish National in 2019 behind Burrows Saint, he finished third in the Galway Plate three months later, and he finished fifth in the Galway Plate last year.  He is a talented and consistent staying chaser, but he is 11 now, and his consistency determines that he still has a rating of 145, the rating off which he finished fourth in the race two years ago.

The Big Dog (Peter Fahey – Jamie Codd)

The fact that the weights went up means that Jamie Codd can probably have breakfast in the morning, but it is significant that one of the best amateur riders in the business was happy to get down to 10st 5lb to ride The Big Dog if that was what was going to be required.  He rode him for the first time last time, when together they landed Punchestown’s Grand National Trial, the Mahler gelding leaving the impression that day that he had more in hand than the half-length winning margin.  The handicapper raised him by 9lb to a mark of 145 but, while a little bit of rain would not be a negative, he is a talented young staying chaser who could be progressive enough to take that hike in his stride.

Moyhenna (Denis Hogan – Hugh Morgan)

She has run well in some of the top staying handicap chases in the past, she was only just beaten by Cabaret Queen in the Kerry National last September and she finished a good fourth in the Munster National in October.  Beaten just a half a length by Agusta Gold in that Grade 3 mares’ chase at Fairyhouse in January, she kept on well to finish third behind The Big Dog in Punchestown’s Grand National Trial in February.  She is a consistent mare who stays well, and talented 5lb-claiming rider Hugh Morgan takes the ride for the first time.

Scoir Mear (Tom Mullins – Simon Torrens)

An 11-year-old who has run 30 times over fences, he has been running consistently well all season, and he put up one of the best performances of his career last time when he stayed on well to win the Leinster National at Naas last month.  An 8lb hike for that takes him up to a career-high mark of 143, but he goes into the race in the form of his life, and top conditional rider Simon Torrens takes off 5lb again.

Enjoy D’Allen (Ciaran Murphy – Conor Orr)

His progression this calendar year has been quite remarkable, from a rating of 119 when he won a rated novices’ chase at Fairyhouse in January to his current rating of 142.  He shaped all season over two and a half miles as if a step back up in trip would bring about further improvement, and that hypothesis was proven when he ran a big race last time in a three-mile novices’ handicap chase at Navan to finish second to the similarly progressive Stormy Judge, the pair of them pulling clear of their rivals.  The handicapper gave him another 5lb for that run, but he continues on an upward trajectory.  His yard won the Irish National with Liberty Counsel in 2013, and the step up to this extreme trip, combined with the addition of blinkers in place of a visor or cheekpieces, could see him improve again.

Discordantly (Jessica Harrington – Robbie Power)

An impressive winner of his beginners’ chase at Galway in October, he ran really well to finish fourth in the Troytown Chase at Navan next time, doing best of the prominent racers, despite making a bad mistake at the second last fence.  He hasn’t built on that since, he unseated in the Thyestes Chase and he fell in the Punchestown Grand National Trial, but he ran well for a long way last time in the Ultima Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.  He stays well and he could improve for the step up in distance. 

Dragon D’Estruval (Willie Mullins – Conor McNamara)

Winner of a three-and-a-quarter-mile handicap chase at Ludlow last January when he was with Nicky Henderson, he finished third in point-to-point at Kinsale in December on his first run for Willie Mullins, and he finished well down the field behind his stable companion Billaway in a hunters’ chase at Naas on his second.  A handicap rating of 140 – the mark off which he won that handicap chase at Ludlow – gives him a chance, but he didn’t appear to fully see out this trip in the voided London Gold Cup at Sandown in December 2019.

Jerrysback (Philip Hobbs – Jody McGarvey)

The only raider from overseas, he was disappointing last time in a listed handicap chase at Ascot, but he had a possible excuse that day as he came home without one of his shoes.  He may be better judged on his previous run, when he finished a close-up third behind subsequent Grade 1 Ascot Chase winner Dashel Drasher in a handicap chase at Ascot in January.  He gets to race off an Irish mark of 140, which is 2lb lower than the British mark off which he finished third in that Ascot race, and it is 8lb lower than his peak.

Run Wild Fred (Denise Foster – Jack Kennedy)

A Grade 3 winner as a novice hurdler last February, he hasn’t won yet over fences, but he has run some big races in defeat.  On his penultimate run, he split Longhouse Poet and subsequent Punchestown Grand National Trial winner The Big Dog in a beginners’ chase at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve.  Then, last time, he ran a big race to finish second behind his stable companion Coko Beach in the Thyestes Chase.  The handicapper raised him by 4lb for that run to a mark of 140, but that mark is still 4lb lower than his hurdles mark.  Rain would probably be a positive but, a seven-year-old who has run just six times over fences, he has the potential to go beyond his chase mark now, and he won a bumper on his only run to date at Fairyhouse.

Sempo (Joseph O’Brien – Donagh Meyler)

He has unseated at the first fence in two of his five chases, but he ran well last time in the Grade 3 Flyingbolt Chase over two miles at Navan to finish second behind his stable companion, the progressive mare Scarlet And Dove, when he had subsequent Grade 3 Pierce Molony Memorial Chase winner I’m A Game Changer back in third.  Sixth behind Monkfish and Latest Exhibition and Fury Road in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham last season, that two-mile trip should have been shorter than ideal for him, and his chase mark of 139 is 3lb lower than his hurdles mark.

Ten Ten (Philip Dempsey – Luke Dempsey)

Pulled up when well fancied for the Thyestes Chase, he shaped encouragingly next time over hurdles at Fairyhouse when he finished second to Rhythm Divine, and he ran well last time too, back over fences, in finishing second behind Scoir Mear in the Leinster National.  A 4lb hike for that run takes him up to a mark of 139, but he remains a horse from whom there could still be a fair bit more to come.

Robin De Carlow (Willie Mullins – Rachael Blackmore)

The last time we saw her, she was beating last month’s Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On in the Grade 3 Like-A-Butterfly Novice Chase over two and a half miles at Tipperary in October 2019.  It will be a fine training performance by the champion trainer if he can produce her to win an Irish National after an absence of 547 days but, winner of a Grade 3 novice hurdle over three miles, there is every chance that she will stay, and a handicap rating of 138 is workable.

Atlantic Shore (Philip Fenton – Kevin Sexton)

He was pulled up in Stormy Judge’s race at Navan last time, but he was in good form before that, winning a handicap chase and a handicap hurdle at Punchestown.  He stays three miles well and he leaves the impression that he has every chance of getting three miles and five furlongs.

Brace Yourself (Noel Meade – Sean Flanagan)

Winner of his beginners’ chase over two and a half miles at Gowran Park on his debut this season, he finished third behind Latest Exhibition and Pencilfulloflead in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown in November.  He finished 13 lengths behind Court Maid in second place in the Porterstown Chase over the Irish National course and distance in November the last time we saw him, and he meets Tom Mullins’ mare on 10lb better terms now.  He goes into the race off a nice break.

Fitzhenry (Paul Nolan – Darragh O’Keeffe)

He goes well in these big staying handicap chases.  Second in last season’s Troytown Chase, second in last season’s Paddy Power Chase, he ran well again last time, staying on well to finish third in the Leinster National at Naas.  He doesn’t get much respite from the handicapper, but he stays well, he goes into the race in good heart, and both his trainer and his rider have been in really good form of late.

Freewheelin Dylan (Dermot McLoughlin – Ricky Doyle)

He battled on well to win the Midlands National at Kilbeggan last July.  A faller over hurdles on his next run, he has been well beaten in his three chases since, but they were all on soft ground.  He should be happier on the better ground that he will surely encounter on Monday, and he has dropped back down to a rating of 137, just 2lb higher than the mark off which he won the Midlands National.

Top Moon (Joseph O’Brien – Denis O’Regan)

A talented hurdler last season, he hasn’t won yet over fences, but he only went down by a neck to his stable companion A Wave Of The Sea in the Matheson Handicap Chase at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival in February, in a race that is working out extremely well.  He was beaten by Myth Buster in a beginners’ chase over two miles and six furlongs at Thurles last time, and you wouldn’t have thought that he was crying out for a step up to three miles and five furlongs, but he is only six and he could be a well-handicapped horse now over fences on a mark of 136, 6lb lower than his hurdles mark.

Opposites Attract (Dermot McLoughlin – Conor Maxwell)

A dual winner over hurdles last season as a novice, he finished a close-up third behind Latest Exhibition and School Boy Hours in a beginners’ chase at Punchestown in October on his chasing bow, and he was only just beaten by Assemble next time at Fairyhouse.  He didn’t go forward from that in his next two runs, but he was better last time at Wexford in chasing home Defi Bleu in his first-time cheekpieces.  He still has the potential to be better than his current mark.

Eurobot (Noel Meade – Barry Browne)

His task in his beginners’ chase at Thurles in November was rendered easier than it might have been when Sams Profile and Lord Royal both fell.  He came up short in graded company twice after that, but he didn’t shape badly last time in the Leinster National in finishing fourth behind Stormy Judge off a mark of 135, the mark off which he will race on Monday. 


A typically competitive renewal of the Irish Grand National in which a case can be made for many, but Run Wild Fred has lots in his favour.  He is a progressive novice who stays well and who proved that he could handle the hustle-bustle of a big-field staying handicap chase when he finished second in the Thyestes Chase last time.  A 4lb hike for that run takes him up to a mark of just 140, which is still 4lb lower than his hurdles mark.  It leaves him with 10st 11lb to carry, which is a positive in a race in which only Our Duke has carried more than 10st 13lb to victory since Commanche Court won the race under 11st 4lb in 2000.  A seven-year-old who has raced just six times over fences, he still has plenty of potential for progression as a staying chaser, and he will have Jack Kennedy for company.  He stays three miles well, he leaves the impression that he will stay further, and he won a bumper on his only run to date at Fairyhouse. 

© Sporting Life, 4th April 2021