Downpatrick: National glory beckons for Andrew
Staying will be the name of the game today at Downpatrick where the Toals Bookmakers Ulster Grand National is the feature event.
In this contest 12 months ago, triumph mixed with tragedy as the winner Chief Oscar collapsed and died shortly after passing the post.
Winning rider Andrew Lynch will be hoping history doesn't repeat itself in such cruel fashion again.
This afternoon Lynch has the leg-up on last year's runner-up Bally Wall and Ian Ferguson's charge has good prospects of going one better.
While the eight-year-old hasn't won since Ayr last April, he is running well and last time out finished third to Isla Pearl Fisher over three miles at Musselburgh.
Ferguson said: “Certainly if Bally Wall repeats his effort of last year, he should run very competitively. He has a realistic chance. But everything has to go right for you on the day.
“But there will be a lot of top trainers up from the south — and they’re not coming just for the day out! They will be thinking they have a big chance too,” added the Ballymena trainer.
Bally Wall will be much better suited to the extra half mile today and he is given the nod to see off Selection Box, Flemensford and the Mervyn Torrens-trained Hughies Grey.
Crossgar trainer Colin McBratney has never won the Ulster National but his charge Selection Box cannot be ruled out.
Selection Box finished third in last year’s race and earlier this season seventh in the Thystes Chase at Gowran Park. He seems to be running into his best form and McBratney is sweet about his chances in today’s showdown.
McBratney said: “Who will forget last year when Chief Oscar won the Ulster National but tragically died shortly after passing the post. The day was marred because of that but it has to be said that Selection Box put up a huge performance under top weight.”
McBratney has another runner in the race in Jack Finch who won on five occasions for Edward |O'Grady, but will be running for the Crossgar man for the first time.
Jack Finch has the sort of form which makes him an obvious choice, but Selection Box — who has already won at Downpatrick — has the better hopes of the two.
Ballymak, trained by Gordon Elliot, also has hopes and Dessie Hughes will be looking for a big run from First Row.
Noel Meade is responsible for Sigma Lifestyle who was fourth in last year’s Ulster National and obviously handles the course well.
In addition Meade has a good record at Downpatrick where he is particularly good at winning the bumper.
Meanwhile, Alex Hales is planning a crack at the Ladbrokes Irish Grand National with recent Ascot winner Iconoclast.
The 10-year-old made an unbelievable recovery to land a Listed race at the Berkshire venue last month, managing to keep on his feet after a terrible blunder at the ninth fence.
Jockey Paul Moloney let Iconoclast work his way back into the race and the pair completed their amazing victory with a neck verdict over The Sawyer.
Hales said: “I was in the restaurant and I was shouting at Paul to pull up as we could have a crack at something else the next week.
“It was a fantastic ride though, he didn't panic and just let the horse get back into it. It was a great result for a small yard.
“I've had some thoughts about plans but there's nothing concrete yet — it's very much ground dependent.
“I'd like to go over to Fairyhouse for the Irish National, he's rated 136 now and I think he should get in off that and he will definitely stay the trip.
“I've given him a very tentative entry in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown but the ground is usually on the quicker side there. But I would like to go to Fairyhouse with him.”
JIMMY WALKER’S DOWNPATRICK TIPS: 2.15 Kid Curry, 2.45 Three Monkeys, 3.15 Breeze With Ease, 3.45 Bally Wall, |4.15 Vincent Pipe, 4.45 Nutin Fancy.