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Elliott on course to clinch title with National success

 

By Johnny Ward

Gordon Elliott, who is leading the race to become champion trainer in Ireland for the first time, accounts for a third of the 30 runners who made the cut for Monday's BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.

Gigginstown's main rider Bryan Cooper will partner General Principle for Elliott, and Michael O'Leary's operation will have 14 runners in the €500,000 contest.

The most notable non-runner is Mall Dini, which ran a fine race in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham. His absence means that long-time antepost favourite Our Duke, trained by the in-form Jessica Harrington, is just 5/1 with the sponsor.

Meath handler Elliott is over €350,000 clear of Willie Mullins in the race to be crowned this season's champion National Hunt trainer and he could potentially wrap it up by winning the feature on Monday.

The weights are topped by Lord Scoundrel, while Noble Endeavor, Tiger Roll and last year's runner-up Bless The Wings, who has scraped in at the bottom of the field, are also part of the Elliott battalion.

Mullins has three representatives in Haymount, Arbre De Vie and Sambremont. Bidding to win the title for the 10th year running, victory in this would give him every chance ahead of the lucrative Punchestown Festival.

Robbie Power believes that he can win the race for the first time with Our Duke. The novice enjoyed Grade One glory at Leopardstown over Christmas and was kept at home from Cheltenham after a brave second to Disko back at Leopardstown.

Mouse Morris saddled the respective last two winners in Thunder And Roses and Rogue Angel, both of which failed to complete last week's Grand National at Aintree.

Previous Irish National winner Shutthefrontdoor takes his chance for Jonjo O'Neill, with Harry Fry's challenger Fletchers Flyer another notable raider.

Tomorrow's showpiece Ryanair Gold Cup is a hot renewal but Yorkhill, despite a probable preference for going left-handed, should stamp his class on this.

Gigginstown could have run both Ball D'arc and Road To Respect, which would certainly have been interesting. However, it makes sense to take on Yorkhill, which did of course throw in a stinker at Punchestown 12 months ago.

The mares' Grade One is surely all about Let's Dance, developing into a steed of rare talent. The Mullins-trained five-year-old got away with the distance in winning at Cheltenham and this is much more suitable, though Shattered Love may be able to give her a race.

Following Tudor City hurdling has been a costly exercise and he reverts to the challenge of a maiden in the opener. Agent Boru is a danger as he ran like a sick horse when well-backed on his latest outing.

Tudor City's trainer Tony Martin is tipped to strike again in the handicap hurdle, though Artful Artist is another horse that has been pretty frustrating over hurdles.

Don't Touch It could be a class apart in the BoyleSports Novice Handicap Steeplechase. A Grade One winner over hurdles last season, he is an excellent jumper, and the ground will make him all the harder to deter under Barry Geraghty.

A Great View under Geraghty takes the eye in the penultimate heat, while Dinons can oblige in the bumper.

Pique Sous is the star attraction in Cork's feature, though he faces a smart five-year-old in Jeannot De Nonant, with Conor Brassil taking off the 5lb.

The Dr Vincent O'Brien Centenary Steeplechase should go to A Toi Phil, which has been running against much better foes.

Belfast Telegraph

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