Victorious with Davids Lad in 2001, local trainer Tony Martin is being tipped to land this year's Powers Whisky Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse with Saddlers Storm.
The weights for the 139th running of the Easter Monday showpiece were announced yesterday and last month's Navan winner has been installed 7-1 favourite with Ladbrokes after being allotted just 9st 11lb.
And with the runners of the wily Meath handler always to be respected in big handicaps, the bookmakers are clearly taking no chances with Martin's progressive eight-year-old, which has three races on the bounce — two under Ruby Walsh and one under Davy Russell.
If he runs, the Jim Dreaper-trained Notre Pere is set to shoulder top weight of 11st 10 lb along with UK raider The Tother One, from the Paul Nicholls yard. Dreaper's gelding is only likely to run if the ground is soft.
There are two Cheltenham heroes among the 86 entries, including Cross Country victor A New Story which has been allotted 10 stone for Ireland's richest jumps prize.
Michael Hourigan's 12-year-old, which broke the Enda Bolger stranglehold on the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham, provided teenager Adrian Heskin with a winner at the Festival at the very first attempt.
Despite not having won since 2005, the veteran ran out an impressive winner.
“A New Story is in fine form following his win and the plan now is to run in the Irish National,” said Hourigan.
“It was his first win for five years and the plan is to give him one run over hurdles before running in the Irish National, where he finished third last year.”
This veteran chaser's stablemate Church Island — runner-up last year — will carry 10-12, which is thirteen pounds higher than last year. The Fairyhouse showpiece has the makings of an intriguing contest and Irish handicapper Noel O'Brien believes it will be a very competitive affair:
“There are 64 horses out of an entry of 86 which are in the handicap proper, so it is likely that we will have a very competitive renewal.”
The Kim Muir Chase winner at Cheltenham, Ballabriggs (11-3) trained by Donald McCain is joined on the list by the third placed in that race, Galant Nuit (10-6).
Another Cheltenham hero Poker De Sivola (10-7) from the Ferdy Murphy stable, may attempt to follow up Granit D'Estruval' s 2004 Irish National triumph for the the Wexford native.
Poker De Sivola, given a super ride by Katie Walsh when winning the National Hunt four-mile marathon at Cheltenham, may renew rivalry with Becauseicouldntsee (10-4), where Nina Carberry may exact revenge as the Noel Glynn-trained gelding will be in receipt of three pounds for a two and a half length defeat at the Cotswolds.
\[Peter Hutcheon\]Synchronised (11-6), taken out of the four-miler, revelled in the soft going to land the Midlands National at Uttoxeter last Saturday, sets up an intriguing clash among these talented staying novices.
Willie Mullins has a strong entry of 14 horses headed by Betfair Novice Chase scorer at the Punchestown Festival last year, Equus Maximus (10-12) along with Leinster National winner Ballytrim (10-8).
Also representing the Closutton stable is the Troytown Chase winner, Beroni and The Midnight Club, placed in hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival last year and again last week, who have been allocated 10-7 and 10-9 respectively for the Fairyhouse showpiece.
Other notable entries include Paddy Power Chase winner Oscar Time (10-10) while the UK raiders, former Grade One winner Air Force One and 2007 Welsh National victor Miko de Beauchene have been both allotted 11 stone.
Meanwhile, Tom Cooper is considering his options after Forpadydeplasterer finished second in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
The Melling Chase over two and a half miles at Aintree on April 9 and the two-mile Kerrygold Champion Chase at Punchestown on April 20 are possible races for the eight-year-old.
“He's come out of the race super and he's been out in the paddock today,” said the Tralee trainer.
“I'd have to be very happy after the preparation he had. It was stop-go situation so I'd had have to be pleased.
“He was just beaten by a faster horse on the day.
“He'll run again this season without a doubt. We might have a look at Aintree and Punchestown.
“We'll just see over the next week to 10 days about Aintree, but there's no decision made yet.”
Irish Grand National: Ladbrokes betting: 7/1 Saddlers Storm, 10/1 Poker De Sivola, 12/1 Arbor Supreme, Oscar Time, Siegemaster, 14/1 Ballytrim, Moskova, Beroni, 16 Notre Pere, Aran Concerto, 20 bar.