Quietly Fancied to keep Mullins waiting for win
In a record-breaking season in which he has already achieved so much, six-time champion trainer Willie Mullins has two chances of bringing his Ladbrokes Irish Grand National hoodoo to an end today.
Ruby Walsh, Mullins' most trusted lieutenant, has opted for Marasonnien in the prestigious 143-year-old Fairyhouse handicap, which remains the richest steeplechase in the country with a €250,000 prize fund.
Walsh, incidentally, looks set to ride favourite On His Own for Mullins in the Aintree Grand National on Saturday.
Marasonnien, a Grade One winner in shocking conditions at Punchestown last year, will at least enjoy the testing ground.
He has solid placed form behind Lord Windermere and Home Farm this term, and might well be aided by the three-mile-five-furlong trip.
Still, as a maiden over fences after seven starts, you wonder if Mullins' quest for an elusive debut triumph might have to wait another year.
Away We Go, the Closutton handler's other runner, doesn't appeal either.
Paul Townend's mount carries 10st 2lb – a pound less than its stablemate – but the recent hurdle winner doesn't look well treated off a mark that is 13lbs higher than he would race off over flights.
The David Pipe-trained Junior, one of two cross-channel contenders among the 30-strong field alongside Borders raider Rapidolyte De Ladalka, tops the weights under Conor O'Farrell.
Pulled up at Cheltenham, the game Rehearsal Chase victor will be more suited by this dour slog, though he faces a mammoth task with 11st 10lb on his back.
His presence keeps everything else below the 11st mark, with the aptly-named Rich Revival still shading favouritism at as low as 7/1 last night.
Other novices to note are Competitive Edge, Home Farm, Sweeney Tunes and Panther Claw.
Competitive Edge, one of two that owner JP McManus has engaged, is the choice of AP McCoy, about to be crowned champion jockey for an incredible 18th successive time.
Conor O'Dwyer's Presenting gelding is on a hat-trick here after scraping home at Leopardstown before following up with considerable ease at Gowran Park.
While he is going the right way, he is a stone higher now and has never won over further than two and a quarter miles.
The slow-maturing Home Farm, representing dual-winning handler Arthur Moore, recently denied White Star Line and Marasonnien in style here over two miles and five furlongs. He has class, so could figure prominently if he stays the extra mile.
Panther Claw had never run on the track before October, but he has won two chases since then.
Third in the Thyestes Chase, Katie Walsh's mount relishes a thorough war of attrition.
Romanesco is much more experienced, keeping on well for third in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham.
Quietly Fancied also warrants serious consideration. In first-time blinkers at Limerick in October, the soft-ground specialist raced at the head of affairs before keeping on at one pace, so the extra five furlongs could help his cause now.
If Quietly Fancied runs as sweetly, he could cause an upset.
Prediction: 1 Quietly Fancied, 2 Romanesco, 3 Home Farm, 4 Panther Claw