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Quirky Holywell has talent to triumph in Grand style

By Richard Forristal

Published 09/04/2016

Holy smoke: Holywell, with Richie McLernon in the saddle, wins the Pertemps Final at the
Cheltenham Festival
Holy smoke: Holywell, with Richie McLernon in the saddle, wins the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival
Many Clouds
Bryan Cooper

After Rogue Angel's Easter heroics, Mouse Morris will today saddle First Lieutenant and Rule The World in his quest to complete a fairytale National double at Aintree - but Holywell can prevail.

Bryan Cooper, so assured on Don Cossack in the Gold Cup, missed out on that overwhelming Fairyhouse triumph.

In this evening's Crabbie's Grand National, of the Gigginstown Stud-owned trio, he has gone with First Lieutenant for Morris's in-form team.

Given that Ruby Walsh got off Willie Mullins's recent Bobbyjo Chase winner Boston Bob at the last minute to fill the void on Gigginstown's Sir Des Champs, Cooper might soon have been questioning his choice.

He wouldn't be human if he didn't, but First Lieutenant is the sensible pick. He has been around here before, and placed efforts this term behind Smad Place in the Hennessy and Don Poli in the Lexus were smart.

The flip side is that he is badly handicapped. He has never won a handicap, yet at 11 years of age is 12lbs higher than when third in the Hennessy, so he has it all to do under 11st 4lb.

Sir Des Champs also showed up well on his comeback earlier in the campaign. While the 2013 Gold Cup runner-up is slightly better treated off 154, he has never been the cleanest jumper, which isn't ideal.

Having never won over further than two-and-a-half miles, nor indeed over fences, Rule The World is hard to fancy, though he was third to Rogue Angel in the Kerry National.

It was surprising to see Walsh get off Boston Bob. He appeals as the pick of the quartet that the champion trainer relies on in his search for a second National victory.

Paul Townend falls in for the mount instead, having won the Melling Chase on Boston Bob on the 11-year-old's only previous visit to Aintree. It is a cracking opportunity for Townend to throw the Closutton hierarchy into disarray.

With a 100 per cent completion record and the best National finish for a female jockey courtesy of Seabass's 2012 third, Katie Walsh's booking on Ulster-bred Ballycasey is a plus.

Walsh's two other completions have seen her finish 13th the past two years.

There are 13 Irish runners this time, the first time that exactly a baker's dozen will represent the raiders in the daunting £1m showpiece.

Maybe it will prove a lucky delegation, as it is now nine years since Silver Birch announced Gordon Elliott's fledgling brilliance by achieving glory under Robbie Power.

This time, Power falls in on Enda Bolger's Gilgamboa, while Elliott relies on the Daryl Jacob-ridden Ucello Conti.

Both have chances. Gilgamboa was hardly disgraced when a 10-length fifth behind Vautour at Cheltenham in March, while Ucello Conti has been placed in the Paddy Power and Thyestes Chases on its last two starts. He took the scenic route at Gowran Park so that is a run that can be upgraded. If the rains come and the ground goes soft, it might help his cause.

The other Irish raider along with Ucello Conti that has each-way appeal at around 25/1 is Morning Assembly.

Dont Push It won on its ninth chasing start in 2010 for Ulster legend AP McCoy and Shutthefrontdoor ran a blinder last year on just his seventh.

Jonjo O'Neill's 2015 fifth tired late on under McCoy 12 months ago, which was hardly surprising given that he hadn't run for five months.

Off a pound lower mark for 10st 11lb, he and Barry Geraghty are arguably the partnership with the most attractive claims.

However, for all of the significance that he is Geraghty's chosen mount, it's not easy to simply write off what was a dismal showing at Newbury.

Last year's first and second, Many Clouds and Saint Are, also also back. Both come here on the back of really encouraging wins, and are also "well in" according to future ratings.

Clearly Many Clouds warrants genuine respect under the hat-trick-seeking Leighton Aspell. Still, to win again under 11st 10lb would be a triumph of Red Rum proportions, and only time will tell if he really is that good.

After winning at Doncaster last time, Saint Are is four pounds well in off a mark that is three pounds higher than that off which he ran in 2015. Paddy Brennan's mount is one that will relish any softening of the ground and he is a proven stayer over the extended four-mile-two-furlong trip, so he could be a big player under just 10st 5lb.

Holywell might be the one with the ticks in the most boxes. A quirky individual, O'Neill's nine-year-old has a touch of class, having been an excellent fourth in last year's Gold Cup and beaten none other than Don Cossack and Many Clouds in a Grade One novices' chase here in 2014.

He is a horse that simply blooms in the spring, a point illustrated by his massively improved run in Morning Assembly's race at Cheltenham, when he sprinted clear with Un Temps Pour Tout in the manner of a horse that has really got its groove back. Holywell was trying to give five pounds to Un Temps Pour Tout, so emerged with real credit in defeat to a well-handicapped winner.

Again, he is four pounds well in here off 153 for 10st 12lb. Indeed, given that he was as high as 163 when a close third to Silviniaco Conti in last year's Bowl, he is well treated.

The big unknown, of course, is the marathon trip. Nonetheless, Holywell's most recent win came when he hacked up at short odds over three-and-a-quarter at Kelso last year. In short, stamina has always been his forte.

All told, then, at odds of up to 25-1, Holywell can prevail for O'Neill and fellow Cork native Richie McClernon.

They were foiled by a nose by Neptune Collonges with Sunnyhillboy three years ago, so glory here would constitute atonement for that near miss.

Belfast Telegraph

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