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O'Brien could spring huge surprise with Ark triumph

High hopes: Joseph O’Brien
High hopes: Joseph O’Brien

By Michael Verney

Aside from Our Duke's success two years ago, you have to stretch back to Commanche Court's win in 2000 for the last horse to carry more than 11st or more to victory in the Boylesports Irish Grand National (5.00pm).

Lumping around big weight over a stamina-sapping 3m5f trip is much easier said than done and it highlights the scale of the task facing those at the head of the handicap in today's Fairyhouse showpiece.

None more so than top-weight Tout Est Permis (11-7), which has climbed 29lbs since switching to Noel Meade from Mouse Morris following victories in the Troytown and a Grade Two triumph at Thurles.

There's no doubting the class of Sean Flanagan's mount but that's a hefty burden to overcome for a young horse in the early stages of his career while the same can be said for many of the other market principles.

American Grand National winner Jury Duty (11-6) - one of Gordon Elliott's dozen runners - comes here having failed to make it around in the English National, much like inconsistent stablemate Dounikos (11-6).

Pairofbrowneyes (11-5) could go off favourite for the second year running as Willie Mullins looks to break his duck in the €500,000 contest but the ten-year-old looks poorly handicapped off a rating of 155 following his Leinster National success.

Any Second Now (11-0) comes here on the back of a Cheltenham Festival success - which belatedly broke his duck over fences - but Ted Walsh's charge has been a frustrating horse to follow and others are preferred given his place at the head of the market.

The statistics aren't in the favour of six-year-olds either, with Organisedconfusion (2011) the first winner at that age since Rhyme 'n' Reason in 1985, and that adds even more difficulty for the likes of Tout Est Permis and Burrows Saint.

Burrows Saint (10-8) is having just his fourth chase start - he won a Grade Three at Limerick over 3m on his last start - and Ruby Walsh will need to utilise all of his big-race experience to ensure Mullins' charge can cope with the hustle and bustle of a 30-runner cavalry charge.

The Closutton maestro has seven challengers, with last year's runner-up Isleofhopendreams (10-7) not without an each-way chance as his conqueror chases his place in National history.

General Principle (10-8) returns to the scene of his greatest victory as Elliott's ten-year-old attempts to become the first back-to-back winner since Brown Lad (1975/'76) and follow in the footsteps of recent dual Aintree National winner Tiger Roll.

His owner Michael O'Leary - who has won three of the last four runnings of Ireland's most valuable jumping prize - has a whopping 12 contenders and it's always hard to ascertain the chances of some of his runners due to their uninspiring form figures.

One of particular interest, however, is bottom-weight Arkwrisht (9-13) and based on his run in this race 12 months ago, Joseph O'Brien's charge is a massive price as he hovers near the bottom of the betting, with odds of 50/1 flying around in many places.

The nine-year-old was bang there at the last fence only for Bellshill to drift violently left and ruin his challenge before coming home sixth in bottomless conditions.

O'Brien has always thought that there was a big race in him and today could be the day as he runs off 2lb lower than last year with Andrew Ring in the saddle and he could spring a massive surprise.

Of the other runners, Snugsborough Benny (10-9) is another that catches the eye and what a fairytale story it would be should he prevail for small Laois trainer Liam Cusack and Denis O'Regan.

It's not beyond the realms of possibility either, as O'Regan's mount has proved himself more than capable over staying distances and landed the Blazers Handicap Chase at the Galway Festival last summer before getting the better of the smart Call It Magic at this track two months ago.

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