Seconds out for a charge at Fairyhouse glory
Ted Walsh's Cheltenham Festival winner Any Second Now features among a maximum field of 30 declared for the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Monday.
The seven-year-old landed a gamble in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup, and is the ante-post favourite to give Walsh a second triumph in Easter Monday's race after Commanche Court in 2000.
Gordon Elliott's team of 12 includes last year's winner General Principle and is completed by Dounikos, Jury Duty, Shattered Love, A Toi Phil, Monbeg Notorious, Blow By Blow, Woods Well, Out Sam, Gun Digger, Roaring Bull and Measureofmydreams.
Isleofhopendreams, second in 2018, is one of seven representing Willie Mullins - along with Pairofbrowneyes, Total Recall, Acapella Bourgeois, C'est Jersey, Burrows Saint and Bellow Mome.
Edward Cawley's Forever Gold will try to improve on his third place last spring - while the weights are headed by Tout Est Permis, winner of his last three starts for Noel Meade.
There are just two runners from Britain - Jonjo O'Neill's Minella Rocco and Kimberlite Candy from Tom Lacey's stable.
The three reserves are Oscar Knight, Fitzhenry and Scoir Mear.
Opportunity knocks for Aidan Howard at Fairyhouse tomorrow as the Kildare trainer eyes his first Grade One success with Winter Escape in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase (4.25).
The Curragh handler has had just 21 runners over jumps this season - five of which prevailed - and pits his wits against the staggering numbers of big hitters Willie Mullins (743) and Gordon Elliott (1,123) but Winter Escape could prove to be his ticket to the big time in an open five-runner affair.
None of the quintet jump off the page in the €100,000 contest - won by subsequent Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo last year - with Mullins responsible for Voix Du Reve and Real Steel, neither of which have set the world alight in recent months.
Of Elliott's pair, Mengli Khan is a stone better off on ratings compared to Cubomania and comes here on the back of consistent displays when making the frame in Grade One fields at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.
Mengli Khan is worth taking on and dual Grade Three winner Winter Escape may be the answer. The eight-year-old had subsequent Cheltenham score A Plus Tard behind when scoring at Punchestown in January before flopping in the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Howard reported his stable star to have burst blood vessels after coming home fifth on that occasion. He has been patiently waited with since then with this target in mind and he is tipped to score under Mark Walsh.
Mullins has farmed the Grade One Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final (2.50) in recent years with four of the last six winners - including Annie Power (2013) and Laurina (2018) - and is responsible for seven of the 17 contenders.
Eglantine Du Seuil was a shock winner of the Mares' Hurdle at last month's Festival for the Closutton maestro and heads his charge under Ruby Walsh.