Irish Grand National Trial preview: Fitzhenry among fancies for Punchestown handicapPublished on: February 9, 2019Author: Jamie Clark
With British horse racing suspended while an equine flu outbreak is contained, punters’ focus switches to the Emerald Isle.
The big betting race in Ireland on Sunday is the Grade B Irish Grand National Trial at Punchestown (16:10), and the extended 3m 4f handicap chase looks a tricky puzzle.
While Gigginstown House Stud launch a seven-pronged attack, fellow major Irish owner JP McManus has just one engaged and Fitzhenry definitely looks one to consider each-way.
This seven-year-old hails from the in-form yard of Paul Nolan and has run a string of solid races over fences with a career win and place ratio of 50 per cent in chases.
Fitzhenry has gone down by nine lengths to finish third on his last two starts in the grade off 133, the last of those when beaten by Auvergnat in the Paddy Power Chase.
As he was giving the winner of that valuable Leopardstown festive handicap 5lb, it was a solid effort. The re-opposing Solomn Grundy was just half-a-length behind in fourth, but they meet again off 5lb better terms for Fitzhenry.
As the Henry De Bromhead trained nine-year-old isn’t ridden by a 7lb claimer here, however, he is actually 12lb worse off at the weights as a result.
Although Tom Scudamore now takes over in the saddle on Solomn Grundy, the in-form Mark Walsh partners Fitzhenry in first-time blinkers.
As he’s on a 23 per cent strike rate in the last 14 days at the time of writing, his mount – a still improving, young chaser – appeals more than most. Fitzhenry is 11/2 favourite with William Hill.
Some of Solomn Grundy’s back form when trained by Neil Mulholland is respected too, however, especially when he chased home the now 155 rated Rowland Meyrick winner Lake View Lad in a novices’ event at Newcastle.
General Principle looks pick of Gigginstown seven
Of the seven sporting the maroon and white silks of Gigginstown in this, last year’s Irish National hero General Principle may be the pick of the bunch.
Although the Gordon Elliott trained 10-year-old is 1lb worse off with Isleofhopendreams for beating him a head at Fairyhouse, he has improved for each run this season so far.
While racing in this off 3lb higher than when landing the Irish National last Easter, General Principle has been cut 1lb of slack by the handicapper for finishing fifth in the valuable Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last month to a mark of 142.
Jack Kennedy is again on board, so a bold bid over a trip that seems to suit him best looks assured at a general 8/1. Don Poli has pulled up on both starts this season following a lengthy layoff, and this is no easier despite a 7lb claimer taking the ride.
Monbeg Notorious, meanwhile, ran too poorly to be true when last to finish in the Thyestes on reappearance and looks sure to come on for the run, especially on previous course form and winning that race last year.
As Dounikos has failed to complete on four of his last six starts, including a fall when looking held two out when last in action, he’s hard to fancy either.
It’s a similar story for Wishmoor, who showed form towards the end of his time with Mouse Morris but not since.
Woods Well goes best first time up, so Irish National sixth Arkwrisht, who is 4lb and 4lb better off with General Principle and Isleofhopendreams from Fairyhouse here, might go well at a big price for Joseph O’Brien for all he’s one from 15 over fences.
Some Neck worth forgiving and preferred of Mullins trio
Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins last won the Irish Grand National Trial in 2011 with Some Target and, of three that represent him this year, Some Neck looks the stable’s main chance at 11/2 with Coral.
Ruby Walsh rides this course winner, who prevailed a neck over Blow By Blow in the 2m 6f Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novice Chase two starts back.
Some Neck has since come to grief at the eighth in the Thyestes, but is by Yeats and is unexposed as a stayer. It may be worth forgiving him that on the pick of his form, which includes when giving weight to the first five home in the Killarney National.
Isleofhopendreams now meets General Principle off level weights and on paper that gives the 12-year-old every chance of reversing that agonising head defeat in the Irish National.
He’s the oldest horse in the line-up, however, but was also runner-up in this last year and can’t be ruled out at a best-price 16/1 with Ladbrokes.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is six-year-old Orion D’Aubrelle, who is the youngster in the 17-runner field aged six.
He is still ironing out mistakes in his jumping, and this might be too much too soon. That leaves Some Neck as the clear pick of the Mullins trio in a typically wide-open renewal.
Youcantcallherthat goes for the Hogans and has some smart form over shorter trips that accounts for five wins in 13 chases. This looks a tough ask for the mare, who is up a mile in trip from recent appearances.
Space Cadet also goes for Elliott and was fourth in this last year, before improving to finish second in the Leinster National, but his form has dipped since.
Kilkishen a contender out the weights
Despite the weights going down to 9st 10lb, three horses run from out of the handicap. The least inconvenienced by that is Kilkishen, who has progressed since pulling up in the Porterstown Handicap over the Irish National course and distance at Fairyhouse on reappearance.
Sean Bowen is an eye-catching jockey booking on the nine-year-old, who ran out a seven-length winner on New Year’s Day at the same venue over 3m 1f and that gives him claims in this at 13/2 with Betfair.
He is only 1lb out the handicap officially, but whether Bowen can make the weight remains to be seen. Agent Boru is 4lb out the weights here, yet to win a chase and has just one victory in 18 starts under rules.
That all adds up to making him another that’s tough to fancy, while the field is completed by Dinnie’s Vinnie, who landed the Porterstown off 117 two starts back.
The Dempseys’ runner got 16lb from Fitzhenry there, but now meets that one off 10lb worse terms. Given the margin of victory was about nine lengths, and the 11-year-old runs from 5lb out the handicap here, it’s a tough ask for him to confirm that form.
Luke Dempsey may also struggle to make 9st 10lb, so Dinnie’s Vinnie could be carrying extra weight and that’s a clear negative. He also toiled off his official mark of 124 when beaten 30 lengths into fifth last time out.
It has to be Fitzhenry who is thus fancied for the Irish Grand National Trial as a result. General Principle is also respected, alongside veteran Isleofhopendreams and fellow Mullins mount Some Neck could be well worth chancing in a race where cases can be made for many.