Almost two decades on from the victory of Commanche Court, Cheltenham Festival hero Any Second Now bids to provide Ted Walsh a second success in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National.
It was in 2000 that Commanche Court secured Ted and Ruby Walsh a National double at Fairyhouse – with the father-son combination having teamed up to claim Grand National glory at Aintree little over a fortnight earlier with the heavily-backed Papillon.
The JP McManus-owned Any Second Now provided Walsh senior with his first Cheltenham triumph since Commanche Court won the 1997 Triumph Hurdle when landing the Kim Muir under Derek O’Connor last month, and he has been towards the head of the betting for the Easter Monday highlight ever since.
Walsh said: “All being well, he’ll be there to line up, so long as the ground is suitable. His three wins have all been when the ground has had soft in it and I can’t see there being any soft in the ground on Monday, so that would be the worry.
“He went up 7lb for winning in Cheltenham. I couldn’t tell you if he’s that much improvement in him or not. The extra three furlongs might help him find the improvement, but we’ll see.
“He’s fresh and he’s well and jumps well. I’d say there’s another big day in him. Whether it’s Easter Monday or not, I’m not 100 per cent sure, but he’s in good old nick.”
The Irish Grand National is one of the few major prizes to have so far eluded champion trainer Willie Mullins.
The Closutton maestro came as close as he has ever done when Isleofhopendreams was beaten a head by Gordon Elliott’s General Principle 12 months ago and he is back for another go alongside six stablemates.
The aforementioned Walsh has sided with Burrows Saint in preference to Isleofhopendreams (Danny Mullins), Pairofbrowneyes (Paul Townend), Total Recall (Patrick Mullins), C’est Jersey (Katie O’Farrell), Acapella Bourgeois (Jonathan Burke) and Bellow Mome (David Mullins).
David Casey, Mullins’ assistant, said: “Ruby has gone for Burrows Saint. Novices have a good record in this race and I think Ruby has won it on a couple of novices (Commanche Court and Numbersixvalverde).
“I don’t think six-year-olds have such a good record in it, but Burrows Saint was good in Limerick the last day and he’s an improving horse.
“Paul rides Pairofbrowneyes, who won his second Leinster National last time out. He was actually favourite for this race last year and tipped up. He goes there with a big chance again.
“I think C’Est Jersey could run well. His novice form is quite good and he has a light weight on his back with Katie O’Farrell taking 5lb off.
“Hopefully they all have chances.”
Defending champion General Principle is one of 12 runners for Elliott in this year’s renewal, with Jury Duty – who unseated Robbie Power at the 18th fence in the Grand National at Aintree – the shortest priced of the dozen.
Shane Collins, part of the Sideways Syndicate that owns Jury Duty, said: “His hind legs hit the fence in Aintree and he got rid of Robbie. It was disappointing, but that’s the way it goes.
“The positive thing about it ahead of the race on Monday is he didn’t have a hard race. If he’d fallen at the second-last or something he probably wouldn’t be running, but he seems to have come out of it well and Gordon thinks he’s in good form.
“It looks like the ground will be good, which won’t bother him – he handled good ground when he won the American Grand National.
“This is a massive race in Ireland and we’ll see how we go.”
The Noel Meade-trained Tout Est Permis will shoulder top-weight as he bids to add to his previous big-race wins in the Troytown Chase at Navan and the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.
Meade said: “Hopefully there’ll be enough juice in the ground to let him run. He’s going into the unknown over three and a half miles, but it looked to us like he did nothing much more than stay every time he’s run.
“He seems in terrific shape and we’re very happy with him.”
Joseph O’Brien saddles Shady Operator and Arkwrisht.
He said: “Arkwrisht went close last year (finished sixth). He was certainly travelling very well (when hampered at the final fence) and Rachael (Blackmore) was very happy with him.
“He just got knocked off his rhythm and ultimately it cost him any chance of winning the race, but it was a cracking run and I’m looking forward to going back and giving him another shot this year.
“Shady Operator looks like he should stay well. He’s uncomplicated and although he probably is young enough for a race like the National, I’d love to give him a shot at it.”
Having seen Magic Of Light finish second to Tiger Roll in the Aintree Grand National a couple of weeks ago, trainer Jessica Harrington is hoping Whisperinthebreeze can go one better in the Irish equivalent under Paddy Kennedy.
The six-year-old fell on his latest outing in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.
Harrington said: “He was a bit unfortunate to have the fall in Cheltenham and it’s not an ideal preparation going into an Irish National, but he won very well at Leopardstown the time before.
“What I’m really hoping for is some nice, dry ground, which he seems to appreciate.
“I would be hoping that he’s going there as a contender.”