Those sponsoring the Irish Grand National in Fairyhouse this year had a catchy, apt, sales pitch. The punch line of which was that anyone could win the race. That applied to owners, trainers, jockeys and – most importantly from their perspective – punters.
Grand Nationals are different gravy, you see. The fact the term ‘National’ is now grossly overused to describe what in some cases are distinctly average handicaps serves to illustrate how much it draws people in. The National is the playground of the once – or in most cases twice – a year punter. We all know some of them. And they tend to enjoy strike rates maddening to those of us that are constant devotees, studying form, working out the winners and losers via their handicap ‘mark’ and so on!
Peter Roe, manager of Fairyhouse Racecourse
Still, let them have their day. You can be sure some betting ‘tourists’ will have had the winner of the Irish and English renewals. Not just in terms of drawing them in the now seemingly obligatory sweepstakes that tend to be put together in businesses, pubs and clubs everywhere either.
Now, while there were downsides to Fairyhouse and Aintree being so close together – the most obvious being that horses couldn’t run at both Festivals – from a spectator perspective it made for brilliant viewing during what was a liberating few days of action.
At this point, it’s important to pay tribute to just how outstanding the viewing was in Fairyhouse during their flagship fixture of the season. On my own behalf – and that of all disabled race goers – may I offer heartfelt thanks and warmest congratulations to the manager, Peter Roe, his staff and all those involved in putting in place the excellent new disabled viewing facilities at the track.
Since Peter assumed office at the Ratoath venue there have been many changes and improvements and all are welcome. From the viewpoint of a disabled spectator – or indeed in any aspect of life – it takes very little to make a very big difference. And, what Fairyhouse have put in place in terms of a viewing platform is absolutely perfect.
One of the biggest drawbacks when it comes to viewing sport can be the problem of fellow patrons – accidentally or otherwise – standing directly in front of the wheelchair area. Thus blocking the view. Often, action in no less than Croke Park itself has had to be taken in via the big screen in the stand owing to the said problem. No such issues at Fairyhouse however, the viewing platform is well out of the way of any such obstructions. Sincere thanks and congratulations to all concerned!
So, to the racing itself. As it worked out, the sponsor’s advertising slogan proved spot on. Mullingar based Dot Love works with a very small string of horses compared to some – being more renowned in the Point to Point scene and for ‘breaking’ young horses for Gigginstown House Stud. Yet, in one way, seeing her Liberty Counsel win the Grand National at 50/1 under Ben D’Alton encapsulated what National Hunt racing is about. Anyone can take a chance, anyone can have a dream, and some days the dream comes true. No doubt there’s a few out there that had a punt on the winner. Indeed this corner might well have had – given that former Dunboyne footballer Gary O’Toole ‘plates’ the 10-year-old regularly.
Alas, my interest in the race ended when Jim Dreaper’s Goonyella suffered cruel luck and had to pull up. That one is definitely the sort to include on any list of horses to follow for next season. Even despite that disappointment there was – as ever – plenty of local success. Chief among which was the outstanding victory of the Gordon Elliott trained Realt Mor in the Powers Gold Cup.
Don’t let anyone tell you lightening doesn’t strike twice. Some months ago, Elliott’s charge – formerly trained across the water – built up a huge lead in a race at Navan and ended up staying there. So it was again on Easter Sunday under Davy Condon. That was the centrepiece of what was a great Easter period for the Longwood based trainer that yielded six winners.
Elsewhere, Clonee native Stephen Nolan served further evidence that his string remain in fine fettle as Carlosantana won the race after the Irish National at odds of 25/1 while, later, the consistent veteran Prince Rudi again ran with great credit once more to finish third!
All in all, another fantastic Festival at what for me will forever be the local version of Cheltenham. Now for Punchestown, the last hurrah of the current National Hunt season!