Donn McClean Previews The Irish Grand National

11 min

Donn McClean advises caution in discounting the top weights for today’s Irish Grand National.

A cursory glance at history tells you that highweights cannot win the Irish Grand National. That, if you are looking for the winner – and let’s face it, we’re all looking for the winner – you start at the bottom of the handicap and work your way up, and that, if you get to the 11st mark and think that you still haven’t found the winner, you turn around and go back down the handicap again.

Since the turn of the millennium, the hypothesis goes, only two horses, Commanche Court and Our Duke, both top class performers, have carried more than 11st to victory in an Irish Grand National.

It is true. It is not easy to win an Irish National under a big weight. The stats tell you that. But it is not impossible either. Not many horses carry more than 11st in an Irish Grand National. Last year, for example, only two of the 30 runners carried more than 11st: Outlander, who was a 34.0 shot, and Bellshill, who might have won the race had he jumped the final fence a little more fluently than he did.

In 2017, only five horses carried more than 11st in the race, and one of them was Our Duke, who won it. In 2015, only one horse carried more than 11st, If In Doubt, who was badly hampered at the first fence. Actually, in the last decade, just 28 horses carried more than 11st, which represents only 10% of the runners.

It may be that Tout Est Permis has been under-rated by the market today, simply because he has top weight. But there is a real chance that Noel Meade’s horse is up to carrying the weight.

Winner of a beginners’ chase for Mouse Morris in September 2017, the Giggginstown House horse has improved significantly this season. An impressive winner of his seasonal debut at Galway in October, he stepped forward from that next time at Navan when he danced home in the Troytown Chase.

Despite carrying top weight, Donn is very hesitant to rule out Tout Est Permis.

He went to Thurles last time and did really well to win the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Kinloch Brae Chase. He was racing over two and a half miles, a distance that was probably well short of his best, and he made a bad mistake at the second last fence in the back straight, from which rider Sean Flanagan did well to recover.

Even so, he stayed on strongly over the last two fences to get up and beat Sub Lieutenant by a short head.

Sub Lieutenant is 10 now, but he retains lots of ability, as he proved when he finished second to Cadmium in the Topham Chase at Aintree two weeks ago. Also, he was competing under conditions that were probably close to optimum for him, and he seems to love Thurles. In three prior runs there, Henry de Bromhead’s horse won a bumper and the Grade 2 Michael Purcell Hurdle, and he finished second to subsequent Gold Cup winner Sizing John in the 2017 Kinloch Brae Chase. It was a fine performance by Tout Est Permis to beat him.

Connections toyed with the idea of taking the Linda’s Lad gelding to Cheltenham. Initial thoughts were of the Gold Cup, then thoughts switched to the Ryanair Chase before the decision was taken to skip Cheltenham altogether, presumably with the objective of taking him to Fairyhouse, a fresh horse.

The goodish ground should suit him well, especially over this extreme distance. Unusually, it was good when he won the Troytown, and it was good when he won the Kinloch Brae Chase last time. He still has to prove that he can stay three miles and five furlongs, but he stayed the three miles of the Troytown well, and there is every chance that he will get the trip all right.

He is going to have to be close to Gold Cup class if he is going to win an Irish Grand National off a mark of 157, but there is every chance that he is not far off that level already.

He would have been an interesting outsider had he made the trip to Cheltenham this year. Also, the fact that he will carry top weight of 11st 7lb today, not 11st 10lb, is a help. And hee is only six, so he has lots of potential to continue to improve as a staying chaser. There is no telling how good he could be.

It is a fascinating race though. Jury Duty is another one of the interesting highweights. Gordon Elliott’s horse was just moving nicely into contention in the Aintree Grand National when he made a bad mistake at the big ditch, the usual third fence on the second circuit, and gave Robbie Power no chance.

He went to Aintree a fresh horse, having won over three and a quarter miles at Down Royal in March on his first run since the previous October, and he had the class to beat Shattered Love and Presenting Percy in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase as a novice. He has plenty of weight, but he is a player.

Gordon Elliot will be saddling a whole lot more than six for the big one at Fairyhouse!

Burrows Saint is also a player. Willie Mullins’ horse stayed on well to beat his stable companion Robin Des Foret over three miles at Limerick last time, and a 7lb hike takes him up to a handicap rating of 144, which could still under-estimate his ability. He is only six and, the choice of Ruby Walsh, what he lacks in experience, he makes up for in terms of potential.

Shady Operator, who will be ridden by last year’s winning rider JJ Slevin, battled on well to beat Ballyward and C’Est Jersey in a beginners’ chase at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve and, another six-year-old, Joseph O’Brien’s horse has the potential to progress beyond the handicap rating of 136 off which he will race today, while Snugsborough Benny was impressive in beating Call It Magic and Measureofmydreams at Fairyhouse last time, and Liam Cusack has been preparing him for today’s race since.

You can see Whisperinthebreeze going well up front for a long way, while Auvergnat and Kimberlite Candy could out-run their respective odds.

It is a fascinating race, but it might pay to start at the top of the handicap this year.