With flat racing season now under way, the National Hunt hunt term is set once more to go out with its traditional April bang.
As a big week of racing lies ahead, first, the BoyleSports Irish Grand National takes centre stage at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.
Five furlongs separate the two races either side of the Irish Sea, and County Meath’s showpiece could yet give us going pointers for Aintree in a week’s time.
A race inaugurated over 150 years ago, Dermot McLoughlin has trained the winner for the last two years but can he make it a triple?
Here are our names to watch who are eyeing a €270,000 payday.
Could the son of Golden Lariat become just the second horse in Irish National history to win in back-to-back years?
Understandably, we have our doubts over Lord Lariat.
Though being backed marginally behind market favourite Thedevilscoachman, unlike Noel Meade’s one-year younger gelding, Lariat has little form to speak of.
But so what. Right?
Indeed, his last victory came in this very race 12 months ago and by almost 5L over Frontal Assault, at a massive 40/1 price.
Finishing sixth in the Rockbrook last month at Leopardstown, Lord Lariat’s record at Fairyhouse in spite of sensational National success, however, is not pretty.
In 11 trips, the 8yo has taken the winning post just twice, although does have a further two runners-up spots.
With that said, yielding turf played a big part in his win in 2022 and with the going similar to perhaps soft come the off, a horse for the big occasion scoffs in the face of history.
He could again at 10/1 with most bookmakers.
The Echo Bay
At the polar opposite end of the market, McLoughlin’s other ride in the National is 100/1 shot with William Hill, The Echo Bay.
Normally, we would steer well clear of this sort of SP, not least for the fact the 10yo is getting on and without a win in almost two years.
However, given the trainer’s status and after last year’s heftily-priced win, this horse might yet have a shot of placing.
McLoughlin has won both Irish Nationals at huge prices, with Freewheelin Dylan capturing the headlines at 50/1 in 2021.
Interestingly also, The Echo Bay does have a Fairyhouse victory to his name in the Irish Stallions Farm in November 2020.
But could this veteran yet have his day and feature? We wouldn’t rule it out.
Or, could Angels Dawn complete a dream month on both British and home Irish shores?
Holding off fellow rival here, Stumptown, in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham last time out, Sam Curling saw his ride come home at 10/1.
Available for a similar price again of 12/1 with BoyleSports, this will be the mare’s second outing at Fairyhouse.
In her maiden contest, the 8yo was fifth in the EBF Novice Handicap Hurdle last April.
If we cast aside Cian Quirke being unseated at Punchestown in February, Angels Dawn has won two of the last three, with a runner-up as her other result in County Kildare.
Can be a prominent figure.
As too could the first of a number of hopes for Gordon Elliott, The Goffer.
Unlike, Angels Dawn, the 6yo’s venture to Cheltenham did not quite go according to plan.
Nevertheless, despite failing to go the trip, finishing fourth in the Ultima behind the defending Corach Rambler, the impressive Fastorslow and Monbeg Genius was not shabby.
Indeed, it could be here that The Goffer has his day.
The extra distance could again test, but Cheltenham could yet prove a valuable learning curve.
A winner four times on Irish turf, his Bulmers Handicap Chase victory in February still stands out.
Beaten by a mammoth 11 length by Ha D’Or on his first visit to Fairyhouse this could just be a different story though and at a handsome 20/1 with William Hill.
Finally, looking for successive wins at Fairyhouse, Defi Bleu appeals at another weighty value.
A real eye-catcher in winning last year’s Handicap Chase, Gordon Elliott’s 10yo placed well in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham also – behind Angels Dawn.
Here, Defi Bleu returns to Fairyhouse for a third trip where he also finished fourth in the Easter Festival some 14 months back.
Whilst it remains true Defi has won just once in two years, any horse with a prior victory coming into this race has to be taken seriously, certainly no less on the National course.
For a 25/1 punt with BetUK in a race of big-priced winners before, Defi Bleu could be a revelation.