The greatest national hunt race of them all

By Tom Red  Irish racing this weekend is on the all-weather at Dundalk on Friday night, in Limerick on Saturday and Sunday. There is also racing in Leopardstown on Sunday.    On Friday night local trainer Niall Moran runs Johnstown Lad, Aiphreda and Nora Chrissie. Of the three, Johnstown Lad was an unlucky 2nd last time out here and should win this time.   The Limerick card on Saturday is an all flat card with Sunday’s card all national hunt.   At Leopardstown on Sunday the two main races are the 1000 and 2000 Guineas Trials.   In the 1000 Guineas Trial Stakes there is an unusual name as Adrian Maguire, best known for the National Hunt end of the game, saddles up his 3-Y-O filly Valentine Hill.    Maguire’s charge earned her crack at this race when skating in at Cork last in a Group Three contest.   Maguire stated ‘It’s a great opportunity for myself, the owner and the filly because she is able to handle a good cut in the ground.’    Other entries include Jim Bolger’s quintet of Linsalata, Teacht An Earraig, Tintean, Toirneach and Saoirse Abu, Aidan O’Brien has Halfway To Heaven and Psalm and Dermot Weld has Campfire Glow and Caribbean Sunset. Saoirse Abu, winner of the Phoenix Stakes and Moyglare Stud Stakes appears to be one to beat.   In the 2000 Guineas Trial Aiden O’Brien supplies 6 of the 12 intended runners and will be hard to beat. Follow the one picked by Johnny Murtagh. AINTREE: The big meeting this weekend is across channel at Aintree where on Saturday the greatest national hunt race of all, The Grand National, will be run.   On Friday, over the Grand National fences the Topham Chase over 2m 5f, called after the last owner of the course Mirabell Topham. Placed on all of his runs over the National Course is Pak Jack, 3rd in this race in 2005, looks the part. Roscommon is well represented in this race with Well Tutored, owned by Mick Bailey from Boho, and trained by Arthur Moore looking to add to his recent win at Leopardstown when he beat Mattock Ranger by 3½l. Oodachee owned by the Modreeny Syndicate some of whom are based in Oran, trained by Charlie Swan is also in this race.   Ollie Magern is lame and is out of the John Smith’s Grand National on Saturday letting in the first reserve, fourth in last year’s race, Philson Run to the race proper.   As this article is written the Paul Nicholls’ horse Opera Mundi is only a possible runner depending on the ground. With the ground drying out and the possibility of watering been talked about he will only line up if the ground is good to soft. If he does not run the Irish-trained Dun Doire will get in and Tony Martin’s charge has already been backed ante post so watch out for this.   Ruby Walsh has opted to ride Hedgehunter, on whom he won in 2005, for Willie Mullins. Paul Nicholls had hoped he would ride Turko, now ridden by Richard Johnson. Sam Thomas rides Mr Pointment for the Nicholls’ yard. The present favourite is Cloudy Lane trained by Duncan McCain near the course and ridden by Meath lad and cousin of Adrian, Jason Maguire. Jason turned down the mount on Silver Birch, last year’s winner and hopes to make good that decision this year.   Tom Taffe trainer Slim Pickings, the 2nd favourite ridden by Barry Geraghty hopes to join his grandfather and father on the Grand National roll of honour as the 3rd generation of the family. His father the legendary Pat rode Quare Times for Vincent O’Brien in 1955 and Gay Trip for Fred Rimell in 1970 and in between his grandfather, Tom, trained Mr What to win in 1958.      In the most gambled on race ran still the best method of picking a winner is the PIN – but if you want to use science do not back a horse over the odds of 20/1 as they rarely win. Maybe this year?   The few bob in this pocket will be on a relative novice who was an impressive 2nd to The Listener in Leopardstown and 3rd to Our Vic in Cheltenham having won impressively before those runs on good ground at Sandown.  POINT TO POINT: On the point to point scene there is a very busy schedule this weekend locally with 2 meetings close by. Firstly on Saturday when the Galway Blazers race at Newcastle outside Athenry, a meeting postponed from last Sunday due to weather and on Sunday the Westmeath’s race at Castletowngeoghan both meetings starting at 2.00. The Killeady Hunt hold their meeting on Saturday at Dromahane near Mallow and the first race is at 1.30 and on Sunday there are meetings at Templemore, The Suir Vale Hunt and at Ballynoe in Cork when the United Hunt race.    The Open Race in Castletown on Sunday is run for one of the most treasured and oldest cup among followers of Irish point to pointing, The Barbour Cup. The trophy is a beautiful gold cup which has been won by a lot of good horses including Underway and Howyanow in the famous PP Hogan colours, Sean Connery’s Risk of Thunder ridden by Enda Bolger, and recently by local horses Just Jolly trained by Shane Fleming of Roscommon and ridden by none other than Gordon Elliott in 2004 and twice in 2005 and 2006 by Western View trained in Mullingar by Cecil Ross.     And don’t forget that on Sunday week point-to-point racing returns to Lisbride with thanks to Mr. Michael McSharry on whose lands the County Roscommon Hunt race. This meeting will be covered in detail next week.   In the riders championship Derek O’Connor with 1 winner last weekend moves on to the 61 mark only 15 short of his own record of 75 set last year with Jamie Codd who had 3 winners closing the gap to 12 on 46 and M J. O’Connor with 4 winners in 3rd on 39.