Maximum field lines up for Irish Grand National like no other

Fairyhouse highlight will be more functional than usual but remains highly competitive

An Easter Monday like no other does at least contain its traditional sporting centrepiece at Fairyhouse.

A year after Irish jump racing’s most valuable race was scrapped due to the pandemic the Boylesports Irish Grand National makes a welcome return.

It takes place behind-closed-doors and with a 20 per cent prizemoney cut to €400,000.

Rather than the usual raucous holiday date beloved of many racegoers this ‘National’ is going to be a much more functional exercise.


If last year the idea of running the race in front of empty terraces seemed impossible then 2021 is the latest high-profile example of racing’s new normal.

The biggest field of runners since racing resumed 10 months ago is set to line up at 5pm with the feature race broadcast live on both RTÉ2 and ITV4.

The size of the 30-strong field means special social-distancing measures have been put in place by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) for the preliminaries.

“Twenty-two horses will go into the parade ring while eight others will stay in the pre-parade ring,” said an IHRB spokesman on Sunday.

“They are the five Willie Mullins-trained horses and two trained by Dermot McLoughlin. Ciaran Murphy’s horse [Enjoy D’allen] will be the eighth. The parade before the race will go ahead.”.

There is a single cross-channel trained runner lining up, Jerrysback, one of half a dozen runners for JP McManus.

The owner supplied the last British-based winner of the race, Shutthefrontdoor in 2014.

One cross-channel based jockey, Adrian Heskin, will ride in the National aboard Escaria Ten for Denise Foster.

“Adrian Heskin will be isolated from the other riders, will be last into the parade ring, and will be the last to weigh-in wherever he finishes in the race,” the IHRB spokesman added.

Foster, the licence holder at Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra stables while he serves a six-month suspension, has two other runners in the National.

Both Run Wild Fred and Coko Beach are owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team.

O’Leary has won the Irish National four times previously including with General Principle in 2018.

That is one more time than McManus who first landed the race all of 38 years ago with Bit Of A Skite.

Among his team this time is Off You Go, a winner for suspended trainer Charles Byrnes at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, and now in the care of Robbie Burns.

The woman of the moment, Rachael Blackmore, is on board one of Willie Mullins's handful of runners, Robin de Carlow.

The mare hasn’t run in 18 months but beat no less than the Queen Mother Champion Chase winner, Put The Kettle On, in her last start.

The long-time favourite and topweight Latest Exhibition skipped both Cheltenham and Fairyhouse’s Grade One feature on Sunday to wait for the National.

"We just thought with the timeframe, this race suited us better than Cheltenham. We had it in our minds early on the Irish National, provided he got what we thought was a favourable mark, would be his target," his trainer Paul Nolan said on Sunday.

“We couldn’t be happier with the horse. We’re just hoping we get a bit of luck in running and he comes home safe.

“I think he will get the trip but you never know until you go over it. I’m hoping if his jumping is good enough, I’d be surprises if the trip is a problem and the ground will be beautiful,” he added.

The Easter festival began on Sunday with a “fairytale” Grade One success for the cheap purchase Skyace, a first top-flight winner for trainer ‘Shark’ Hanlon.