Big Weekend: Looking ahead to the Boylesports Irish Grand National

Thursday, April 18, 2019
Big Weekend Grand National

Mother knows best for JJ

JJ Slevin is closing in on celebrating the first anniversary of winning the Boylesports Irish Grand National on General Principle and one assumes that he will buy his mother Liz another thank you present to mark the occasion.

A sister of legendary trainer Aidan O’Brien, Liz is married to Shay, who trains point-to-pointers and also stands El Salvador for stallion duties at Killack Stud. Shay provided his son with his first winner, and JJ garnered Grade 3 success early in his career on Moylisha Tim for Richie Rath but the opportunities dried up and he was struggling for rides even on the point-to-point circuit.

In the end, Liz filled in application forms for a professional licence and thrust them in front of JJ, requiring only his signature. By then, he had a journalism degree and was considering going down that route. Just a matter of months after turning pro, he was riding a Cheltenham Festival winner on Champagne Classic. 

He has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with his first cousin Joseph O’Brien and they combined for what was a maiden Grade 1 for them both courtesy of Tower Bridge at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival. 

An injury after the Irish Grand National heroics halted the momentum temporarily but Slevin got back in the swing of things and totted up Cheltenham triumph number two with Band Of Outlaws las March.

After an unsuccessful tilt at the Aintree National, Slevin and General Principle will aim to join elite company as two-in-a-row winners of the Fairyhouse feature. Not since 1976, when Brown Lad prevailed, has a horse retained primacy.


Comeback king Nolan chasing cherry on top

Paul Nolan’s resurgence has been one of the really heartwarming stories of the National Hunt season. Just two years ago, the former All-Ireland-winning Wexford hurler hit the nadir of five winners and was contemplating a very bleak future. 

It was an amazing dip in fortunes for a trainer with an all-time high of 38 winners and a healthy catalogue of big-race success that includes two Cheltenham Festival victories, seven Grade 1s and a host of prestigious handicaps.

Joncol, Accordion Etoile, French Accordion, Cloone Rover, Alpha Ridge, Shinrock Paddy, Dabiroun, Noble Prince and Defy Logic are just some of the talented former residents of Toberona Stables.

Discorama, owned jointly by Thomas Friel and Andrew Gemmell, owner of Stayers’ Hurdle hero Paisley Park, has already proven himself a talented operator who was a gutsy second at Cheltenham last March in the National Hunt Chase. He would require an ease in the ground to take his chance however and as a six-year-old, is not one Nolan will be taking any risks with.

Fitzhenry is far more experienced although only a year older. He has been very consistent, only finishing outside the first four once in his last 10 races. If Nolan bags an Irish Grand National, it will turn a memorable year into one of his best. 

Benny a big chance for Cusack

Liam Cusack is sure to be looking forward to taking on the Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins battalions with Snugsborough Benny, who is coming into the Irish Grand National in good heart following his win in a rated chase at Fairyhouse in February.

That came over two miles and seven furlongs, as did the Galway Blazers’ Handicap Chase triumph last August but Cusack is optimistic that the extra six furlongs will not be a problem for his stable star, particularly with the ground unlikely to be any slower than the good to yielding he enjoyed around Fairyhouse last time out.

Mountrath-based handler Cusack was a hard-working jockey, who enjoyed big-race success on the likes of Master Aristocrat, and enjoyed a notable association with the Jim Bolger-trained Chirkpar. Since swapping riding for training, he has saddled the likes of Lasoscar, Who’s That, The Bog War and Last Time D’Albain to significant success.

Snugsborough Benny would truly be a romantic winner, as he is owned by his breeder, Ray Loughnane from Shinrone. Prior to Benny, Loughnane has mostly owned point-to-pointers but the Shinrone man is now dreaming of landing a slice of the €500,000 prize fund on offer, with €5,000 on offer to the 10th-place finisher.

But if you’re dreaming, dream big and Loughnane must surely have thought about the €275,000 that goes to the owner of the first past the post.

Now that would be something.

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