Irish confidence mounts at the meeting place of kings

The Gaelic name for Naas is Nas Na Riogh, the meeting place of kings, a mightily overblown title if you consider the standard of horse that routinely takes to the racecourse sod here 18 miles west of Dublin.

The Gaelic name for Naas is Nas Na Riogh, the meeting place of kings, a mightily overblown title if you consider the standard of horse that routinely takes to the racecourse sod here 18 miles west of Dublin.

Woodlands Park, as it is locally known, has entertained its champions, such as Imperial Call, Limestone Lad and Danoli, who collected two bumpers here. The turf in the heart of Co Kildare has also been rearranged in the past by Mill House and the equine athlete by which all premier jumping horses are still measured, Arkle. Both won over hurdles within view of the Wicklow mountains.

Yet Naas, despite its pretensions to increasing grandeur within racing, remains true to its parochial roots. Thank heavens. Sunday, dreamy Sunday, is a recurring theme at Irish meetings such as these, when the thump of cards elsewhere is replaced by a much softer spray on the drums.

Pat Fahy, for example, was on hand to watch his Publican easily mop up the opening contest yesterday and talk warmly of an assault in just over three weeks' time on the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Festival. Then the trainer was swiftly off to the point-to-point at nearby Shillelagh to supervise his runners at the factory floor of his sport.

The Festival possibles spewed out yesterday. Central House, the winner of one of three Grade Two races, will run in either the Queen Mother Champion Chase or Grand Annual at the Festival, while his immediate victim, Native Upmanship, is likely to attempt the Mildmay Of Flete as he jogs into retirement. The old boy, twice a runner-up in the Champion Chase, added more treasure to a pile which numbers just over £650,000, though the flow of coins has dribbled to a trickle.

Yet his presence in the Cotswolds adds to the challenge for what could be the greatest Irish haul ever at a Festival. That total may be skewed as National Hunt's apex is run for the first time over four days and 24 races, but it does coincide with the recent resurgence in Irish racing.

If the Champion Hurdle is not transported across the sea skulls will be scratched close to the grey matter. The visitors possess the first seven in the market. Kicking King and Moscow Flyer are notable names in their respective spheres and the expectation is that at least half the favourites at Cheltenham will be supplied by Ireland.

They call it the free market, but it is the expensive one of purchasing racehorses that has revitalised Ireland's influence at the Festival. No longer does the flapping chequebook govern all in Hibernia. "The economy is good and we have gone full circle. No good horse is for sale even if everyone wants to buy one," Ted Walsh, the Cheltenham and Grand National-winning trainer, says. "It's been strong here for the last 10 years for the simple reason that there's loads of money in the country. Fellas don't want to sell a good horse. If you did you'd probably get hanged.

"One time, all the people who owned racehorses were landowners or breeders or else English people who had a horse in training in Ireland. Now everybody wants to buy a horse and quite a few of them have. They might not be able to play football or rugby or hurling for Ireland, but they can represent us at racing. Stick their chest out at Cheltenham. These days, it's possible."

* Today's meeting at Carlisle has been abandoned because the course is frozen.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Fraternity

(Wolverhampton 4.45)

NB: Hiamovi

(Lingfield 1.45)

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