Horses trained in Ireland, including Papillon, last year's winner, will be able to run in Saturday's Grand National at Aintree after the Irish government yesterday dropped its opposition to the movement of racehorses to Britain during the foot-and-mouth outbreak. Those who travel, however, will be on a one-way ticket, with little prospect of a return to Ireland for several weeks, and perhaps even months.
Racing in Ireland has been banned since February, when foot-and-mouth was first confirmed in Britain, while the country's agriculture minister had asked trainers not to send horses to race in this country, a request with which the Irish Racehorse Trainers' Association had agreed and complied. The official stance was confirmed two weeks ago by Joe Walsh, the Irish agriculture minister, and most British bookmakers had removed Irish-based runners from the Grand National betting.
However, plans to resume racing in Ireland with the Fairyhouse meeting during the Easter weekend have been abandoned.
Papillon, who is the 8-1 second-favourite with Ladbrokes to become the first horse since Red Rum to win consecutive Grand Nationals, will be the most significant addition to Saturday's field. There are six more Irish-trained runners still engaged in the race, Hollybank Buck, Merry People, Inis Cara, Delgany Royal, Feathered Leader and Rathbawn Prince.
"It was a very pleasant surprise," Ted Walsh, Papillon's trainer, said yesterday. "I've no plans for Papillon after Saturday. We are just concentrating on Aintree."
Ian Renton, the clerk of the course at Aintree, said yesterday that the track will give all possible assistance to Irish trainers sending their horses to the race. "We're really only anticipating that it will be the National entries," he said, "because they don't know how long they're going to have to stay over and it could well be months. They can stay here for as long as is convenient for them, and we can put their lads up here if need be, but they might want to speak to an English trainer and stable their horses there depending on how long they stay."
Willie Mullins, the chairman of the Irish Racehorse Trainers' Association, said last night that the decision was good news for Irish entries in the National, but questioned the logic by which it was taken. "They left it too late to tell us," Mullins said. "Apparently they told Aintree on Friday evening, but didn't tell us until this morning. I can't understand it, the department of agriculture seems to have an agenda of its own. It doesn't add up, when foot-and-mouth in Britain seems to be getting worse."Reuse content