Racing: Black Apalachi can thwart Madden's National double

With the Craven meeting at Newmarket starting tomorrow, more Classic trials at Newbury at the weekend and the star-studded Punchestown jumping festival next week, the crossover of the seasons continues distractingly apace. And never more so than today, when future heroes of both the Derby and the Grand National could be in action.

If Visindar impresses in the Prix du Champ de Mars at Longchamp, he will take over as ante-post Epsom favourite. And whoever wins, or even completes, this afternoon's 135th Irish Grand National must be considered as a candidate for the real thing, for the past eight runnings at Fairyhouse have produced four subsequent Aintree victors. Bobbyjo beat Papillon half a length in 1998; the pair won the next two Nationals. Red Marauder finished 10th in Ireland in 2000 and won in the infamous Liverpool bog the following season and nine days ago Numbersixvalverde was another to complete the double. He was only the fourth, though, after Ascetic's Silver in 1904 and 1906 and Rhyme 'N' Reason in 1986 and 1988.

At 30, today's Irish Grand National field is the most populous in its history. But one record that will not be beaten is weight-carrying; the top-weight Our Ben, the choice of Ruby Walsh, has the burden of 11st 12lb, a featherweight alongside the 12st 12lb shouldered successfully by Mavis Of Meath in 1900.

Last year, Walsh won at both Aintree, on Hedgehunter, and Fairyhouse; this time round it is young Slippers Madden with the target of a National pair. The 20-year-old partners No Half Session, the best-fancied of a trio from the Noel Meade stable, and believes he can crown an already memorable season in Ireland's richest chase.

No Half Session was behind today's likely favourite, Dun Doire, in a handicap at Cheltenham last time out, but is fresher than many of his rivals and notched a hat-trick of successes last spring. Madden, who gets the ride because Meade's stable jockey Paul Carberry was injured in the National, teams up with the nine-year-old for the first time since riding him to win a bumper two years ago.

"The horse perhaps did not run as well as he could have at Cheltenham," he said, "but he jumps well, the trip will be no bother and on his best form he would have a great chance. I gave him a pop during the week and he feels in great nick."

In last year's Irish National, Madden had Meade-trained Native Sessions killed under him in a fall at the sixth as Numbersixvalverde, whom he had ridden regularly, went on to win. "I've had my compensation at Aintree," he added, "but it would be special to set the Irish National record straight as well. It would top an amazing season."

Victory for Dun Doire would be some sort of justice, too, and continue an extraordinary roll. The seven-year-old narrowly missed the cut for Aintree and is trying for a seven-timer, having eluded the clutches of the handicapper since winning a novices' contest at Wetherby in November. Walsh was on board for his latest success; today Mick Fitzgerald takes the mount and his shrewd trainer, Tony Martin, had his fingers crossed yesterday for a damp night. "He's in great form and things are looking good, but he wouldn't want it too fast," he said.

Tony McCoy - who notched a Fairyhouse double yesterday on Justified in the Grade One feature, the Powers Gold Cup, and Vic Venturi - teams up with Christy Roche's Far From Trouble, an ill-judged third under amateur handling at Cheltenham. He comes into calculations but preference is for Philip Rothwell-trained Black Apalachi (3.50), who ran better than his sixth placing in another Cheltenham amateur contest suggests and today has the assistance of Conor O'Dwyer.

In France, Visindar, a son of Sinndar, will have seven opponents as he attempts to justify his recent second-stage entry for the Derby and a subsequent punters' plunge. In the Prix Noailles, the Grade Two trial, three of his André Fabre stablemates, headed by Linda's Lad, make up half the field.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Night Groove (Redcar 4.35)

NB: River Kirov

(Warwick 3.20)

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