Queen Mother's Irish aye

Sue Montgomery welcomes the first Royal runner over the water for 25 years
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THE Queen Mother turns the clock back a quarter of a century when her horse Norman Conqueror runs in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse tomorrow. Her colours were last seen in Ireland in 1971 when they were carried into 12th place by Mascara in the Irish Cesarewitch.

The same filly, trained at The Curragh by John Oxx Snr, was the last royal winner in Ireland when she scored at Baldoyle two months earlier. But the Queen Mother's silks of blue, with buff stripes and gold-tasselled black cap, have already been victorious in a National over there, though not in the Republic. Laffy took the Ulster version at Downpatrick in 1962.

The dearth of royal runners in Ireland - the Queen has never had one - has been put down to political expediency by some observers. But Michael Oswald, manager of the royal studs in Norfolk and the Queen Mother's racing manager, refuted the suggestion: "It's just that we haven't had anything good enough for the big events, and there are plenty of races in Britain for what we have had, without the expense of travelling."

Norman Conqueror gave his 95-year-old owner one of her most thrilling moments when he became the first horse to complete the Grand Military- Royal Artillery Gold Cup double at Sandown last month. Tom Treacy takes over from Major Ollie Ellwood in the saddle, but tomorrow's company will be much hotter and the 11-year-old is one of the outsiders.

The last British-trained horse to win the three-mile, five- furlong marathon was Desert Orchid in 1990. One of this year's five possible raiders, Suny Bay, is the ante-post favourite, though his trainer, Charlie Brooks, who will walk the course tomorrow morning, has warned that the progressive seven-year-old will not run if the ground is too fast. Suny Bay has won the last six races he has completed and recovered from a broken jaw to land an easy win over three miles at Newbury two weeks ago.

The British challenge is completed by Jodami, the 1993 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, bidding to redeem his reputation after a virus-plagued season, the hunter chaser Cool Dawn, and Tartan Tyrant, who missed the Aintree National because of fast ground and may sidestep Fairyhouse for the same reason.

The home defence is led by the last two winners, the top-weight Flashing Steel and Son Of War, who unseated his rider at Aintree, Richard Dunwoody's mount Lord Singapore, and the Midlands National winner, Another Excuse.