Lion the mouse that roared for Gibney
As a spectacle, it was always likely to prove a resonant prelude to the real thing. In the event, however, the Ladbrokes Irish Grand National yesterday offered a good deal more than a mere sample of the chaos and feats of endurance that will again command attention at Aintree on Saturday. It also provided a reminder of the abiding romantic possibilities that sustain all the great steeplechases.
In outstaying a field that contained five runners apiece in the colours of Gigginstown Stud and J P McManus, Lion Na Bearnai confirmed that the most priceless assets can still elude even the deepest pockets. One of just five horses trained in Co Meath by Tom Gibney, he was sent off at 33-1 after testing credulity with an out-of-the-blue win in a novice chase at Navan in February. But when it came down to a test of brute perseverance, locked in a duel with Out Now over the last fence, it was Andrew Thornton's mount who somewhere discovered reserves to see off his rival by four and a half lengths. In jumping and staying so well round Fairyhouse, of course, he made himself automatically eligible for an Aintree preparation next year.
"Full credit to the horse," Thornton said. "He jumped like a stag, never put a foot wrong, and he is so tough, so gutsy. I was squeezed for room at the fence in front of the stands, but otherwise everything went great through the race."
Lion Na Bearnai, as an unbroken four-year-old, was the first horse Gibney bought when he started training three years ago, and sold to a syndicate largely comprising locals and ex-schoolmates. "We were confident coming here, but I was afraid to open my mouth," Gibney said. "Andrew is a brilliant rider – much underrated – and he gave him a copybook ride."
His trainer was fully aware of his role as David after the first four races had fallen to the Goliaths of the Irish sport: two to McManus, one to Gigginstown, and one to Willie Mullins. None, however, could begrudge an overdue success for Get Me Out Of Here in the opener. The horse who had finished second at three consecutive Cheltenham Festivals finally got his reward after reeling in the outsider Tofino Bay, on whom Bryan Cooper had very nearly slipped the field. Back in fourth was Oscars Well, who must now have exhausted the fidelity of even his most loyal followers.
Tony McCoy also rode Alderwood, the County Hurdle winner, to win the other Graded hurdle on the card for McManus, stemming the strong challenge of Allure Of Illusion. Mullins, meanwhile ,came up with another smart young prospect in Balnaslow, who won a valuable bumper for point-to-point graduates on his first start for the champion trainer.
McCoy and McManus will be hoping to extend their golden run when Synchronised lines up in the John Smith's Grand National on Saturday. Albeit he has disclosed unsuspected versatility this season, the Gold Cup winner's proven aptitude in soft ground means they will not be dismayed by the advent of heavy rain on Merseyside. The official going is now predominately soft, and the forecast remains unsettled. Synchronised heads just 48 acceptors, with Vic Venturi the last horse guaranteed a run as things stand. Most unusually, however, barely a handful seem likely to miss the cut.
For those impatient for the Classic trials that follow Aintree, the big news from Ireland yesterday instead concerned Akeed Mofeed. Unfortunately, the colt has suffered a minor setback and his trainer, John Oxx, has abandoned hopes of running him in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas. The new plan is for Akeed Mofeed to resume in the Derrinstown Derby Trial at Leopardstown next month.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Niceofyoutotellme (2.50 Pontefract)
Well regarded type, sure to relish this stiff finish.
Next best: Veiled Applause (5.25 Pontefract)
Veteran on a good mark nowadays and can extend stable's hot streak after promising return at Doncaster.
One to watch: Extremely Alert (Michael Bell) scarcely lived up to his name on his debut at Yarmouth yesterday, very slowly away, but hinted at potential.
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