National a big target for red-hot Mullins


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The Independent Online

The trainer whose domination of Irish jump racing is surely exceeding all precedent – at least in matching quantity with quality – yesterday laid down two fresh markers to measure the restless limits of his dominion. Willie Mullins not only set a new record for the fastest 100 in an Irish season, but also accounted for no fewer than a dozen of the 82 entries published for the John Smith's Grand National.

These include The Midnight Club, who started favourite last year and shaped as though he might have finished much closer than sixth with a smoother journey round. Brought down early when reappearing over hurdles at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting, he rallied well over an inadequate distance when restored to fences at Tramore on New Year's Day and takes another quiet step on the road back to Aintree in a similar affair at Clonmel this afternoon.

Ruby Walsh takes the mount, but starts the day in London with an appeal against the three-day suspension for careless riding that so aggrieved him at Cheltenham on Saturday. His fine record over the National fences would almost guarantee favouritism for his chosen ride at Aintree on 14 April.

His other main patron, Paul Nicholls, has made just two National entries – Neptune Collonges and Niche Market – but Mullins is certain to give Walsh plenty to think about in the meantime. For now perhaps his most tempting option is On His Own, so impressive at Gowran last week on his second start since joining Mullins from Howard Johnson.

After Mullins, Dessie Hughes has the biggest entry with five – the pair contributing to an overall Irish tally of 31. Ballabriggs, last year's winner, shares 16-1 favouritism in Betfred's book with Junior and Synchronised, and is expected to warm up at Kelso once again on 3 March.

With a huge purse of £975,000, the National could easily prove decisive in the trainers' championship and Nicky Henderson, like Nicholls craving a first success in the race, has three interesting candidates in Burton Port, Quantitativeeasing and Shakalakaboomboom.

Mullins meanwhile reached his landmark – beating his own record, set two years ago, by 12 days – when Soll landed short odds in a novice chase at Down Royal. As such a big, bold animal, it is not impossible that Soll might himself make an Aintree horse some day. In the shorter term, Mullins hopes he can join his formidable Cheltenham Festival team, in the National Hunt Chase over four miles. Noting that Soll still looked green yesterday, he would like to give him another start in the meantime but may decide to keep him fresh.

"I'm delighted to make 100," Mullins added. "We have such a quality of horse at the minute. We'll just keep our fingers crossed that we can keep them healthy."

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's nap

Night Rose (3.15 Wincanton)

Looked poised to break her duck when falling two out last time. That was a further step forward and another can earn compensation.


Next best

Webberys Dream (3.45 Wincanton)

Dropped in trip today, having shown plenty of dash to win over 2m 5f at this track last time.


One to watch

That'lldoboy (Paul Nicholls)

Still on the bridle when falling three out at Cheltenham on Saturday.


Where the money's going

Zarkandar, very well treated in the valuable Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday week, is now down to 3-1 from 7-2 with William Hill.