The Irish Angle: Worthy Cause
A cursory glance at recent history dictates that, if you are looking for the Irish Grand National winner tomorrow (and let’s be honest, most of us are), you start your search not only at the bottom of the handicap, but also at the bottom of the market.
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Here are the bottom-of-the-handicap stats: none of the last 10 Irish National winners carried more than 10st 8lb, only one of them carried more than 10st 5lb, and five of them carried 10st 1lb or less. Dig a little deeper, however, and you will find that the majority of the runners carry low weights.
Last year, top weight Junior was the only one of the 28 runners who carried 11st or more. In 2012, just three of the 29 runners carried 11st or more. In 2011, just two of 25 carried 11st or more. In 2010, just four did, and one of those, Oscar Time, finished second. So don’t go putting a line through those at the top of the handicap just because they are at the top of the handicap.
The bottom-of-the-market stat is not misleading, mind you. Six of the last 10 winners – including five of the last six – were sent off at 25/1 or bigger, and five of the last 10 – including four of the last six – were sent off at 33/1 or bigger. The mean average SP of the last 10 winners is 29/1, and last year’s winner, Liberty Counsel, was a 50/1 skinner. No wonder a leading Irish bookie decided to sponsor it.
You know that it is going to be difficult when 12 of the 30 runners (no kiddin’) pop up on your horse tracker. Home Farm is in there since last year, since he ran a cracker to finish third in the race as a whipper-snapper six-year-old. It isn’t that six-year-olds can’t win the race these days, especially six-year-olds who are trained by Arthur Moore (ref. Organisedconfusion, 2011), and not that many youngsters try. However, before Organisedconfusion you have to go back to Rhyme N Reason in 1985, and he was so good he won the Aintree Grand National three years later.
Home Farm hasn’t won since then, but he has only run three times, and he has shaped promisingly on each occasion. He ran really well for a long way before fading late on to finish third behind Rupert Lamb over an inadequate two miles at Naas on his debut this term, and he wasn’t disgraced in finishing sixth in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.
After a short break, he shaped like a horse who might come on for the run in the Carrickmines Handicap Chase at Leopardstown last month in a race that was won by his stable-companion Pass The Hat and in which subsequent Aintree National third, Double Seven, finished one place and two lengths in front of him.
You can be sure that this race has been his primary objective since this time last year, and Arthur Moore is adept at having one spot on for a big handicap chase. He has won the Irish National twice as a trainer and once as a rider.
By Presenting, Home Farm should appreciate goodish ground - although rain did reach the track on Sunday - and he gets to race off a mark of 142, which is just 5lb higher than the mark off which he raced last year. He is still only seven, he has raced just seven times over fences, and he still has plenty of scope for progression as a staying chaser. With David Casey for company again, he is a worthy favourite and you have to have him on your shortlist.
That said, at a slightly bigger price, Cause Of Causes is just a little more appealing. Like Home Farm, he is a young staying chaser who should love the ground and who has the potential to be a fair bit better than his current handicap mark over fences.
JP McManus’ horse thrives in these big-field handicaps. He has finished second (beaten a head) in a Galway Hurdle (20 runners), he has finished third in a Greatwood Hurdle (18 runners), he has won a Ladbroke Hurdle (21 runners), he has finished second (beaten a nose) in a Paddy Power Chase (28 runners) and, most recently, he has finished second in a Kim Muir (23 runners) when, but for a momentum-halting mistake at the final fence, he probably would have won.
The handicapper has raised him 6lb for that run, but that still only brings him up to a mark of 146, which is just 4lb higher than the mark off which he won the Ladbroke Hurdle, and which is 6lb lower than his peak over hurdles. That gives him a big chance.
He is not an overly-big horse, and natural inclination is to think that he will never be as good over fences as he was over hurdles, but the evidence suggests otherwise. His run in the Kim Muir just about matched his best performance over hurdles on ratings and – still only six and with just eight chases under his belt – he still has scope to progress further over fences.
He has run twice at Fairyhouse, he won over hurdles there and he was beaten a short head by Sraid Padraig over fences there last November over two miles, which we now know to be inadequate. He jumped the stiff Fairyhouse fences well that day, and that is a key asset to bring into tomorrow’s race.
It is a shame that AP McCoy is not available to take the ride, but Mark Walsh is a good rider who knows Gordon Elliott-trained gelding well, and who proved on Bob Lingo in the 2012 Galway Plate that he is well up for these big handicap chases. Cause Of Causes stayed three and a quarter miles well in the Kim Muir, he has every chance of staying three miles and five furlongs, he should love the good ground, and he is probably a little over-priced still at Sky Bet's 12/1.
You can make a case for plenty of others. The two Jim Dreaper horses, Goonyella and Los Amigos, would become very interesting if further significant rain materialised on Sunday evening. Gallant Oscar, who was most impressive in winning the Leinster National last month, is another who wouldn’t mind a deluge.
Shutthefrontdoor is interesting off a mark of 142. He wasn’t beaten far in the National Hunt Chase, he remains a horse with significant potential as a staying chaser, and he is trained by Jonjo O’Neill and will be ridden by Barry Geraghty. Mullaghanoe River is interesting in his first-time blinkers, and Rogue Angel and Sraid Padraig are others worth considering at big prices.
Don’t be put off by big prices.
- For more of Donn’s thoughts, visit www.donnmcclean.com.