Our Duke keeps Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power bandwagon rolling

Chris Cook
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Our Duke and Robbie Power after a decisive victory in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Niall Carson/PA</span>
Our Duke and Robbie Power after a decisive victory in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

An extraordinary spring was made even better for the trainer-jockey combination of Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power when they won Monday’s Irish Grand National with Our Duke, who came home by 14 lengths in a field of 28. The horse, still in his novice season, is now reckoned to be a candidate for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a race which Power and Harrington won with Sizing John last month.

However, the race ended badly for Barry Geraghty, sidelined for the next three months by breaking an arm in a fall from Minella Foru. Geraghty, who missed Cheltenham with broken ribs, will now also miss the Punchestown Festival.

Power’s career seemed in the balance as recently as the autumn – the result of a head injury at Galway last summer that has left him with double vision in part of one eye. The 35-year-old now rides with a specially designed visor that helps him see normally, allowing him to win three races at the Cheltenham Festival and three Grade Ones from six rides at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.

“This means so much to me,” Power said. “It’s my local racecourse and I was second in it a few years ago.” The jockey chose the right Irish National to win, as the prize money was significantly boosted this year, with €270,000 being divided among winning connections.

“He is a hell of a good horse. He is very, very good. Once he got a good view of his fences and got plenty of light, we were going to be happy. Hopefully I’ll have a tough decision to make next March.”

Sent off the 9-2 favourite, Our Duke was to the fore from the start and went clear four out after other prominent racers such as Rogue Angel, Stellar Notion and Fletchers Flyer tired. All of those ended the race by being pulled up, while the placed horses, Bless The Wings, Abolitionist and Thunder And Roses, had been settled further back in the early stages, suggesting additional merit in the winner’s performance.

“It’s unbelievable; I can hardly believe it myself,” said Harrington, revealing that Our Duke’s owners had resisted a hefty offer for the horse. “He’s a novice, that was only his fourth run over fences but it just went like copybook the whole way.

“We all have to get there but he looks a Gold Cup horse. That’s why he didn’t go to Cheltenham this year, as we wanted to wait and go to the Gold Cup next year. We’ll keep him and Sizing John apart and see what happens.” Bookmakers have Sizing John at 6-1 to retain his crown next spring, while Our Duke is no bigger than 14-1 among a mouth-watering list of potential runners, including Thistlecrack, Yorkhill, Might Bite and Native River.

“It’s hard to comprehend winning the Gold Cup and the Irish National,” added Harrington, who has achieved her first successes in those races at the age of 70. “It’s taken me a long time to get the hang of training these staying chasers!”

This Irish National may also have handed Gordon Elliott an unbeatable lead in the race to be Ireland’s champion jumps trainer, thanks to Bless The Wings, who bagged €95,000 for finishing second, the same place he reached last year. Willie Mullins fielded the fancied Haymount but that one faded into seventh after briefly threatening to stay on into the argument.

Mullins won a couple of other races on the card but the net result of the day is an increased lead for Elliott, who was already €300,000 in front. Rubbing salt in Mullins’s wounds, two Elliott-trained runners stayed on past Haymount in the closing stages to take the money for fifth and sixth.

Much of the buildup talk had centred on the number of runners fielded by Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, whose maroon colours were carried by 13 horses, distinguished only by caps of different colours. It grated with some that O’Leary, who had won the race for the past two years, asked for two of the caps to be swapped at a late stage. In the end his best finisher was the fourth-placed Thunder And Roses.

Chris Cook’s tips

Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson’s Premier Bond is the 9-1 favourite for Saturday’s Scottish Grand National. Henderson appears on his way to a fourth champion trainer’s title but the reigning champion, Paul Nicholls, can hope to deny him success at Ayr with Vicente and Arpege D’Alene, currently second and third in betting lists.


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