Harry Fry will take a shot at landing the newly enriched Irish Grand National on Monday when he sends over Fletchers Flyer, one of two British-based horses guaranteed a place in the line-up after the entry stage on Wednesday. Assuming there are no hiccups on the road to Fairyhouse, the horse’s participation will be the fulfilment of a year-long plan hatched after he won a much lower-profile race in Ireland last spring.
“This has been the plan since he crossed the line at Punchestown in April,” the Dorset-based Fry said on Wednesday. “He relished the step up to three and three‑quarter miles that day, so we thought we’d give it a go.
“He’s been running OK this season but really his whole campaign has been built around the Irish National. It’s all been about getting him to Easter Monday. He’s run well and he was giving weight to some smart novices at Ascot last time but he’ll strip much fitter for the outing.
“It’ll be hard to win, of course. It’s going to be a fiercely competitive, 30-runner handicap chase, more competitive than ever, thanks to the increased prize fund.”
The other British runner likely to take part is Jonjo O’Neill’s Shutthefrontdoor, who won the race in 2014.
This year’s Irish National offers first-place prize money of €270,000, up by more than €100,000 on last year in a change that was announced in the summer. The hope was expressed that the extra money might “bring back the class horses”, so the organisers may be disappointed to see such as Outlander and Carlingford Lough taken out, leaving Lord Scoundrel as the top weight ahead of Noble Endeavor and Clarcam.
Jessica Harrington’s novice Our Duke looks likely to start favourite, having been backed from 10-1 down to 6-1 this week. Fletchers Flyer also seems to have his admirers, being third in betting lists on 12-1, half the odds that were available a fortnight ago.
Gordon Elliott appears determined not to let Willie Mullins use the National to close the €400,000 gap between them in the race to be Ireland’s champion jumps trainer. Elliott, seeking his first title, has 11 horses in the top 30 in the weights, while Mullins has only two.
Meanwhile it appears that the distance covered by runners in the Derby has been very slightly exaggerated all these years. The official distance of a mile, four furlongs and 10 yards was found to be wrong during a formal remeasurement of Britain’s Flat racecourses undertaken by the ruling body, the results of which were published on Wednesday.
As it turns out, the race is four yards shorter than previously imagined, a fact that is likely to trouble no one other than the purest of purists. There was some loose talk on social media about whether this might have affected some of the close finishes of years gone by but the answer can only be no, since the ground to be covered remains the same as it always was but has now been accurately measured.
Epsom’s clerk of the course, Andrew Cooper, pointed out that the idiosyncrasies of the Derby course probably accounted for the discrepancy, requiring runners to round a bend to the right before tacking over to the opposite rail after about a furlong. It is hard, now, to be sure exactly what line was followed by the Jockey Club officials of the early 1990s who last measured the track, presumably with trundle wheels rather than the beams of light used this time.
Of rather more concern is the fact that so many race-distances at so many tracks were found to be inaccurate, even if only by a yard or two in many cases. An extreme example is the 68 yards by which “two-mile” races at Lingfield actually exceeded two miles. while long-distance races at Salisbury and Goodwood have also been wrongly labeled by a distance of 44 yards.
Every race distance at Windsor and Southwell was found to be slightly wrong. Newmarket has moved a dozen of their starting points so that race-distances will, in future, match their longstanding descriptions. Newbury has moved 11 starts. Sandown has moved three, one of them by 32 yards.
The Horserace Bettors Forum, which has long lobbied for greater accuracy in racing data, said this was “a further important step in bolstering confidence” among punters. “The HBF has further requested that racecourses review the positioning of furlong markers, a number of which are believed to be inaccurate,” a statement said.
Thursday’s tips, by Chris Cook
Chelmsford 2.10 The Juggler (nap) 2.40 Secret Lightning 3.10 Fiendish 3.40 Qaffaal 4.10 Fast And Hot 4.40 Secret Clause (nb) 5.10 Son Of The Stars
Towcester 2.20 Tell The Tale 2.50 Masterplan 3.20 Shaluna 3.50 Today Please 4.20 Project Mars 4.50 Some Finish 5.20 Sliding Doors
Wetherby 2.00 Ravens Hill 2.30 Ballyrock 3.00 Vision Des Champs 3.30 Dominada 4.00 Master Jake 4.30 For Instance 5.00 Pikarnia