The Irish Grand National is one of the feature races of the season in Ireland, and Kevin Blake has a big-price selection for each-way punters with six places paid...
"The real key to his chance could well be the sounder surface, as he has performed particularly well on such a surface on the few occasions he has run on it."
Irish Grand National day at Fairyhouse is one of the highlights of the entire National Hunt season in Ireland.
In addition to the feature race, it has attracted a deep card of competitive races and I'll try to pull a winner or two out of it.
We like what Kev is thinking regarding Cromwell runner
The Fairyhouse Steel Handicap Hurdle (15:15) is a fiercely-competitive race and the one I'm siding with is the Gavin Cromwell-trained Ilikedwayurthinkin.
Cromwell was having a difficult 2021 up until Flooring Porter's victory in the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, having had just five winners from 126 runners in 2021 up to that point. However, his team picked the perfect time to turn it around, as including that memorable victory with Flooring Porter he has had eight winners from his 31 runners since then up to before racing on Sunday.
Ilikedwayurthinkin proved to be very progressive over hurdles in the 2019/20 season, winning twice at the Galway Festival and running a big race in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival having been hampered in the early stages. He has transitioned to fences this season and has showed subtle promise, though it should be noted that Cromwell was out of form and the ground was softer than ideal for him for most of his runs.
With Cromwell having very much turned the corner and with his preferred sounder surface now prevailing, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him make a winning return to hurdling in this contest.
Sounder surface the key to a big run from Brace Yourself
The main event of the whole meeting is the Irish Grand National (17:00) and as always, it represents an extremely difficult puzzle to solve. Historically, unexposed novices have fared particularly well in the race and those with that profile tend to be my focus.
The top of the market is dominated by horses with profiles such as that, with Latest Exhibition, The Big Dog, Sempo, Run Wild Fred and Coko Beach all fitting the bill. However, I'm looking for a less obvious one at a bigger price and the one I like is the Noel Meade-trained Brace Yourself.
The eight-year-old started off his career in very promising fashion, winning a bumper at Down Royal by 24 lengths and finishing third to Blackbow in a Grade 2 bumper at Leopardstown. Having made a winning hurdling debut, he missed over a year due to an injury and when he got back to the track last season, he was a bit disappointing.
However, he returned to chasing this season and has performed notably well, winning a maiden chase at Gowran Park and finishing third to Pencilfulloflead and Latest Exhibition in a Grade 2 novice chase at Punchestown. It was his latest run that was particularly promising in the context of this race, as he proved his stamina for this trip when second to Court Maid in the Porterstown Handicap Chase over this course and distance in November.
His trainer has confirmed that he has been trained with this race in mind and he will find himself notably better off at the weights with many of those he met earlier this season such as Court Maid and Latest Exhibition. The real key to his chance could well be the sounder surface, as he has performed particularly well on such a surface on the few occasions he has run on it.
While Brace Yourself is a very big price, a big run can be expected from him and hopefully he can reach the places at least with the Sportsbook paying six places.