THE opening day of Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting saw plenty of atypical names among the winning trainers for a big festival, with Pat Foley (59th), John Gleeson (119th), Eoin Doyle (65th), Dermot McLoughlin (21st), Cian Collins (15th) and Anthony McCann (47th) all successful, the ranking after each their position in the trainers’ championship even after the prize money from Saturday was added in.

They were to be memorably followed by Jimmy Mangan (39th) and Tom Gibney (6th) over the next two days and particular praise goes to Foley, Collins and McCann.

In Don Chalant, Foley got a horse from Willie Mullins that had 663 days off the track and set about educating him on how to race over hurdles. A keen sort, he was fitted with a hood and had been ridden with a view to getting him settled, held up on his first start for the yard at Punchestown, then racing in mid-division at Naas before making all here.

The times, overall and sectionals, suggest he got left alone in front here, but his hurdling was good bar the second last and he won with ease in a race that was more competitive than a typical Irish maiden hurdle at a major meeting.

Cult status

Effernock Fizz already had cult status before last weekend, a bold front-runner approaching 100 career starts, and Collins has maintained her enthusiasm impressively, this her most valuable win yet and achieved in typically gritty fashion, rallying after the last having been headed by the strong travelling runner-up.

McCann’s Familiar Dreams had five runs in bumpers in 2023 without winning before winning her three starts this year, improving with each outing. Her initial win at Cork was in an ordinary contest but she improved off a break at Naas, seeming to get the run of things in front, but pulling out more late to win with a bit in hand.

It was a similar story here as she made all and was strong to the line when challenged late and gave her trainer a first listed winner.

Raffles looks graded class

THIS year’s BoyleSports Irish Grand National was the weakest running of the race since the prize money was drastically increased in 2017. Only 20 ran when a maximum field was more or less certain in previous years, while Minella Cocooner’s official rating of 148 as top weight was the lowest in that period - the other top weights in that time frame rated 156, 166, 157, 153, 158 and 160.

Still, it is possible, even likely, that we saw a performance of some merit from Intense Raffles as a six-year-old having just his third start in Ireland.

His mark of 140 was something of a guess from the handicapper, but hardly looked lenient as he had gotten a 13lb hike for wining a four-runner race at the same track in February where none of his rivals ran their race.

But he made light of it, travelling strongly throughout and jumping well, with one notable exception, when making a mistake at the fourth last.

That could easily have been costly given the timing, but he quickly recovered to jump the final three fences well and had enough left to repel Any Second Now who had become very well-treated off 140, having raced off 167 in last year’s Aintree National.

The combination of a smaller field and very testing ground meant that the pace was sensible throughout Monday’s race and a prominent position was a big advantage with each of the first seven racing in the first half of the field.

Even so, Intense Raffles has the look of one that could be a graded horse, particularly on deep ground.

The subsequent record of recent Irish Grand National winners is mixed in this regard.

For some, it is the culmination of their careers, the likes of General Principle, Freewheelin Dylan and Lord Lariat never winning again.

Both Our Duke and I Am Maximus went on to win graded races however, the former likely to have won more such contests had fortune been with him, and this year’s winner is more in their mould.

Of the beaten horses, Any Second Now was a little further back than ideal and covered the final two furlongs faster than anything else in the field as per Course Track, while Nick Rockett looked a non-stayer having come there travelling well three out only to fade into seventh.

Tremendous Tower

If someone had suggested after Facile Vega beat Inthepocket in a Navan beginners’ chase in November that the best chaser in the race would prove the fourth Spillane’s Tower, there would have been calls for them to be locked up, but so it has turned out with Jimmy Mangan’s star winning the WillowWarm Gold Cup last Sunday.

It was not the strongest version of the race, with no meaningful Cheltenham form represented, the only runners from that meeting being the Turners fourth Zanahiyr and one that failed to complete in the Plate, Saint Felicien.

The pace was also notably steady and that lead to six lengths covering the first four home, but even so, Spillane’s Tower always seemed in command, travelling well and confidently ridden, hitting the front two out and seeming to idle from there, having more in hand than the bare one and three-quarter lengths at the line.

Stiffer tasks await him and a new mark of 150 confirms that he needs to improve to compete at the top level, but he gives the impression that there is more to come, perhaps over further.

Jade bucks post-Cheltenham trend

FOR all the success of the smaller yards at the meeting, Willie Mullins got his with eight winners in all, to go with two at Cork, and the Fairyhouse Easter fixture has become much more of a target for him as his yard has grown.

In the 15 years between 2003 and 2017, he averaged three winners per Easter Festival but in the six meetings since, taking out 2020, his totals have been five, five, eight, six, 11 and eight again.

Seven of his eight winners this year had not run at Cheltenham, suggesting that this year at least he had largely separate Cheltenham and Fairyhouse teams, with Easter as early as it has been in a long time.

Overall, horses that had run at Cheltenham were 1-23 over the three days, most of them trained by Mullins or Gordon Elliott, with Mullins having the only winner in Jade De Grugy, a few of his other quick returners like Instit, Westport Cover and Miss Manzor also running with credit.

Unusual move

Jade De Grugy had been the sole Mullins runner in the Dawn Run at Cheltenham, an unusual move from the trainer given he is often mob-handed in that race, but she was just one of a 10-strong team in the Honeysuckle from a total field of 17 runners.

Disappointing when fourth at Cheltenham in what was a messy race run at a slow pace, she showed why she had been relied on there last Sunday back in a well-run contest, the overall time much faster than the two other hurdle races over the same trip on the card.

The field got racing early, with eight of the 17 runners pulled up, and while Jade De Grugy was likely suited by making her challenge late, she didn’t have everything her way either as she lost her position around half-way and had to come around rivals in the straight.