It remains incredible to think that Willie Mullins still goes in search of his first win in the Irish Grand National. Pairofbrowneyes switched to the Champion trainer at the start of the year and shades favouritism for the race.
He showed massive improvement on his first start for the yard, winning the Leinster National Handicap (2m7f, heavy) by just over three lengths to Space Cadet and ever since, the selection of Paul Townend has been well-supported for this. But his mount will need to improve again to defy a 9lbs rise in the weights and a career-high mark.
Preference is instead for stablemate BELLSHILL, who looked hugely impressive on his return to action thirty-seven days ago in the Bobbyjo Chase, and could be progressive as a chaser with this being just his sixth start over fences.
He finished the 2017 campaign as a ten length third to Might Bite in the RSA Novices Chase at Cheltenham where he ran very well. Bellshill is certainly the class angle with three Grade 1’s across hurdles races and a bumper earlier in his career.
Bellshill does have a big task with a mark of 158 more than a full stone higher than the average for many years, but with Outlander in off 163, he is able to carry a more manageable 11st 5lbs; Our Duke carried 11st 4lbs to success last year for context.
At the age of eight, Bellshill could have a whole lot more to come from him and he could feasibly be a solid 160’s rated horse.
Folsom Blue and Isleofhopendreams battled out a great trial for this, but their marks have both been raised significantly as a result and are not overly attractive at their current prices.
Thyestes winner Monbeg Notorious looks a big danger, as does the Kim Muir second Mall Dini, but the third SQUOUATEUR – who put in his best ever performance over fences on his return from a wind op in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham last month – appeals most for Gordan Elliott towards the bottom of the weights.
Yes, Squouateur has been expensive to follow for punters without tasting victory from his first ten chase starts, and he has been backed off the boards a few times to boot. But he comes here a lightly-campaigned horse this season and Rule The World won a National to break his maiden so it can be done.
Even still a record of 3/17 for Squouateur means that he needs to be caught just right and he will have his optimum conditions to help build on his Cheltenham effort.
A careful glance at the form shows that he is two from three at Fairyhouse, will love the ground, and remains unexposed over marathon distances having unseated when midfield in the Kim Muir last year.
More recently he was a staying on 3rd of 28 runners in the Paddy Power Chase in December having received no luck in running behind eventual Gold Cup third Anibale Fly.
JP McManus is no stranger to winning this race and with Squouateur carrying an enviable racing weight of 9st 10lbs he could put in bold bid.
1pt each-way Bellshill @10/1, 17:00 Fairyhouse, Monday (1/4, five places with Ladbrokes)
0.75pts each-way Squouateur @16/1, 17:00 Fairyhouse, Monday (1/5, six places with Boylesports)