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Ireland’s horses dominate Grand National field

Ireland’s Gordon Elliott looks all set to run 13 horses in Saturday’s Grand National. That would beat Martin Pipe’s record entry of 10 in 2001. In fact, Irish-trained horses account for just over half of this year’s 40 runners.

Only one Irish-trained horse won the race between 1958 and 1999. That was L’Escargot, who beat Red Rum in 1975. However, since Bobbyjo landed the big prize in 1999, seven more Irish-trained horses have won the Grand National. Last year, Irish horses finished 1-2-3-4, plus sixth and eighth for good measure.

On Saturday, Ireland’s Tiger Roll bids to become the first horse since Red Rum to win back to back Grand Nationals. He’s some horse, having started off by winning the Triumph Hurdle as a four-year-old. Since then he’s won the three more times at Cheltenham in March: the National Hunt Chase and the last two runnings of the Cross Country Chase.

Hurdle races suit Ireland’s runners

Five of the last seven Irish-trained winners had run over hurdles in one of their previous two races. Tiger Roll won this season’s Boyne Hurdle prior to winning Cheltenham’s Cross Country Chase for a second time. However, that’s not just something peculiar to Ireland’s Grand National winners.

British trainers are now just as likely to use a hurdle race to help put the final touches to their runners. Don’t Push It and Pineau De Re both ran in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham prior to winning at Aintree. In fact, nine of the last 15 winners had run over hurdles at some stage earlier that season.

Part of the reason for that is the trainers’ desire not to spoil the horse’s handicap mark. Horses have separate ratings for hurdles and chases. Thus, trainers are keen to protect a good chase mark and not risk it going up before the Grand National weights are announced. The easy way to do that is to run their horse over hurdles. That’s long been the way for Ireland’s trainers and their British counterparts have now followed suit.

About Chris Pitt

Chris Pitt is a racing historian and freelance journalist. He has written three books including 'A Long Time Gone', chronicling Britain's lost racecourses, and 'Go Down to the Beaten', stories of jockeys who didn't win the Grand National. He founded the Midlands Racing Club and was formerly racing correspondent for BBC Radio WM.

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