One of the leading staying hurdlers of last season, the gelding’s first season over fences hasn’t gone to plan, with the result that he is potentially well treated off a mark of 147.
But Morris, who is one of the shrewdest ‘target trainers’ in the business, could scupper his own chance of winning the race, should his charge be successful in the RSA Chase at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.
When it was suggested he would almost certainly be lumbered with a rise of at least 10lbs were he to win the Grade 1 at the Festival, Morris replied: “I’d settle for him going up a stone.”
One way to prevent such an issue would be an adherence to the Aintree Grand National situation, whereby penalties do not apply after the publication of the weights, something Morris would be keen to see implemented.
“Alpha Des Obeaux has a 10st 7lb to carry, which is a lovely racing weight, and novices have a good record in the race, but we’ll have to see how he gets on at Cheltenham first,” said Morris. “We’ll keep our options open, as there’s plenty of time (between the two races). But I would like to see the same rule being applied here as with the Aintree Grand National, whereby no penalties were allowed.
“Rogue Angel will probably run in the Aintree Grand National, which is only nine days before the Irish National, but he could run in both. Thunder And Roses, who won the race two years ago, seems to reserve his best for Fairyhouse, so he’ll probably take his chance.”
Such has been the Boylesports’ financial injection into the race, this year’s winner will receive €275,000, which is equal to the entire prize-fund for last year’s race, which Morris won with Rogue Angel. The increased prize-money has also been reflected in the number of entries, as well as the quality of those entered.
A total figure of 124, is up from 93 in 2016, while 22 of those horses are rated 150 or more, and the entry includes two of this season’s Grade 1-winning novice chasers: Coney Island and Our Duke. UK interest has more than doubled, with the Paul Nicholls-trained Saphir Du Rheu one of 24 British entries, up from 11 in 2016.
Leon Blanche, of Boylesports, said: “Owners and trainers have so many options these days, with so many festivals, you have to offer money, and that’s exactly what we have done.
“It is now Ireland’s richest national hunt race, and we’re delighted to see such a significant increase in interest from British raiders. And the quality is there for everyone to see. It promises to be the best-ever renewal of the race.”
Trainer Gordon Elliott, who has already pinpointed this race as a pivotal contest in his chase for a first trainer’s championship, is responsible for 28 of the entries, 11 of which would get into the race were the top 30 in the weights all to take their place in the line-up.
Having signalled his intent to run whatever is fit and healthy enough to take its place, it is quite likely he will break all records for the number of runners in one race.
But Willie Mullins is not blind to the value and importance of the race, and has 14 entries, including one of the long-odds favourites, The Crafty Butcher, though he is currently number 90 on the list, and may need a little luck or, possibly, a penalty to make the cut.
That said, there were 93 entries in 2016, and only 29 declared - one short of the maximum field.
Owners Gigginstown House Stud, responsible for more than a quarter of the entries, will also likely have a record number of runners, and their strength within the sport is abundantly evident in Sunday’s Grade 3 Naas Directors Novice Chase, in which they own nine of the 10 entries.
The Boylesports Irish Grand National will take place on Easter Monday, April 17.
Boylsports’ ante-post betting: 10-1 The Crafty Butcher, Noble Endeavor, Mall Dini, 14 Minella Foru, Outlander, Saphir Du Rheu, Pleasant Company, Alpha Des Obeaux, Our Duke, 16-1 bar