Bookmakers are already running scared of Royal County Star as Tony Martin’s hope is set to carry just 10st 4lb in the Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National on Monday.
After Michael Hourigan declared 10-time Grade One winner Beef Or Salmon, the weights did not rise for the three-mile-five-furlong showpiece at Fairyhouse.
Unsurprisingly, Martin’s ante-post favourite has been all the rage as a result and Betfred have been forced to slash him from 9-2 to 7-2 after laying the horse to lose £200,000 (€256,000).
“Tony Martin’s charge has been at the head of the betting since it opened and as soon as the final declarations came through confirming he was one of 27 intended runners our phones started bouncing with punters clambering to get on,” said spokesman Dave Metcalf.
“Martin’s horses always send a shiver down our spines and it is no secret that this has been the long-term objective for Royal County Star.
“The horse looks well-handicapped and goes into the race fresh after his shrewd trainer decided to swerve a tilt at one of the big Cheltenham Festival handicaps.
“He looks plenty short enough now, but the 7-2 is still being taken and he could well go off even shorter come flagfall.”
With Beef Or Salmon set to carry 12st, next in the weights on 11st 3lb is Forget The Past, third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years ago, while Ballistraw is the only other runner weighted above 11st.
Andrew McNamara expects a bold show from Denis Hickey’s horse but admits the race will take a lot of winning.
“It looks even more open this year than others I think,” said McNamara. “Because of Beef Or Salmon there are lots of horses that look well-in this year running off light weights.
“Ballistraw won well at Gowran and he was well-fancied for the Thyestes the time before when I rode him but he made a big mistake at the first fence and he just never got into it.
“He beat Kicking King and Jessica Harrington’s horse (Knight Legend) the last day, but he does have enough weight. He’s got 11st 1lb, but he is a nice horse and hopefully he can run a nice race.”
Beneath Ballistraw, the remaining 23 hopefuls are headed by the Willie Mullins-trained Alexander Taipan, whose stablemates Homer Wells and Pomme Tiepy are other interesting candidates.
Cailin Alainn will run for Charles Byrnes, Galway Plate winner Sir Frederick represents Liam Burke and Martin’s Newbay Prop joins stablemate Royal County Star.
Butler’s Cabin struck for Jonjo O’Neill 12 months ago but British interest will be solely focused on the Venetia Williams-trained duo of Flintoff and The Outlier this time.
Tom O’Leary is praying the heavens open for Preists Leap, who won the Thyestes Chase in testing conditions in January.
“He worked well on Wednesday and he’s relaxed,” said the Cork trainer.
“He’s got a useful weight. He’s a big strong horse and I hope it rains for a day and a half to wet up the ground – the softer the better.
“He’s in good form and all being well he’ll run a big race. I think the trip will be brilliant for him because at the end of the Thyestes he kept going and he was the best that day. I reckon he should get the trip as good as any horse.”
Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National, Betfred bet: 7-2 Royal County Star, 9-2 Cailin Alainn, 5-1 Pomme Tiepy, 10-1 Notre Pere, Preists Leap, 12-1 Alexander Taipan, 14-1 Ballistraw, Beef Or Salmon, 16-1 Homer Wells, Mattock Ranger, Newbay Prop, 20-1 Bar.