Tony Calvin’s two to back in the Irish Grand National



It was ever so nice of ITV Racing to scupper my plans for a leisurely weekend of racing and rugby by putting on nine races on Monday, but studying horse racing is hardly akin to a day down the mines – in his early days down the pit in Whitehaven my old man never saw daylight from Monday to Friday in the winter months – so I’ll shut it.

The Irish Grand National obviously takes pride of place, and there are plenty at the top of the market with very strong claims.

The three that appealed most are the 11/2 favourite Latest Exhibition, Agusta Gold and Escaria Ten.

From a class and handicapping perspective, I think the jolly has an awful lot going for him, as his exploits against Monkfish this season surely make him a well-treated horse off 153. The first-time cheek pieces are obviously an unknown, though.

Connections of Escaria Ten have also gone the same way by applying the same initial headgear, and in both cases I find it a bit surprising. I certainly haven’t seen anything in this horse’s recent performances, most recently a third in the National Hunt Chase, to suggest they were needed, but then again the trainers know them better than me.

Actually when I said Escaria Ten was one of the horses towards the top of the market, I am surprised that there has been a lot of recent opposition to him on the exchange. He is a 14/1 chance, six places, with the Betfair Sportsbook but the exchange layers have pushed him out to 19.018/1.

Go for Gold with Agusta

The third horse with obvious claims is Agusta Gold, having her first start for Willie Mullins after joining him from his sister-in-law (or so I am told, anyway, as these family ties take a bit of unravelling!) Mags.

Presumably Willie, who could not have his horses in much better form of late, has given the mare plenty of time to bed in since joining him, as his training regime apparently takes new arrivals a while to get used to, or so the stats say anyway.

Put it this way, she is unlikely to have regressed since arriving at Closutton, was presumably sent there to get prepped for this challenge by the maestro.

The mare scores highly on proven stamina having finished a narrow second in a Grand National Trial over 3m4f in heavy ground at Punchestown last year – she hit 1.261/4 in running – and she beat Moyhenna a snug Β½ length on her most recent chase start over 2m5f in a Grade 3 here the turn of the year.

She has lot of form on this expected better ground too, she has never fallen in her career (or been out of the first four). She has form figures of 231 at the track, and she must be a very big player at around 11s on the exchange.

Furthermore, I couldn’t see a lot of pace in here, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they sent her forward, as she has done on a few occasions, and out of trouble.

It was interesting to see Danny Mullins namecheck this race immediately after he won on her in January, perhaps unsurprisingly so given her profile, and he also mentioned this was the plan last year before Covid intervened.

I reckon their patience and planning could be rewarded here, so I am backing her at 11.521/2 on the exchange.

I did toy with siding with her at 8s each-way, but I decided on the win-only path at a bigger price.

Meade runner completes my Brace of Irish National tips

I want two on my side in a race like this though, and the other pair I mentioned are fair prices, especially Escaria Ten, but I am going to stick up Brace Yourself at 25/1 each way, six places, with the Betfair Sportsboook.

He is a much improved horse this season, winning at Gowran Park on good ground in October, and he proved his stamina when second in the Porterstown in soft ground over course and distance in November.

I said proved his stamina but he probably didn’t finish off his race as strongly as it looked at one point – he traded at 1.68/13 in running – but I don’t think you can label him a non-stayer at all as the winner Court Maid gagged up (and was beaten only a length off an 8lb higher mark next time) and he finished a good second.

And the fourth, Forza Milan, won on his next start, while the fifth Scoir Mear won the Leinster National last time.

Maybe the better ground here will see him come home with even more gusto, and I hope he has been put away with this race in mind since that outing in November, and not because of any problems.

And, in any case, he goes very well when fresh, too.

With just six starts over fences to date, he must have a lot of scope for improvement and he looks a decent bet to me.

Poor turn-out for Kempton ITV races

I am going to leave it there, as nothing much catches eye in other Irish races, and Kempton must be devastated by the turn-out for their ITV races.

The 1m Listed fillies’ race has attracted a fair field of 10 though, and I would definitely get stuck into Lavender’s Blue if I knew she was fit and firing. She’d eat these at her best,

But she is unproven on the trac and ran moderately on her reappearance last season, so I can let her go. Amanda Perrett’s horses have been running well of late though, so it wasn’t an easy swerve.

Have a good one.