As with the other big National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham there is always plenty of interest in the challenge from across the Irish Sea at Aintree and especially in the Grand National itself.

Up until 1999, that challenge could be considered to be rather weak, as there had been only 12 Irish trained winners since WW2, the victory of Bobbyjo for the Carberry team provided the catalyst for that to change and since that win in ’99, another five winners have followed – Papillon (2000), Monty’s Pass (2003), Hedgehunter (2005), Numbersixvalverde (2006) and Silver Birch (2007).

Although they haven’t won the race since 2007, they have gone close on two other occasions, Black Apalachi coming second last year and only Comply Or Die prevented an Irish 1-2-3, when King John’s Castle, Snowy Morning and Slim Pickings finished 2-3-4 in 2008. The horses would have attracted plenty of Grand National bets and the bookies would have been somewhat relieved they didn’t manage a win.

On that record alone you have to take note of the Irish challenge each and every year and 2011 is no exception with the squad looking as strong as ever. Current favourite The Midnight Club heads the team and as he will be partnered by Ruby Walsh it’s likely he’ll maintain his position at the head of affairs right up until Saturday. Walsh is a major plus, especially given his record around Aintree and with The Midnight Club having won one of the key Irish trials – the BobbyJo Chase – last time out and meeting plenty of other of the key statistics on the race, he gives the Irish challenge a very solid leading contender.

His trainer Willie Mullins is likely to have back-up options to and it will be a surprise if he doesn’t go close to winning another National. In fact Irish trained horses could make-up around a third of the field and have they have some other major chances including – Vic Venturi – winner of the 2009 Becher Chase at Aintree, Backstage – trained by Gordon Elliot, who won the Grand National with Silver Birch in 2007 and Oscar Time – runner up in the 2010 Irish National, trained by Michael Lynch.

Possibly one of the most interesting runners is Bluesea Cracker, the 2010 Irish National winner who was recently purchased by last year’s winning owner J P McManus; the Irish National has proved a good guide to the race over the years. 2006 winner Numbersixvalverde had won the Irish version the year before his Aintree triumph. Those looking at the Grand National betting offers should bear this in mind.

With a record 13 races at the Cheltenham Festival going to the Emerald Isle this year, it won’t pay to underestimate their challenge in the National this year and we would be folly not to have a couple of Irish challengers in your portfolio for the race.

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